Women's Internet Access Key to Fighting Poverty, Report Argues

Expanding connectivity among women and girls in the least developed countries, where women are 31 percent less likely than men to have access to the Internet, would help lift families out of poverty, a report from the ONE campaign finds.

According to the report, Making the Connection: How Internet Access Could Help Lift Women and Girls Out of Poverty (24 pages, PDF), the gender gap in Internet connectivity in the poorest countries grew by 2 percent between 2013 and 2016. And based on current trends, 71 percent of women in the forty-eight poorest countries will still be offline in 2020. While higher rates of Internet access have been shown to boost GDP per capita, the report notes, cultural, economic, and educational barriers as well as lack of awareness prevent many women from accessing and benefiting from online content and services. Research has shown, for example, that education for girls helps boost personal incomes and lowers child marriage and pregnancy and infant mortality rates. But while online programs have the potential to improve learning, low educational quality for and basic literacy among girls in the poorest countries often prevent them from accessing and benefiting from the Internet.

As a result, the UN Sustainable Development Goal target of providing universal and affordable Internet access in the least developed countries by 2020 is not on track to be met, with an estimated three hundred and fifty million women and girls expected to be still without Internet access. To connect those women and girls by 2020, governments and the private sector need to do more, ONE policy director David McNair told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We want tech leaders to use their brilliant minds to find solutions to help those living in poverty and not just people in London and San Francisco. We need to stop the next generation of women missing the opportunities for empowerment, education, and inclusion offered by the Internet."