Women are less likely to use the Internet than men in low income countries: U.S. official

Gender disparity in access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and the opportunities they create are not common to the United States or India. These problems are shared by women in technology all over the world, said U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Alyssa Ayres on Wednesday.

Addressing a gathering of women entrepreneurs at a conference on “Sharing best practices for encouraging women in developing countries in ICT” here, Ms. Ayres, who quoted a recent study titled “Women and Web” by Intel, said women are 23 per cent less likely to use the Internet than men in low to medium income countries. The conference was organised by WEConnect and NASSCOM.

“Three hundred million fewer women are estimated to have access to mobile technology compared to men due to a host of economic and social reasons,” she said quoting the study.

Elaborating on the aspect, she said: “Even among women and girls with access to the ICT world, we see big gaps in the numbers of men and women pursuing technical degrees, jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities. Women entering the ICT workforce are often over-represented at the entry level. We also see women dropping out of the labour force due to a number of factors, including lack of work-life balance, mentorship or promotion opportunities. These problems are not unique to the U.S. or India. They are shared by women in technology the world over.”

Asserting that women empowerment was on top priority of the U.S. government, she said President Obama had emphasised women empowerment as an essential part of his country’s global outreach strategy. “It is also a critical aspect of our foreign policy,” she said.

Expressing pleasure that the public and private sector were coming together to develop innovative solutions to ensure more representation by women in the field of ICT, Ms. Ayres said the U.S. State Department was doing its best to address the challenge of gender disparity.

“In addition to raising issues affecting women at the highest diplomatic levels such as the U.S.-India Strategic dialogue and the U.S.-India Joint Commission meeting on Science and Technology, we are also supporting a number of other initiatives,” she said.

In India, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi had partnered for the past five years with India’s Department of Science and Technology and the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum to convene annual “women in science” workshops.

Ms. Ayres is leading a tech delegation of top women executives in the ICT sector from the U.S. The purpose of the visit is to discuss with potential partners (from the public and private sectors) about building a network of women entering the ICT sector.

Principal Secretary (Information Technology) M.N. Vidyashankar and Suchararita Eashwar, Executive Director of WEConnect, spoke.

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