New ITU data reveal growing Internet uptake but a widening digital gender divide
Some 4.1 billion people are now online, but in developing countries women’s Internet use is falling behind.
New data released by ITU today reveal that in most countries worldwide women are still trailing men in benefiting from the transformational power of digital technologies.
Measuring digital development: Facts and figures 2019, the first publication in ITU’s new Measuring digital development series, estimates that over half the total global female population (52 per cent) is still not using the Internet, compared to 42 per cent of all men.
Overall, the proportion of all women using the Internet globally is 48 per cent, against 58 per cent of all men. More men than women use the Internet in every region of the world except the Americas, which has near-parity.
ITU data show that while the digital gender gap has been shrinking in the Commonwealth of Independent States and Europe, it is growing in Africa*, the Arab States and the Asia-Pacific region. It is widest in developing countries, especially Least Developed Countries.
“ITU’s Measuring digital development reports are a powerful tool to better understand connectivity issues, including the growing digital gender divide, at a time when over half of the world’s population is using the Internet,” said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary General. “ITU statistics help policy-makers and regulators make informed policy decisions to connect the unconnected and track progress at the global level.”
Mobile networks – and the mobile phone gender gap
ITU data show that 97 per cent of the world population now lives within reach of a mobile cellular signal and 93 per cent within reach of a 3G (or higher) network.
In the Americas, the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, over 95 per cent of the population is covered by a 3G or higher mobile broadband network. In the Arab States the figure stands at 91 per cent; the Commonwealth of Independent States, 88 per cent; and Africa, 79 per cent.
Of the 85 countries that provided data on mobile phone ownership, 61 have a higher proportion of men with mobile phones than women. Of the 24 remaining countries where there is gender parity in mobile phone ownership, or where more women have mobile phones than men, Chile has the highest digital gender gap in favour of women at 12 per cent.
ITU data confirm a correlation between the mobile phone ownership gender gap and the Internet gender gap: countries where the mobile phone ownership gender gap is large also have a high number of women not using the Internet. Given that mobile phones are the most-often used means of accessing the Internet, addressing the issue of women’s mobile phone ownership could help reduce the Internet gender divide.
3.6 billion people still offline
ITU data confirm that Internet use continues to grow globally, with 4.1 billion people now using the Internet, or 53.6% of the global population.
However, an estimated 3.6 billion people remain offline, with the majority of the unconnected living in the Least Developed Countries where an average of just two out of every ten people are online.
“Connecting the 3.6 billion people still offline to the power of digital technologies must become one of our most urgent development priorities,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “Multi-stakeholder collaboration will be key to making universal and meaningful connectivity a reality for all. It will require targeted efforts to lower the cost of broadband and innovative policies to finance network rollout to unconnected populations.”
Internet use in developed countries is nearing saturation levels, with close to 87 per cent of individuals online. Europe is the region with the highest Internet use (82.5 per cent), while Africa is the region with the lowest (28.2 per cent).
By the end of 2019, ITU estimates that 57 per cent of households globally will have Internet access at home. However, the number of households with a computer at home is only expected to rise by about one percentage point – to 49.7 per cent – between 2018 and 2019. Slowing growth in domestic computer ownership is accounted for by the fact that in many countries computers are no longer needed for home Internet access, with people simply connecting over smart phones.
Barriers to Internet use
Affordability and lack of digital skills remain some of the key barriers to the uptake and effective use of the Internet, especially in the world’s Least Developed Countries.
In 40 out of 84 countries for which data are available, less than half the population has basic computer skills, such as copying a file or sending an e-mail with an attachment.
Although more data are needed, initial findings indicate a strong and pressing need for governments to focus on measures to develop digital skills, particularly in the developing world.
“Even where connectivity exists, we need to be more creative in addressing critical issues like affordability of service, cost of handsets, and lack of digital skills and literacy to enable more people – and especially women – to participate and flourish in the digital economy,” says Ms Bogdan-Martin.
- Interactive report.
- PDF version of the report.
- 2-minute video with BDT Director Doreen Bogdan-Martin.
- Additional media collateral.
- ITU’s complete 2019 global and regional ICT estimates.
*Note to editors: ITU’s Africa region does not include the North African Arab States. North African Arab States are included in the Arab States region.