Mobile technology is changing the world around us. It offers numerous opportunities to connect, learn, and expand our worlds. Unfortunately, many young people living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and especially girls, are getting left behind and with limited – if any – access to these devices and all that the Internet has to offer.
This information is not new; the digital gender divide has been robustly and consistently evidenced across many countries. The 2023 Mobile Gender Gap Report from GSMA highlighted that women across LMICs are 7% less likely than men to own a mobile phone, and are 19% less likely to use mobile internet. This means that based on current trends we need to reach an estimated 810 million women in LMICs to close the mobile internet gender gap by 2030.
The digital divide is real, but the evidence we have is mostly focused on adult experiences. In 2022, Girl Effect re-launched Girls & Mobile to dive deeper into the motivations, behaviors, and barriers preventing youth, especially girls, from coming online. Over the course of 9 months, Girl Effect surveyed over 10,000 young people (ages 14 – 21) and their parents to learn about how they access mobile devices, what they use them for, and how gender influences permissions, access, and usage.
Our goal was not to prove that the digital gender divide exists; we already have extensive evidence demonstrating this. Instead, we aim to bring qualitative nuance and to use youth perspectives and insights to better understand the underlying causes of the divide and what solutions might help close it.
Here’s what we learned:
- There are still many hard barriers, such as affordability and connectivity, youth face when coming online. This is also true amongst adults, according to GSMA’s research. Many youth therefore borrow phones or SIM cards and share devices. This requires youth to get permissions from family members and/or parents, with a lot of parents granting more usage to boys over girls.
- The pandemic increased digital access for many youth, giving them a moment where they needed to use mobile devices to access learning materials and communicate with teachers and classmates. This helped get more devices into the hands of girls – even temporarily – and helped expose parents to ways in which their children (especially girls) can use these devices safely and for educational content.
- Youth are hungry to come online and would like more access. They also wish the Internet was a safer space for them and fear harassment and bullying. This was expressed by both girls and boys, with girls having greater fears of the consequences of being targeted online or having more “shame” brought on them and/or their families.
- These fears are shaping how youth, especially girls, behave online. Girls are more wary of fake news, and are behaving more cautiously online due to fears that they may get into trouble. This is based on widely shared beliefs that girls are “more vulnerable” and “less competent” than boys – a belief that is expressed most by parents and equally by both girls and boys.
- Despite these attitudes, girls are setting up more protections and are becoming savvy online users when compared to their male peers. It’s clear from our research that if given the right directions and information, girls (as well as boys) want a safer Internet and will put parameters in place to protect themselves online.
- The sexisms and beliefs that girls are “vulnerable” and “less competent” are being internalized by girls, who are self-censoring and limiting their own online usage. This is impacting their confidence, self-efficacy, and is further contributing to the belief that the Internet is a place “not for them.”
- We cannot forget about the generational divide. Many parents, like their children, are coming online for the first time. They too have fears and apprehensions about the Internet and how it can be used. In addition, many youth we spoke to expressed that they wish their parents knew more about using mobile phones and the Internet. We need to educate parents and help them understand how their children can access age-appropriate content in order to boost their confidence in and support of their kids coming online.
This research, especially when read against GSMA’s report, highlights some key trends and behaviors contributing to the gender digital divide. The 2023 Girls & Mobile Report goes into each of these areas in more detail, backed by data and anecdotes from girls, boys, and their parents, and supplemented with quick takeaways and recommendations to help bridge the gap and build a more equal digital world for all.
You can read more and download the 2023 Girls & Mobile Report for free here: www.girleffect.org/girls-and-mobile
Originally posted here.