In a number of developing countries, it's not just that high costs and a lack of access means women have a hard time getting online — a staggering number don't even think they should be online.
A new report by Intel and the consulting firm Dalberg looked at how women access and use the Internet in developing countries, and at the benefits that usage can have. In developing countries, "nearly 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet and the gender gap soars to nearly 45 percent in regions like sub-Saharan Africa," the study notes. With Internet access, the study posits, women can earn more money and have greater global awareness.
Illiteracy, high costs, and a lack of technical skills were among the factors that make the gap so big, but researchers say they were particularly surprised to find that a huge number of women simply didn't think the Internet is a good place for them. Of the 2,200 women surveyed in Mexico, India, Egypt, and Uganda, 25% of respondents said they weren't interested in using the Internet, and 23% said they didn't need access. And in India and Egypt, in particular, 20% of women said they felt the Internet was not "appropriate" for them.
"For the non-users, one of the questions we asked was, 'Why do you not currently access the Internet more often?' We listed several options for answers, multiple selections were OK, and one of the possible answers was, 'I don't think it is appropriate for me to use the Internet,'" explained Chris Denny-Brown, a coauthor of the study. "We found that in India and Egypt, as one might expect in traditionally conservative cultures, there was a larger percentage of female non-users citing lack of appropriateness or fear of disapproval from friends/family as reasons for their non-use."
Even women who were highly comfortable with technology said they were encouraged not to get online. Gayatri Buragohain, an Indian woman trained as an engineer, said she was afraid to use the computer because male family members "thought that if I touched it, something would go wrong."
Denny-Brown said the findings posed a whole new set of questions. "Why do many of these women believe the Internet offers them little benefit? Why do many of these women fear reprisal from others or flat-out believe they should not use the Internet?" he said. "It raises the need to educate these women on the benefits of the Internet, on educating men within their culture on the societal benefits of empowered, educated, and powerful women."