Just having access to the internet does not mean that everyone will use it. A study released by Intel Corporation on women and the Internet reveals that one in five women in India and Egypt say that the Internet is not “appropriate” for them. That is, providing access to the Internet — and to the possibilities for educational and economic opportunities that it can provide to empower women and give them greater independence — is only a first step for those who live in traditional cultures dominated by patriarchal norms.
The Intel study also found that, in developing nations, 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet. In sub-Saharan Africa, the gap is far greater, with 45 percent fewer women than man able to get on the Web.
For the study, Intel used information from the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, United Nations Women and World Pulse, a global network for women. Interviews and surveys were conducted with more than 2,200 women in Egypt, India, Mexico and Uganda and the results released in Washington, D.C., at a recent 2-day international working forum on women, technology and development hosted by the State Department and UN Women.
Why Would Women Consider Internet Use “Inappropriate”?
Some of the responses in the survey suggest why 20 percent of women in India and Egypt said that they considered Internet use “inappropriate” for them. 70 percent of those surveyed who did use the Internet said doing so was ”liberating,” while 85 percent said it “provides more freedom.”
Of course, it’s not news that the Internet can provide independence and freedom, and empowerment, by opening a whole world of information and communication. While many women in the West assume that they can find ways to support themselves financially and be able to interact with whomever they choose, such is not the case elsewhere. As Abby Dugdale writes in Fast Company, ”last month’s gruesome attack on a student in Delhi … which resulted in her death, has served to highlight the hardships many women face in a country which is constantly being held up as a beacon for the emerging world.”
Since that act of horrific sexual violence, more gang rapes of women have been reported in India and a national debate has arisen about the status of women. Writer Pubali R. Chaudhuri has even said that “Hatred of women is woven so tightly into the fabric of Indian society that any Indian who denies it is lying.” Last year, 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes reported in India were against women. Perhaps it’s no surprise that one out of five women in India would feel they shouldn’t be using the Internet and seeking greater independence?
Providing Internet Access Must Go Hand-in-hand With Educating Women
As the shooting by the Taliban of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who had campaigned for girls’ education, so bluntly revealed, hostility towards women’s education and empowerment remains deeply entrenched in too many parts of the world. Providing Internet access to women must be tied with increasing their access to education and to teaching — no easy task — that aspects of their own culture are keeping them from leading independent lives and from rising out of poverty.
To address the poverty and early marriage that too many women in Egypt face, UN Women describes how women’s and girls’ concerns must be included in development projects. To make sure agricultural centers in Upper Egypt recruit and train men and women” on an “equitable basis,” the UN has a program that certifies some centers with a “Gender Equity Seal.” Thanks to this program, one woman, Karima — who was forced to marry a cousin at the age of 15; she is uneducated, divorced and has two sons –has learned entrepreneurial skills to start her own small business raising chickens and ducks.
As the Intel study says, “enabling Internet access for more women and girls in developing countries promises immediate, and immense, benefits” and could “potentially contribute an estimated US $13 billion to $18 billion to annual GDP across 144 developing countries.” The benefits of the Internet for all are clear. In providing more access to it in developing nations, we need to make sure that it is a tool to increase opportunities and reduce barriers for women, rather than raising more for them to struggle with.
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