Bridging the Gender Divide

Jun 11, 2022 | 0 comments


  • The power and transformational potential of Internet access and use is not equally distributed. Of the estimated 3.7 billion unconnected, the majority are women and girls.
  •  The digital gender gap continues expanding in many developing countries, creating a specific need to support digital gender equality. Globally, women and girls use the Internet 12.5 per cent less than men and boys.
  • Only 15 per cent of women in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) used the Internet in 2019, compared to 86 per cent in developed world.
  • When women and girls are empowered through information and communication technologies (ICTs), societies overall benefit. With access to the Internet and skills to use digital technologies, they gain opportunities to start new businesses, sell products in new markets, and find better-paid jobs; pursue education and obtain health and financial services; exchange information; and participate more fully in public life.
  • Most countries with a large gender gap in mobile phone ownership also have a large gender gap among Internet users. Given that mobile phones are the most frequently used means of accessing the Internet, addressing the mobile phone gender gap could help to reduce the Internet usage gender gap.
  • Digital technologies are an essential pathway to gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be possible until we close the digital gender gap.​

Challenges and Solutions

In addition to infrastructure roll-out, lack of digital skills and affordability, the digital gender divide continues to be one of the major barriers to meaningful participation in a digital society. Of the estimated 3.7 billion unconnected people, the majority are women and girls. 

According to ITU’s latest data, the proportion of women using the Internet globally amounts to 48 per cent, compared to 55 per cent of men. In relative terms, this means that the global Internet use gender gap stands at 12.5 per cent. 

In LDCs, only 15 per cent of women used the Internet in 2019, compared to 86 per cent in developed countries. 

Between 2013 and 2019, the Internet gender gap hovered around zero in the Americas and was shrinking in the CIS countries and Europe. However, in the Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, and Africa, the gender gap was growing because most new Internet users since 2013 were men { The gender parity score is calculated as the proportion of women who use the Internet divided by the proportion of men. A value smaller than one indicates that men are more likely to use the Internet than women, while a value greater than one indicates the opposite. Values between 0.98 and 1.02 reflect gender parity }. 

Broadly speaking, there are four main categories of the global digital gender divide: 

  1. a gap in access and use of the Internet,
  2. a gap in digital skills and use of digital tools,
  3. gap in participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, and 
  4. a gap in tech sector leadership and entrepreneurship. 

Countries with a relatively small gender gap in access to the Internet and digital tools can still have a large gender gap in participation in certain STEM fields. According to UNESCO, on average only 30 per cent of the world’s researchers are women, and less than a third of female students in higher education opt for fields such as mathematics and engineering.

OECD data demonstrate that women-owned start-ups receive 23 per cent less funding and are 30 per cent less likely to have a positive exit compared to male-owned businesses. Yet, between 40-160 million women may need to transition to other occupations by 2030, often into more skilled roles requiring more complex digital, cognitive, social, and emotional skills.

Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fully will not be possible until we close the digital gender gap. 


Giving women and girls access to the Internet and the skills to use digital technologies provides them the opportunity to start new businesses, sell products to new markets, find better-paid jobs and access education, health and financial services, as well as to enhance participation in public life and improve information exchange. 

While the digital gender gap has decreased in many developed countries, it has expanded in many developing countries, creating a specific need to support digital gender equality in those countries. 

To close the gap, ITU emphasizes data collection and sharing. It is helping countries build the capacity to collect, disseminate and share global, regional and national data, specifically on people’s access to, and use of, ICTs and digital skills. High-quality, gender- and age-disaggregated data will help measure, evaluate and shape policies that can resolve gender issues. 

For example, data show that most countries with a large gender gap in mobile phone ownership also have a large gender gap among Internet users. Given that mobile phones are the most frequently used means of accessing the Internet, addressing the mobile phone gender gap could help to reduce the Internet usage gender gap. 

The joint ITU-UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development formulated a dedicated target to achieve gender equality across all its targets related to Internet access and use, digital skills, digital financial services and micro, small and medium-sized companies (MSMEs) by 2025. Since 2013, the Commission has collected important gender disaggregated data to inform effective decision-making by policy-makers, with the ‘Doubling Digital Opportunities‘ report on gender. 

In 2017, the Commission established the Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide which outlined a set of practical actions and recommendations for stakeholders to address the gender gap in broadband Internet access and use.

Including Women and Girls in a Digital Society: ITU’s Contribution

Changing gender-specific professional expectations is vital to including more women and girls in a digital society, by encouraging girls to learn about and pursue careers in STEM fields and fostering female role models in STEM. ITU is working to raise awareness and promote the active participation of girls and young women in ICT and other STEM-related careers and other digital skills to fulfil the demand for future jobs on an equal basis. 

ITU’s work on gender equality is guided by Resolution 70: Mainstreaming a gender perspective in ITU and promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women through information and communication technologies, as well as by its Gender Equality and Mainstreaming (GEM) policy and action plan. 

Goal 2 on inclusiveness of ITU’s Strategic Plan for the period 2020-2023 (the Connect 2030 Agenda) outlines a special target to achieve gender equality in Internet usage and mobile phone ownership by 2023. 

Over the years, ITU has led several programmes and initiatives to include women and girls more closely in the digital transformation of economies and societies, whilst accelerating gender equality and mainstreaming in its internal processes, aiming to be a model organization in terms of gender equality. 

The ITU-led International Girls in ICT Day is a flagship global effort to raise awareness, empower and encourage girls and young women to consider studies and careers in STEM. Since its launch in 2011, more than 377,000 girls and young women have taken part in over 11,400 celebrations in 171 countries worldwide. 

The EQUALS partnership, founded by ITU, the United Nations University (UNU), UN Women, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and GSMA in 2016, brings together more than 100 global public and private sector actors to ensure women and girls around the world have the access, skills and leadership and research roles to take part in, and help shape, the digital economy. The partnership organizes the EQUALS in Tech Awards, the annual award that celebrates projects and initiatives that are helping women and girls around the world to bridge the digital gender divide. 

Together with the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), ITU runs a project to enhance access to digital technologies and build digital skills for women in Least Developed Countries (LDCs), namely in Burundi, Ethiopia and Haiti. The aim is to improve the policy and regulatory environment and thus increase governments’ ability to mainstream gender and ICTs, as well as to enhance the economic and professional opportunities of working-age women by equipping them with digital skills. 

Regional coding camps and workshops, such as African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI) and Americas Girls Can Code (AGCC), aim to train and empower girls and young women to become computer programmers, creators and designers who will act as role models in STEM and create an online community for sharing coding experiences. 

The Women in Cybersecurity Mentorship programme seeks to inspire, train and empower women in cybersecurity. The current pilot programme is open to women in Africa and Arab regions working in cybersecurity at junior levels, as well as women in ICT/STEM seeking to enter the cybersecurity workforce. 

Other initiatives include:

  • CISCO EQUALS Learning Space, a free online digital skills training on topics such as cybersecurity, entrepreneurship and Internet of Things;
  • The Innovation Challenge: Women in Technology, a competition that supports standout tech innovators whose solutions are making a difference for women and who are helping and empowering women to excel in accessing and using ICTs to improve their productive and economic capacity in different sectors;
  • World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS) special track on ICTs and gender mainstreaming;
  • Generation Equality Technology and Innovation Action Coalition: In 2020 ITU became a co-leader of the Action Coalition and together with other partners, ITU is committed to work hard to leverage partnerships and the power and breadth of our membership to make Generation Equality concrete, focused, and above all, impactful.
  • Talking Tech: Girls and Women in ICT, an interview series in which girls and young women, aspiring for a career in the technology sector, get a chance to interview leading women and role models in the field;
  • ITU and United States Department of State partnership for bridging and closing the digital gender divide by 2030 by leveraging and coordinating global initiatives such as the Bureau for Economic and Business Affairs’ Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise (POWER) and EQUALS.​ 

Leading by example 

Across ITU sectors initiatives are in place to achieve greater participation and assume active leadership of female delegates at key conferences, assemblies, seminars, study and working groups, as well as publications. 

ITU is committed to the implementation of the United Nations System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-SWAP). It has implemented a performance management system with a mandatory objective for all ITU staff with supervisory responsibility to integrate gender in their recruitment and planning decisions and work processes. Furthermore, ITU has contributed to United Nations publications on raising women’s voices in intergovernmental forums and gender-responsive assemblies.​



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