We often speak of the Internet as a boys’ club, particularly with regard to public spaces like Twitter. But a map published Monday by German developer Ramiro Gómez to the infographics site Visualizing makes it clear exactly how apt that “boys’ club” description is: In at least half a dozen of the world’s biggest economies, men still outnumber women online, sometimes by a considerable margin.
Before you ask, yes — this data is legit. Gómez, an active contributor to Visualizing, sourced his ratios from the International Telecommunications Union, the U.N.-designated agency that is responsible, among other things, for compiling and standardizing data on who has Internet access where. For at least the past 10 years, the ITU has paid special attention to women — and for good reason. Internet use is an important indicator of things like educational attainment and economic participation, areas where women frequently lag behind men, as well as greater economic health.
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the digital gender gap appears most severe in countries like Turkey, Iran, Indonesia and Morocco, countries with developing economies and mixed records on women’s rights. Meanwhile, Australia, Canada, the United States, Brazil and much of Western Europe have achieved something approaching parity: In the United States, in fact, ITU statistics indicate that slightly more women use the Internet than men.
The outliers here may be Japan and Italy, which show a gap despite the traditional strength of their economies. In Italy’s case, at least, that may relate to that country’s relatively late adoption of the Internet, or so a paper on “Gender and Internet Usage” hazarded in 2003. But Japan is another case entirely: For reasons that remain somewhat murky to economists, that nation has long suffered from dramatic gender inequality, earning a ranking just above Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates on the World Economic Forum’s latest index. In 2012, the WEF even launched a pilot program in Japan “to foster public-private collaboration on closing the gender gap.”
That kind of proactive policy is also what the ITU is hoping for. In memos, press releases and working group meetings, the agency has reiterated its hope that statistics on the Internet gender gap could spark policy changes or private initiatives that pull female users to the Internet. That would include initiatives like Google India’s “Helping Women Get Online,” which has funded a national media campaign on “Internet Moms” and a toll-free tech support line for women. Per that campaign:
India is one of the few countries in the world where the online audience is very skewed towards the male population, with only 30% of the active Internet users as women .. Studies have shown that if women were to get online it would have a very positive impact on their lives, their status as well as the society.
We still need more data, though. Google’s 30 percent estimate comes from a private firm. The ITU, which relies on national statistics organizations for its numbers, only has data from 64 of the world’s 190-plus countries. That doesn’t include heavyweights like India, China and Russia.
Despite those drawbacks, there’s room for hope. Past experience has shown that Internet access, and women’s Internet access, both tend to swing up the longer the Internet is around. So maybe next time Gómez makes this kind of map, there will be more green and yellow on the page.