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Women are being left offline — and it’s costing governments billions. – World Wide Web Foundation

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Our latest report, launched today at the 2021 Africa Symposium for Women and Girls, has found that low and lower-middle income countries have lost an estimated USD $1 trillion in GDP in the last decade as a result of barriers preventing women from accessing the internet and participating online.

As Web Foundation Director of Research Catherine Adeya explains: 

“Closing the digital gender gap is not just a moral cause, it is also an economic imperative. As the internet becomes a more potent enabler for education, business, and community mobilisation, a failure to deliver access for all means failing to realise everyone’s potential to contribute. Governments that enable women to fully participate in the digital revolution will unlock a wealth of creativity and productivity.”

Globally, men are still 21% more likely to be online than women, rising to 52% in Least Developed Countries. In the 32 countries studied, the gender gap has barely improved since 2011. Our findings underline an urgent need to tackle barriers to digital access so that everyone is able to participate in the digital economy, and reveal what a lack of policy and progress could cost society as a whole — especially as the world’s economies continue on their path to post-Covid recovery. 

Boutheina Guermazi, World Bank Director of Digital Development, said of the report: 

“This report reveals just how expensive gender inequality is for all of us. Investing in a more inclusive digital future gives leaders a tremendous opportunity to promote economic growth while creating healthier societies by addressing inequalities in education, political leadership, and earning power. For governments looking to build a resilient economy as part of their Covid-19 recovery plans, closing the digital gender gap must be a top priority.”

Accessing opportunity

In focus groups and interviews commissioned for the report, women have described the ways the internet has helped them participate more fully in their economies. One participant talked about how she was able to expand her floriculture business nationally, using the internet to reach customers beyond her community. Idjatou Diallo, a restauranteur in Côte d’Ivoire, was able to save her restaurant during the Covid-19 pandemic by selling food online. In India, career coach Swati Lodh Kundu used the internet to find clients in other countries and continents to increase her income.

To promote a more inclusive digital economy, governments should look holistically at the barriers that impede women’s and girls’ access to the internet. They should develop comprehensive broadband strategies that include infrastructure investment, transparent policy targets, and programmes to deliver digital skills and literacy training, promote women’s and girls’ rights, and address safety and privacy concerns.

A digital economy without the full participation of women cannot scale to reach its full potential. Digital inclusion is not only good policy — it’s good economics.

To learn more about the key findings and recommendations, read the full report.


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Tim Berners-Lee, our co-founder, gave the web to the world for free, but fighting for it comes at a cost. Please support our work to build a safe, empowering web for everyone.



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