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Report: Online ‘Digital Divide’ Leaves Girls Behind

FILE - Thai Buddhist Monks walk past a line of internet users at an internet expo on May 25, 2000. (REUTERS/File photo)
FILE - Thai Buddhist Monks walk past a line of internet users at an internet expo on May 25, 2000. (REUTERS/File photo)
Report: Online ‘Digital Divide’ Leaves Girls Behind
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A new report suggests many girls across the world are not using the internet because of online abuse, discrimination or other issues.

The report was produced by a non-profit group called Girl Effect. The organization carries out research and programs aimed at linking young girls to education, useful products and technology. The effort was also supported by the Malala Fund, the United Nations Children’s agency UNICEF and the Vodafone Americas Foundation.

The report says many girls face numerous barriers to using the internet, especially on mobile devices. Girl Effect describes a situation on the internet that it says can favor boys over girls. It calls the situation a “digital divide.”

“The digital gender divide is real and is creating public spaces where women, especially girls, are being left behind,” said Girl Effect chief executive Jessica Posner Odede in a statement. She added that girls are often told they are “vulnerable, less competent, and unable to protect themselves online.”

The group’s report said these kinds of statements can reshape girls’ beliefs and opinions and prevent them from fully taking part in numerous online activities. This can severely limit the information they see and can block educational and job progress.

Online abuse and concerns about internet safety have resulted in many girls “setting up more protections and behaving more conservatively when connecting with others and sharing personal information online," the report said.

The report is based on a public opinion study involving more than 10,000 boys and girls aged 14 to 21. A separate part questioned parents of the youth. Data was collected in seven countries: Ethiopia, India, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania. Comparative data came from Britain and the United States.

The report noted that, “Women across low- and middle-income countries are seven percent less likely than men to own a mobile phone and are 19 percent less likely to use mobile internet.”

The report suggests a digital gender divide exists although governments worldwide have taken steps to prevent it. A UNICEF study released earlier this year showed that in 54 countries, there is a median gender ratio of 71. This means that for every 100 young boys and men who use the internet, only 71 young girls and women do.

Recent studies have also shown that women experience more online abuse, persuading large numbers of girls to quit social media services such as Facebook and Instagram.

The Girl Effect report found that among digitally connected youth, 12 percent more girls than boys said they feel self-conscious while using social media. The report also said girls are 11 percent less likely to place photos or comments online compared to boys of the same age.

Mitali Nikore is a gender policy specialist at research group Nikore Associates based in New Delhi. She told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that girls who limit their online activity often carry this behavior with them into the workplace. This can lead to difficulties for women who might hold back “in demonstrating their skills and building strategic connections," Nikore said.

Nikore noted she thinks several things are needed to help solve the problems girls are facing. One is to improve the availability of mobile devices for girls and young women across the world. Other possible solutions include establishing more digital literacy programs and efforts to end gender-based discrimination.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

gender – n. the state of being male or female

vulnerable – adj. easy to hurt or attack physically or emotionally

competent – adj. able to do something well

self-conscious – adj. to be too aware of what other people are thinking about you and your appearance

literacy – n. the ability to read and write