Using Digital Traces to Measure Digital Gender Inequality in Real-Time

The tremendous expansion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has transformed the ways in which individuals seek information, communicate and participate in their communities. Participating in the digital revolution is more important than ever across different spheres of life. Despite the rapid expansion of ICTs worldwide, women lag behind men in access and use of the internet and mobile phones in many parts of the world, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

Gender equality in internet and mobile phone access, and improving digital literacy are important targets within the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Acknowledging the tremendous and wide-ranging potential of these technologies, the UN SDG 5 to achieve gender equality pledges to “enhance the use of…information and communication technology to promote the empowerment of women” (Goal 5b). In March 2013, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and UNESCO Broadband Commission for Digital Development further endorsed a target calling for gender equality in access to broadband by 2020.

Tracking progress on gender inequalities in internet and mobile access and use – digital gender gaps – is very important to ensure that women benefit from the opportunities afforded by the digital revolution. But measuring and sizing this gender gap has proven to be challenging due to significant gender data gaps. There are limited data from surveys or population-level data sources that examine digital inequalities.

How can we better measure digital gender gaps? In which countries are women most “invisible” online and not participating equally in the digital revolution?

With support from the Data2X and as a part of “Big Data for Gender Challenge”, our project “The Digital Traces of the Gender Digital Divide” based at the University of Oxford and collaborating with the Qatar Computing Research Institute has been exploring how big data innovations can help us measure women’s participation in the digital revolution in real-time. We are also exploring how digital traces gathered from big data can help measure gender gaps in other domains such as education and occupations.