Written by Christina Wu
This was originally posted on The Story Exchange.
As a global non-profit that provides media content for women entrepreneurs online, we are sensitive to the fact that we can only reach audiences who have access to technology.
On average, approximately 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet in developing countries according to a new study commissioned by Intel.
The barriers for women fall into two categories: 1) Individual factors, such as computer literacy, affordability, and knowing how to use the Internet and 2) Ecosystem factors, like availability of the Internet in the region, cultural norms and gender-sensitive policies.
Access to the web boosts women’s income potential and increases their sense of empowerment. Therefore, the report calls for doubling the number of women and girls in developing countries who are online to 1.2 billion in three years.
Thinking about some of the difficulties that entrepreneurs encounter with Internet usage globally, we asked some participants of our 1,000 Stories Campaign to share their Internet experiences in various developing countries. Here’s what we found:
India: slow, unreliable and expensive
In India, while the Internet is available in the bigger cities, the connection can be unreliable. Rita Kale, founder of MoneyChat India based in Pune, says she relies heavily on the Internet for her business, as most of the services she provides are online. “I access the computer from work, home and on my cell phone. The problem though is that you need several different connections to enjoy uninterrupted access since you cannot rely on a single carrier. This tends to get expensive.”
Shewta Chari, founder of the non-profit Toybank says on some days, a lack of connectivity can severely disrupt her work. “If I don’t have access to Internet at all, it totally upsets the rhythm of my working, most of my ‘business’ part (in our case, fund-raising) almost comes on a hold quite literally, as we have online platforms for raising funds.”
Jordan: cultural fears
In Jordan, Internet access is much more prevalent than in many other countries in the Middle East. There, the Internet can be perceived as a dangerous platform that undermines traditional values, says Nermin Fawzi Saad, founder of Handasiyat.net.
“The problem is not of how to access the internet service, it is in the people themselves, for example you may find people here who refuses to let their children use the Internet claiming that it is a service that will ruin their children’s ethics and will deviate their attitude away from our customs.
I think that they ignore the fact that emerging societies have its own benefits in shaping our children in a form that will suit the future world.”
Bolivia: fragmented access
In Bolivia access to the Internet is also limited to certain geographic areas, says Gabi Flores, founder of the social enterprise Kirah Design. That lack of access is a challenge for Flores, who says she needs to understand the global marketplace to achieve her goal of helping Bolivian artisans sell their goods abroad.
“It is very important to have access to Internet, especially because it opens you to other projects and things that are happening in other parts of the world.”
And here in the US…4 times as costly as France for a fraction of the speed!
From where I write this in New York City, Internet service is also problematic. Our office, located in the heart of SoHo experiences intermittent Internet disruptions and downloading/uploading speeds can be painfully slow.
According to Syracuse professor and author of the book, “The Fine Print,” David Cay Johnston, Americans pay four times more than the French for a slower connection. In the U.S., an Internet triple-play-package (phone, cable and Internet) costs an average of $160 per month versus in France, for $38.
The Internet is one of the most transformative and powerful technologies available that has a wide range of application, from providing access to information for small businesses to fostering social movements. If women were able to harness the benefits of the Internet, this could not only improve their own political and socio-economic standing, but also provide a significant boost to bridging the gender gap and empowering more women.