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Has the UK’s gender digital divide vanished?


ICT and women and girlNo, but new research points to improvements.

Published within days of each other, research from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the UN’s Broadband Commission reported on the state of gender equality in the use of information and communication technologies (ICT).

Moving up three positions from last year to eighth place in the 2013 edition of the ITU’s Measuring the Information Society report, the UK broke into the top ten of overall national ICT development behind only South Korea and Scandinavian countries.

Not only are 80 per cent of UK households connected to the internet, more than double the global average, but the ITU report commended the UK on the affordability of its broadband.

As internet usage grows, so too does the volume of daily life conducted online. From banking to shopping and booking holidays, the Oxford University research found that eight out of ten people, up from six out of ten a decade ago, now rely on the internet for everyday activities.

And, the OII declared in its report that ‘There is no longer a gender gap in access to the Internet in Britain’.

While good news, access is only part of e-equality. Usage and benefits must also be considered.

Research published by Spanish scientists in 2012 in the International Journal of Society Systems Science ranked 31 European nations in e-equality and found the UK to be ‘below the mean average [and out of the top ten] at number 18.’

The work examined a range of indicators of ICT use by men and women, including computer use, internet access, online banking and e-commerce that included healthcare.

While the gap between numbers of male and female users of ICT in developed countries is relatively small, the UN Broadband Commission report emphasises the global socioeconomic benefits of getting more women and girls online in every country.

The Commission estimates that if an additional 600 million women and girls were online, the global GDP could rise as much as USD18 billion, an untapped market that could outstrip even the size of the opportunity of such large emerging economies as China or India.

Linked to the gap in access to and the use of ICT technologies is of course the continued lack of professional equality in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths.

It is estimated that by 2015, 90 per cent of all formal employment will require ICT skills, and encouraging more girls and women to pursue ICT careers has become a worldwide imperative.

The BBC recently announced its new scheme focused on increasing the knowledge and use of coding and general discussions about digital creativity.

Martha Lane Fox, government advisor on digital policy and development and head of Go On UK, an organisation whose goal is to help make the UK the world’s most digitally skilled nation, said, “We are going to need a million more people who can work in the technology sector over the next 10 years. [Right now], we don’t have them.”

As the Broadband Commission said, “Since the internet is now a channel that is empowering stakeholders and acting as a catalyst in the delivery of critical services such as education, healthcare, government services, employment opportunities and financial services, gender equality would be fair, just and appropriate.”

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