Digital Access and Technology

Persistent and growing gaps in equitable access to and meaningful use of digital technology significantly hampers the ability of women and girls to take advantage of digital technology to improve their lives. It is critical to address the key barriers women face in accessing and adopting digital solutions.

Sector Overview

The rapid development and adoption of digital technology is transforming how people gain access to information, goods, and services. Digital technology has the power to spur economic growth, improve development outcomes, and lift millions out of poverty. Evidence shows that digital technology can facilitate greater access to markets for women entrepreneurs. For example, the increased availability of mobile money has enhanced women’s use of a range of financial products and services that they were not previously able to access. However, women and girls do not have equal access to the transformative benefits of digital technology. Even where there is physical access, harmful online norms may create virtual exclusion from digital spaces, as digital technologies amplify pre-existing forms of gender-based violence through their scale, speed, and reach. These contribute to a gender digital divide that, if not addressed, promises to exacerbate gender inequality further as fewer goods, services, opportunities, and information become available from non-digital sources. Furthermore, as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) proliferates, the inequitable design, use, and impact of AI-enabled tools reinforces harmful or discriminatory gender norms, creating a double digital divide.


The Gender Digital Divide

Women and girls are further marginalized when they are excluded from the benefits of fair and safe digital technology access and use. This is especially true for women and girls with intersecting marginalized identities (for example, Indigenous, disabled, living in poverty, living in rural communities, refugees, and migrants). Although efforts have been made to close the gender digital divide, progress has been slow. According to a 2021 Alliance for Affordable Internet report, the gender digital divide has only decreased by half a percentage point since 2011, dropping from 30.9 percent to 30.4 percent. Moreover, there is growing evidence of algorithmic amplification of discrimination and harmful norms. Men are adopting digital technologies at a faster rate than women, and this trend has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Technology-facilitated Gender-based Violence

Women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals disproportionately face online threats and harassment. Technology-facilitated Gender-Based Violence (TFGBV) is carried out using the internet or information and communication technologies by one or more people to harm others based on their actual or perceived sex or gender identity. This can include, but is not limited to, online harassment, cyberstalking, child sexual exploitation and abuse, online gendered disinformation and misinformation, and non-consensual image-based abuse. In addition to causing harm, TFGBV can discourage women, girls, and gender-diverse persons from engaging in the digital ecosystem.

Promising Approaches

  1. Foster social norms and cultural perceptions that are supportive of safe and equal access to digital technology.
  2. Cultivate women’s skills and confidence in using a range of digital technology.
  3. Create offline networks for women engaged in digital work or commerce.
  4. Foster an equitable and inclusive digital ecosystem, including by dismantling gender biases embedded in the design and use of digital technology, including AI technology.
  5. Support laws and regulations to hold technology platforms and individual perpetrators accountable for TFGBV.
  6. Encourage technology companies to adopt safety-by-design practices that mitigate risk for TFGBV, protect privacy, reduce algorithmic bias, and enable reporting and response mechanisms for TFGBV.
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