Unesco, GSMA champion women's online participation

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The global Internet user gender gap widened from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016.
The global Internet user gender gap widened from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016.

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development's Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide, co-chaired by the GSMA and Unesco, has released a report that sets specific recommendations to address the barriers women face in access to and use of the Internet.

The report highlights key action areas for different types of stakeholders as part of the group's efforts to ensure all women and girls can fully participate in the online world.

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development was established in 2010 and comprises more than 50 leaders from across a range of government and industry sectors. They are committed to actively supporting countries, UN experts and NGOs to fully leverage the potential of ICT to drive national Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) strategies in key areas such as education, healthcare, gender equality and environmental management.

In a statement published this morning, the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services says minister Siyabonga Cwele is at the 2017 UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development meeting in Hong Kong.

Cwele is one of 52 global broadband commissioners that are drawn from leaders in government, business, academia, policy-makers and international agencies. Cwele will present information on how government and the private sector are expanding their networks to cover the underserved and rural areas.

According to the group, despite worldwide endeavours, the global Internet user gender gap widened from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016, with the gap highest in least-developed countries (LDCs) (31%) and Africa (23%).

Moreover, it adds, Internet penetration rates remain higher for men than women in all regions of the world.

"The continuous development of new technologies and their application to economic, political and social processes is creating new opportunities that can enhance the quality of human life," says Irina Bokova, director-general of Unesco.

"To be sustainable, all new opportunities must be available to all, to empower all, for the benefit of all - especially girls and women."

Structural inequalities remain and impede women's full and equal participation in the digital economy, says Unesco. It points out greater Internet access and use can not only have a positive impact on women's lives, but can deliver significant benefits to the wider economy and society, and support the achievement of the SDGs, in particular Goal 9c, which contains a target for universal and affordable access to ICT in LDCs by 2020.

"Addressing the digital gender divide is critical to realising the significant potential benefits that the Internet can bring for women, their families and communities," says Mats Granryd, director-general of the GSMA.

"We hope that the recommended actions in this report will lead to concerted efforts to reduce the gender gap in Internet access and use. Working together, we can make significant strides to erase the digital gender divide, in full support of the SDGs."

The report recognises the different but complementary roles of various actors, including governments and policy-makers, private sector, intergovernmental organisations, NGOs, and academia and research institutions, and outlines detailed recommendation action points for each stakeholder group.

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