About the Authors: Melanne Verveer serves as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues. Ambassador Verveer co-authored this entry with Shelly Esque. This entry appeared first on The Huffington Post.
There is no doubt that over the last decade, the Internet has created a revolution. Never before has information been so widely available or people better connected to one another. The Internet can be a great equalizer. And yet, access to it is not equally distributed. Notably, Internet access for both men and women in North America is nearly five times that of Africa.
The gap in Internet access is even more salient for women, particularly in developing countries. Because the Internet can provide enormous economic, social and professional value, the gender gap in access has very serious consequences for women. To better understand this gender Internet gap, Intel commissioned a study, "Women and the Web," in consultation with the U.S. Department of State's Office of Global Women's Issues, UN Women, and World Pulse, a global network for women.
The data is troubling, particularly in an age when technologies are ubiquitous and accessing the Internet is becoming an integral part of how people around the world live, work and engage. On average across the developing world, 23 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet, and the gender gap soars to 43 percent in regions like sub-Saharan Africa. Gender-based barriers are real. Affordability of access remains a challenge for all, but particularly for women and girls. A survey of households in Africa found that in some countries, as many as 50 to 70 percent of respondents cited cost as the main reason they were not connected. In some places, women believe that accessing the Internet has no utility; others believe that their families would disapprove their using the Internet.
Across the surveyed countries, nearly half of 2,200 respondents in Mexico, India, Uganda, and Egypt used the web to search for and apply for a job, and 30 percent had used the Internet to earn additional income. In India, Internet-based economic activity accounts for more than 5 percent of GDP growth. Without access to the Internet, women lack access to its tools, resources and opportunities. And the opportunities are substantial -- Internet access boosts women's income and income potential. It also increases women's sense of empowerment. More than 70 percent of Internet users considered the Internet "liberating" and 85 percent said it "provides more freedom."
Bridging this gap -- for example, by doubling the number of women online in developing countries over the next three years -- requires collaboration and determination. But sectors must work together leveraging each of our respective strengths. The result would be that 40 percent of women and girls in developing countries would have access to the transformative power of the Internet. The impacts would be immense. If realized, this would potentially contribute an estimated USD 13 billion to USD 18 billion to annual GDP across 144 developing countries. It would also dramatically expand opportunities for over half a billion women and girls. We have repeatedly seen that investing in women's progress is one of the most effective, high-yield investments for economic and social progress around the world. Doubling the number of women online in developing countries is a critical step towards this progress.