Gender gap in Internet access narrowing: Facebook study

San Francisco: Men still have more Internet access than women globally but low- and lower-middle-income countries narrowed the gender gap in 2018, a Facebook-led study has revealed.

According to the Inclusive Internet Index (3i) prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) for Facebook, there are demonstrable benefits from comprehensive female e-inclusion policies, digital skills programmes and targets for women and girls to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The UK, Namibia, and Ireland, followed by Austria, Chile, and South Africa, are among the top performers of the year, all with female digital skills training plans.

“Inclusion for women and those with disabilities have improved, with low-income and lower-middle-income countries driving progress,” Robert Pepper, Head of Global Connectivity Policy and Planning at Facebook, said in a blog post on Tuesday.

“However, affordability is declining relative to monthly income in many countries, disproportionately affecting women and people in low-income countries, all of whom are more reliant on mobile as their primary means of accessing the Internet,” Pepper mentioned.

While the percentage of households connected to the Internet globally increased, on average from 53.1 percent to 54.8 percent, the rate of growth in Internet connections slowed to 2.9 percent in 2019 from 7.7 percent in 2018.

“In some countries, fixed-line Internet access is too expensive or inaccessible, that’s why mobile services are critical.

“While lower-middle-income countries had a significant 66 percent improvement in 4G coverage, low-income countries saw a moderate 22 percent improvement,” informed the report.

The Index this year was expanded to include 100 countries, representing 94 percent of the world’s population and 96 percent of global GDP.

Web accessibility standards also improved globally, led by low- and lower-middle-income countries.

There are still about 3.8 billion people around the world without fast and reliable Internet access.

“Although the overall gap between those with access to the Internet and those without narrowed, the lowest income countries fell behind because they improved at a slower rate than other countries and much slower than last year.

“Internet connections in low-income countries increased by only 0.8 percent compared to 65.1 percent last year,” the findings showed.

More than half (52.2 percent) of respondents said they are not confident about their online privacy.

“Yet the majority of respondents (74.4 percent) think the Internet has been the most effective tool for finding jobs,” the report said.