From use to appropriation: Women from Bogota, without time to discover the web

by Digital Rights LAC on December 16, 2015

6812412813_a50c1c2399_bAre there fewer women than men using the Web? If that’s so, why? Women who do use Internet, perceive it as a truly democratic tool? Web Foundation organization made a report in 10 countries with the intent of answering this key questions. Colombia is the only country in Latin America analyzed by this study.

By Florencia Goldsman*

The global investigation reveals an image with noticeable imbalances regarding digital empowerment, comparable with other social inequalities in relation with information search and citizen participation. Talking about access, even if the use of Internet in young educated men and students in impoverished communities on developing countries is comparable with the usage of it from the US citizens, the one made from adult non educated women in the same geographical area is incipient or even nonexistent.

Besides, women have 50% less chances of being connected compared to men in the same age group and with similar education and family income levels. The reason for this gender inequality regarding access to ICTs can be answered observing the difference between the education received and the age in which they are introduced to the Web.

Internet cost, which in a lot of cases represents 10% of the income of the people tolled, is another big obstacle. And when time comes to express themselves on the Web, women have less than half of possibilities compared to men, and a third of less likely to use Internet to seek for a job (according to age and education).

It also points out that facing gender violence situations through ICTs, in 74% of the countries included on the Web Index, public workers and tribunals are not taking proper action, meanwhile seven out of ten young women (between 18 and 24 years old) who uses Internet daly has suffered some kind of online abuse.

Lastly, the report reveals worrying data concerning what it calls Net Patriarchy: “In New Delhi and Manila almost two thirds of men agreed with the statement that women shouldn’t be allow to use Internet on public spaces, and more than half agreed that men should have the responsibility to restrict what women search for on the Web”.

It’s urgent to contextualize global results and compare them to our countries, cities and communities. Current inequalities bring historic debts that deserve real change on the digital environment.

Local sample: Bolivar City, Bogotá

From a sample of 1000 face to face interviews ( 250 men and 750 women from ages between 18 to 60 years old, who live in urban areas with low income), a few challenges for women’s participation on digital citizenship were highlighted.

Data from the report points out that 70% of men access regularly to the Internet against  56% of women. If we acknowledge the importance that Internet has taken, this numbers cannot be read as minor data. If we cannot expand the access for women, we are not only taking them away from the innovation and creativity process that the Internet ecosystem has to offer, we are also blocking them from the possibility to enact their rights on the Web.

The analysis made in Bogotá by the Karisma Foundation points out that the technological alphabetization efforts made by the government are headed more to orientation regarding the dangers of Web surfing and less to the use of technologies towards citizen empowerment and political participation. The least favoured section of the population in an economic level in Bogotá acknowledges the value of accessing the Web, but they don’t see it as a medium to enact rights, but as a consumers good.

In the context of one of the countries who presents the higher costs on Internet services on the region,  the increment of access growth through mobile phones is another important piece of data.  The study demonstrates that, beyond economic status, women from Bogota are connected to Internet through their cell phones. If their access has this characteristics is necessary to think, the report says, in which way the cellphone companies plans such as zero-rating influence. Promotions of free access to apps like WhatsApp and Facebook or Free Basics app (from Facebook’s initiative), surely cannot be translated as wide access to Internet.

In a sense, from 83% of women who access Internet to use Facebook, 37% of them admitted she never opened a hyperlink in that platform. One can only imagine then a relationship with the “status update” platform instead of the exploration to what they are being offered to interact, propose or express with.

Little time to surf

Domestic work division and the responsibilities of the heads of home are factors that should be taken into account in an analysis like the one referenced here. Most women  in disadvantaged urban areas, after they fulfill their working hours, are responsable of caring for the family and home maintenance in daily routines, adding to it double or triple work shifts.

The report reveals that 78% of male users  pays for cost regarding access, against a 50% of women. About the limitation of a deeper Web exploration, 27% of women who uses Internet, pointed at lack of time as the primary obstacle. Data analysis show us that the Web is not helping to empower women. Instead, it maintains the lack of economic independence, the shortage of time and low incentives to use Internet as a participation tool.

Women’s perception regarding the Internet is linked, nevertheless, to their features of tasks facilitator with the use of email for example, and not so much as a tool with another changing potential. This is based upon the data telling that 64% of interviewed women have never used the Web to find information about their rights or to access information about gender violence.

It’s clear that we are not starting from a clean slate when we use tools, technologies and access the Internet. We all count with a socio cultural baggage that will facilitate, or not, using Internet to its full potential. That’s why conscient, creative and safe use  is related to a digital alphabetization that takes under account the intersectional characteristics of women approaching  the ICTs. Social class, age, ethnicity, gender identity, geographic location and educational level are fundamental traits to be able to adapt the kind of access, tools, demands and needs in regard public politics to deepen usage of the Web.

Web Foundation’s global report and its local Colombian chapter demonstrates that there is still a lot to do to promote the use of technologies and Internet as a participation tool, for them to really be safe spaces where we all can enact our rights. A good first step is to recognize that use does not mean appropriation. The effort must concentrate in making equal the knowledge that we have when the time comes to take a dive in the Web.

*Florencia Goldsman, social spokesman, journalist, and community manager at the Let’s Dominate Technology project and Google Fellowship at Karisma Foundation

Image: Ministerio TIC Colombia via Flickr