Report: Large gender gap exists among Internet users worldwide

New data released by a United Nations commission shows some drastic inequalities in the numbers of men and women on the Internet globally.

The report by the Broadband Commission Working Group on Broadband and Gender indicates that online gender disparity is at its largest in developing countries, where only 29 percent of women are connected, compared to 33 percent of men, comprising roughly 1.8 billion of the world’s current 2.8 billion Internet users. The global breakdown shows 1.3 billion women Internet users and 1.5 men.

The commission also reported that 5 billion worldwide have yet to become Internet users. That number is comprised of 59 percent of all men and 63 percent of all women, globally.

“This important new report reveals a worrying ‘gender gap’ in access,” said Hamadoun I. Touré, secretary-general of a U.N. telecommunications group and co-vice chair of the Broadband Commission, as reported by Fox News.

“I believe it is in the interest of every government to urgently strive to redress this imbalance.”

These gaps in Internet access reflect broader social and cultural divides, according to the report. Some of the drop off of Internet use among women in developing countries can be attributed to poor literacy rates. In these nations, only 75 percent of women are literate, compared to 86 percent of all men.

Organizations cited in the UN report believe mobile phones will be instrumental in bridging the gap in gender inequality on the Internet. Data by the GSM Association/Cherie Blair Foundation for Women projects cellular phone subscriptions will reach 6.835 billion worldwide at the end of 2013, but women right now are 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone; that represents 300 million women globally. The GSMA’s mWomen Programme works to equip women with cellular phones in these technologically emerging areas.

“It is time to tackle these challenges together,” wrote Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Program. “This report sets out practical recommendations for doing so, and calls for integrated approaches across the areas of broadband, ICTs and gender, policy for development.”