IGF 2022 Open Forum #40 An internet that empowers all women: can we make it happen?

Tuesday, 29th November, 2022 (13:15 UTC) - Tuesday, 29th November, 2022 (14:15 UTC)
Press Briefing Room

Panel - Auditorium - 60 Min


The world is more connected than ever before. However, 3.8 billion people around the world remain unconnected, of which 93% live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Women are disproportionately excluded as they are now 16% less likely than men to use mobile internet across LMICs.

Recent GSMA data indicates that progress towards closing this mobile gender gap has now stalled and in some countries the gap has even increased. It is a stark reminder that we cannot take advancements in development for granted and also need to find new solutions to prevent sliding back. It means we need to address affordability of handsets and data, a lack of digital skills, investments in relevant content and services, but also increasing safety and security concerns.

This session brings together the private sector, international development community and civil society to discuss the unique challenges that women face in accessing the internet and what can be done to bridge the digital gender divide. The paradoxal relationship between mobile technology, wellbeing and women’s safety will also be further explored: on one hand, mobile phones and the internet can make women feel safer and is associated with improved wellbeing, but on the other, the internet can also be a conduit for risks that act as a barrier to women’s internet access and usage. These questions need to be addressed to make sure the internet works for all.




Opening remarks: Ms. Claire Sibthorpe, Head of Digital Inclusion, GSMA



Ms. Agnes Kinga, Executive Head of Department Consumer Segments and Regional GTM, Safaricom

Ms. Onica Makwakwa, International Digital Inclusion Expert

Mr. Solomon Tadesse, Country Director, Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT)

Mr. Ezana Raswork, CEO and Founder, Africa 118

Ms. Vidhya Y, Co-Founder and Trustee, Vision Empower


Closing remarks: Mr. Endashaw Tesfaye, Digital Finance Lead Ethiopia, UNCDF


Onsite Moderator

Claire Sibthorpe, GSMA

Online Moderator

Pippa McDougall, GSMA


Pippa McDougall, GSMA


1. No Poverty
5. Gender Equality
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
10. Reduced Inequalities

Targets: This proposal particularly links to SDG 5 on Gender Equality and SDG 9 on Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure as it will propose solutions to bridging the digital gender gap to help ensure girls and women have equal access to the internet across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in a way that meet their needs. Specifically, one of the targets under SDG 9 strives to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries. During the session, the latest industry data on the global digital gender divide will be revealed and concrete actions from the private sector and policymakers to address the barriers to women’s digital inclusion will be showcased and discussed. Moreover, this session provides perspectives from different stakeholders and aims to promote SDG17 as only through concerted action and partnerships can everyone have an equal opportunity to participate in an increasingly connected world.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

The session highlighted the importance of addressing the mobile gender gap – mobile internet empowers women and supports achieving the SGDs. This requires a focus on the key barriers women face with speakers highlighting the importance of ensuring affordability of internet-enabled devices, providing women with the required skills and confidence, ensuring accessibility (for persons with disabilities) and safety and security concerns.

Speakers highlighted the importance of partnerships and including women from the start in projects or initiatives, in particular those who are marginalised, and setting clear goals and targets.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

1. Commit to specific gender digital inclusion targets. This requires an understanding of women’s needs and barriers to mobile internet and use and taking targeted, collaborative action to address key barriers such as affordability, digital skills, accessibility and safety and security concerns.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

This session titled ‘An internet that empowers all women: can we make it happen?’ brought together representatives from the private sector, international development community and civil society to discuss the unique challenges that women face in accessing the internet and what can be done to bridge the digital gender divide.

GSMA opened the session and set the scene for the discussion by providing the latest data on the mobile gender gap in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) which stands at 16%. This means that women are 16% less likely than men to use mobile internet in LMICs. GSMA noted that progress towards closing the mobile gender gap has stalled and highlighted the need for urgent action by governments and a range of other stakeholders to work together to address women’s needs and barriers to accessing and using mobile and mobile internet.

Speakers unanimously reiterated the importance of addressing the digital gender divide and noted that the internet offers an opportunity to transform women’s lives, including women with disabilities. They highlighted that improving women’s digital inclusion also creates opportunities for economic growth, and can improve women’s well-being and society at large. The cost of exclusion was also raised and a speaker cited research which estimates that women’s unequal access to and use of the internet has cost low-and lower middle-income countries $1 trillion over the past decade.

The barriers to women’s digital inclusion were discussed at length. The session speakers identified a number of the key barriers to women’s internet use in Ethiopia and across LMICs which were related to:

  • Affordability of internet-enabled devices;
  • A lack of digital skills and awareness of the benefits of mobile internet;
  • A lack of access to devices and a lack of accessibility of devices and online platforms;
  • Safety and security concerns including online harassment; and
  • Lack of relevant content and services including content in local languages.

Panellists shared practical examples of how these barriers can be addressed and how their organizations are working to address the barriers. For example:

  • Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) Ethiopia’s programs equip women with technology, business, entrepreneurial and digital skills so that they can create opportunities for themselves and participate fully in the economic and social development of their communities.
  • Vision Empower designs and teaches curriculum that is accessible for children with visual impairments on digital literacy and STEM related subjects.
  • Safaricom has implemented device financing programs to lower the upfront cost of purchasing a smartphone and to date has sold around 1 million devices using a pay-per-use model.
  • Africa 118 supports small and medium sized enterprises in Africa with cost-effective digital services to reach their target audiences and improve their online presence.

Additional noteworthy calls to action that speakers shared were around:

  • The need for stakeholders to hold themselves accountable by setting targets to reach more women through their initiatives and to consistently monitor and evaluate against their key performance indicators;
  • The need to mainstream gender in ICT policies;
  • The need for policymakers to focus on and improve the implementation of legal frameworks and policies that aim to protect women's online safety;
  • The need to include diverse women, particularly marginalized women and women with disabilities, in the design of projects, initiatives and policies aimed at improving women’s digital inclusion from the start;
  • The need for the courage ofprivate sector organizations to pursue initiatives to drive women’s digital and financial inclusion, particularly initiatives aimed at improving affordability of internet-enabled devices; and
  • The need for digital skills training content that is tailor-made to women’s needs and preferences and use cases.

UNCDF concluded the session by summarizing the discussion and highlighting the importance of partnerships to catalyze collective action to tackle the barriers women face to becoming financially and digitally included. UNCDF shared the work they are doing in this space and invited stakeholders to join the Women's Digital Financial Inclusion Advocacy Hub (WDFI) network in Ethiopia.


The session put gender front-and-centre. This was reflected by the diversity of the panellists (4 women, 3 men) as well as the topic of discussion, which concerned the barriers to women’s digital inclusion. The session was attended in-person by approximately 70% women and online by 85% women.