By Nadira Bayat, Programme Director, Global Economic Governance (GEG) Africa1
This blog is part of a special series marking the launch of the updated
2019 Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI)
The rapid rise of the Internet, together with emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), advanced robotics and drones, Blockchain, the “Internet of things” (IoT) and 3D printing, are unleashing new opportunities and transforming the global economy. While these technological advances can address some of the most pressing 21st century challenges – from education, health care and public services to agriculture, economic inclusion and the environment – the benefits are not being shared equally. Despite Internet connectivity having finally reached 50% of the world’s population in 2018, the rate of Internet access growth has slowed down considerably.2 In Africa, specifically, only about 20% of the population has regular Internet access3 – a challenge with significant implications for harnessing the transformative power of the technology-driven Fourth Industrial Revolution for inclusive and sustainable development.
Women from developing countries comprise the majority of the unconnected. The gender divide has narrowed in most regions since 2013, but it has widened in Africa. The proportion of women using the Internet on the continent is 25% lower than the proportion of men.4 Notwithstanding the significant potential of mobile phone technology to spur women’s entrepreneurship through mobile banking and payment services as well as improved access to information and finance, sub-Saharan Africa follows South Asia with the second largest average gender gap in both mobile ownership and mobile Internet use.5 A widening gender digital divide concerning the availability, affordability, accessibility, and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) negatively impacts women’s economic empowerment. It further undermines full gender equality that lies at the core of human rights and is integral to the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).