Digital divide hits women harder in poor countries: UN

SOME 90 per cent of young women and teenage girls in the world's poorest countries have no access to the internet, a United Nations report published Wednesday said.

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The lack of access – and disparity between the number of girls and boys offline – poses serious risks that women will be left behind economically in an increasingly digitally connected world, the report from UNICEF said.

Adolescent girls and young women are being "shut out when it comes to digital skills," it said.

About 78 per cent of young men and teenage boys in the poorest countries are offline, according to UNICEF, which in its report examined data usage in 54 mostly low-income nations.

This translates to about 65 million adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 who don't have access to the internet, versus some 57 million of their male peers.

"Closing the digital divide between girls and boys is about more than just having access to the internet and technology. It's about empowering girls to become innovators, creators, and leaders," Robert Jenkins, UNICEF director of education, said in a statement.

"If we want to tackle gender gaps in the labour market, especially in science, technology, engineering and math fields, we must start now by helping young people, especially girls, gain digital skills."

Even in cases when girls had equitable access to traditional educational opportunities, such as math and reading, the report warned, "it does not always translate to digital skills."

Disparities in access to technology persist even within the same household. In a study of 41 countries, UNICEF found "households are much more likely to provide mobile phones for boys than girls."

Female youth are 13 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone, UNICEF said, "limiting their ability to participate in the digital world."

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