High prices, gender pay gaps, and a lack of education make women 50% less likely to access basic Internet services in poor urban communities, a global technology group has told Parliament
The Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services held the second day of public hearings into the cost of communication, on Wednesday.
Dillon Mann, of the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), told the committee that a global survey of 10 000 people across ten countries revealed that women in poor areas have restricted access.
“The key barrier was price, but it is compounded by income inequality between genders,” Mann said. “We really must prioritse gender equality online, and we can start by setting specific gender targets in policy,” Mann added.
Mann said the survey revealed that 37% of women surveyed were Internet users, as opposed to 59% of men.
Women who were politically active offline were twice as likely to use the Internet.
The gender disparity also had a direct relationship with education. At tertiary level, the difference was marginal, with 83% of male internet users compared to 78% of women users. However, 24% of men with only primary school education are active Internet users, compared to 11% of women. Of those who complete high school, 58% of men used the Internet, compared to 43% of women.
“As we investigate public access programmes, we must make sure they target women and girls too,” Mann said.
A4AI regional head Onica Makwakwa said income inequality in general also masked the true picture of Internet access.
“The lowest income earners, the bottom 20%, are spending up to 14% of their income on basic broadband access,” said Makwakwa.
“If you look at the top 20% of income earners, they spend less than half a percent on the same broadband,” Makwakwa added.
The UN recommends 500MB should cost less than 5% of income for all income groups, she said. Makakwa said that broadband policy reporting should be broken down by income group, and expand public access programmes. Emphasis should also be on community-owned networks.