It is undeniable that modern technology fosters progress and economic prosperity. But does this statement ring true for everybody? There are still many people left behind, groups that don’t benefit from the Internet and everything it has to offer.
Information and communication technologies (ITCs) are powerful tools for achieving enhanced incomes and wider access to credit, quality education, healthcare and a more accountable government. ITCs are at the center of the United Nations new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and many countries have pledged to achieve universal and gender-equitable Internet access, as well as to enhance the use of ICTs to empower women.
However, there is still a huge gender gap in Internet access, digital skills and online rights that needs to be closed. A survey conducted by the World Wide Web’s Foundation Women’s Rights online network showed severe gender and poverty inequalities in digital empowerment across poor areas in 10 countries, including Indonesia: women, it revealed, were 50% less likely to be online than men, and 30-50% less likely to make use of the Internet for economic or political empowerment.
The findings of the survey were recently presented during a forum in Jakarta, which was part of the first Southeast Asia Open Data Innovation Week. Ingrid Brudvig, Women’s Rights Research and Advocacy Coordinator, presented the global results whereas Widuri, Deputy Director ITC Watch, focused on Indonesia.
“Governments have a long road ahead if they want to achieve the SDG commitments and ensure equal access to new technology for all women and men by 2030 and leverage ICTs to empower women,” Ingrid Brudvig said. “Although almost every woman we surveyed in our research owned or had access to a phone, the ICT revolution is not yet transforming their lives.”
In Indonesia, only 20% of women have Internet access, and only a few of those who have the possibility of going online use the Internet to express their views or find crucial information about their rights.
Other factors that contribute to the online gender gap are affordability - high costs are keeping billions of women offline - and lack of digital skills and education, resulting in a “I don’t know how to use the Internet” attitude among many women.
“We took a close look at what countries are doing to promote digital literacy for all,” Ingrid Brudvig explained. “Colombia, Egypt and Indonesia have connected at least 50% of secondary schools to the Internet. This is a positive first step, but not sufficient.”
Generally, women not only have less income but also less free time than men. As a result, many women feel that they don’t think going online is worth their time, unaware of the fact that a lot of the content is actually highly relevant to their rights and opportunities, such as finding information about reproductive health or digital financial services.
According to Widuri, there are a number of organisations across Indonesia that educate communities - and the youth in particular - on health topics by providing information and services via phone, SMS and online content.
“But these benefits have not yet reached women living in rural and poor areas,” she said. “Less than 1% of women have access to mobile banking services.”
Most of the women who were surveyed said that they value the Internet as a safe space where they can find ideas and information of any kind and express themselves without fear. However, the Internet’s role as a safe space for expression is often being undermined by an epidemic of harassment and violence against women online. Adding to that the growing intrusions on Internet users’ right to privacy, and the web suddenly doesn’t seem to be so safe after all.
“Legal frameworks to protect the right to privacy in the digital era are ineffective or missing across the countries we reviewed,” said Ingrid Brudvig. “The law enforcement response to ICT-based violence against women remains unacceptably weak.”
This also rings true for Indonesia.
“The government has actively supported awareness-raising initiatives on privacy and safety,” Widuri said. “However, law enforcement officials lack training and resources to deal with ICT gender-based violence, and the blocking and filtering of allegedly harmful content without due process is a cause for concern. A draft for a data privacy law is currently under consideration.”
Based on these findings, action plans have been drafted for each of the 10 surveyed countries. For Indonesia in particular, the 5-point action plan includes the following steps: integrate gender targets into the national ICT plan; create public access and digital empowerment programmes; support women to access, use and create Internet technologies; focus on relevant content and services for women; and end online gender-based violence.
“These are the five context-specific steps that Indonesia can take within the next year to work toward closing the digital gender gap,” Ingrid Brudvig said.