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"Access to Internet Is Life,” Say Women Around the World

For women globally, the Internet has become a lifeline to information, opportunities, and newfound power. New data in a report called ‘Women and the Web,’ reveals how we can bridge the digital divide for women and unlock a massive wave of human potential.

Every week, Ruun makes a dangerous night trek to an Internet café amidst sounds of sporadic gunfire in Somalia’s streets, braving harassment to access information for her business. In Burma, NiNi dodges online censors to post citizen reports and read world news to share with her students. She faces whole afternoons of electricity black outs and waits 10 minutes for a page to load. Meanwhile, Rosita in Mexico waits until her husband is asleep to quietly open the computer he has forbidden her and network in women’s forums. Her online friends give her the courage needed to leave her abusive relationship and take charge of her life.

When I ask grassroots women leaders the world over, they say that access to the Internet is not a luxury but a lifeline. Time and time again women tell me that online access gives them a voice and an outlet to communicate with the rest of the world. Once they have overcome significant cultural and economic barriers to gain access, they find there is a world of opportunity out there, and they want to participate. They want to lead.

I get passionate answers from women like Busayo, a community organizer and health worker from Nigeria who exclaims, “Information is power—it helps us to learn how to change our conditions ourselves!” It has also helped her make change in her community. “In just the two years that I have been online, I have gotten support to start my vision for a women’s empowerment center and cybercafé, training over 150 women. We have even stopped cases of child rape. The Internet has opened the sky for us.”

But new data in a report commissioned by Intel with consultation from the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, UNWomen, and World Pulse reminds us that the digital divide looms large for women. Globally, women have nearly 25% less access to the Internet than men. This figure soars to 40% in sub-Saharan Africa. These are dangerous statistics as without access, women are at great risk of being left behind as agents of change and leaders in a rapidly changing global society.

Yet we have the power to turn the tide. According to the Women and the Web report “bridging the Internet gap represents an opportunity of immense proportions—for women and girls, their families and nations, and the global community.” It asserts a bold goal: a concerted effort between government, technology providers, development agents, and women leaders themselves that could double Internet access from 600 million to 1.2 billion in three years. This alone could expand opportunities for over half-a-billion women, enabling them to improve their ability to generate income, improve their education, and experience greater freedom of expression. The economic benefits aren’t too shabby either—this increase also opens up a market opportunity of around 50 to 70 billion dollars.

The potential of increasing access for women and girls is exponential. Once one woman experiences the transformative benefits of the Internet, she often becomes a “transmitter” introducing others in her community to the Web and creating a ripple effect of change. I think of Stella who trains sex workers and trash pickers in India on how to use mobile phones and social networking to improve their conditions and even escape trafficking. I think of Leah in Kenya who uses a laptop to train women at her kitchen table in a rural village. She has a line of women winding around her house every day waiting to check their email.

Women are starting to build movements and demand a seat at the table. I think of Neema from the Democratic Republic of Congo who has started a movement of “Hero Women.” Hundreds of grassroots women are blogging from a homegrown Internet café, reaching media and even leaders in the White House in an effort to end violence in their country. Or Leina from Cameroon who had her blog about breast ironing picked up by CNN and is now training over 10,000 women to disavow the practice. Look at the massive protests in India surrounding the gang rape of a 23-year-old girl, or how women drove the Arab Spring.

The power of connectivity is undeniable, and some even argue that it is a human right. The UN agrees. In July, they passed a resolution making Internet access a human right. But this lifeline is still out of reach of too many, as women around the world loudly inform me.

“We girls are not privileged enough to get gains from the Internet,” says Sherry from rural Kenya. “We are missing out on gaining expertise. My community will remain in the dark if a way is not found to bring [access] to the people so we can develop like everybody else.”

If we can heed the recommendations of the Women and the Web report—ranging from the expansion of digital literacy training for women to the support of “safe” online communities and friendly access points like women-only internet cafes—and combine the best of the global technology industry with the ingenuity and resourcefulness of women on the ground to solve the digital divide challenge, we can unlock a colossal wave of human potential and freedom for future generations.

I challenge top development experts, technology leaders, philanthropists, and policy-makers to partner with grassroots women the world over and rise to the task. The women I work with every day are ready. With support, these local grassroots women leaders can lead the charge and bring “new life” and expand horizons for billions of people in their communities.

Comments

JaniceW's picture

Information is such a powerful tool

There is no doubt that increased access would not only improve women's lives but also boost the global economy. We have also seen how through the use of the internet, activists in the Arab Spring have been able to voice their concerns and give first-hand accounts and updates of what was going on to the outside world. They were able to collectively organize, even when the governments tried to shut down these portals for activism.

While access is rooted in money, economic privilege also intersects with lack of education, lack of infrastructure, lack of foreign aid, lack of awareness about potential uses, gender inequality and cultural belief. As in the case of Rosita articulated above, some women are prohibited access to computers with the belief that Internet use is not "appropriate" for them.

Intel's commissioned report is a great start and spotlights the power of the work of such organizations as World Pulse. It bears highlighting that Jensine, Founder of World Pulse, jumpstarted this issue almost 10 years ago. It is that type of vision — to help women connect, learn, engage, and find opportunities — which has made a difference to millions of women's lives and as Intel calls for, will transform 600 million more.

AchiengNas's picture

Communications made easy

I would not find a single Mentor for the current 48 girls without using the internet and Technology.
I could not share my voice to the world in this platform without the use of the internet and Technology.
http://worldpulse.com/node/63151

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

Access to internet opens our minds and provides us access to knowledge resources which can help us improve our work and find solutions to problems. I got the idea of our "Empowering Girls Project" from browsing the internet and was able to organize learning group sessions of girls in 19 villages in our city. We were able to reach 600 girls (13-24 years old) during the entire project period.

See? one woman browsing affected 600 future mothers and women workers. That's how important access to internet is to women.

Paulina

Precious M's picture

True Talk

I am a mother of a 2 year old and a 2 month old and that means I have a crazy schedule. There is always something to be done! However, I am so blessed to have access to the internet in my home. So from here, I can know what is happening in my world and I get to meet wonderful and inspiring women here on World Pulse.

Access to internet really works wonders for women.

Precious

My pen speaks

Wendyiscalm's picture

Good to know

Hi Precious,

You make an excellent point that I heard two years ago, that African women will benefit the most and the most change will occur because of them as they see on the internet for the first time their options and possibilities.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together),

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Wendyiscalm's picture

Right on, Jensine !

Hi Jensine,

You are so right in your article. I remember reading 2 years ago that in the next few years, Africa will benefit from the internet in that the most progress here will take place because women will see how to be assertive. They will learn they do not have to settle for abuse (verbal, mental or physical), they will be exposed for the first time to so many options. So, your article really struck me since I work in Africa though I l ive in Chicago.

Keep up the good work, Jensine.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together),

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Over the weekend, I have been reviewing the newly released report by the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The report strongly confirms Jensine's January 2013 post concerning the need to improve access to the internet in countries addressing poverty around the world.
After reading the new report, my thoughts turned to the challenge of bringing a global agenda into living rooms around the globe. This platform, with the strength of women empowered to write about issues of concern, can be on the forefront of efforts to make five big, transformative shifts:
1. Leave no one behind;
2. Put sustainable development at the core;
3. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth;
4. Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all; and
5. Forge a new global partnership.

Wendyiscalm's picture

Very interesting

Very intereseting info.

Thank you.

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

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