I love books and my ability to read and write is a gift that continues to enrich my life. I want that experience to be available for everyone, but it isn’t.
The digital divide along gender lines is an issue that a global society, open to what the advances in communication technology can offer, should not ignore.
When her gender puts her at a disadvantage and causes a young girl or a woman to experience lack of exposure to, and use of, communication technology, her family, her community and the global society lose, too. And that is where the aptly named “digital divide,” or as some call it, the continued knowledge gap, is problematic to individual empowerment and group advancement.
Estimates from the United Nations say there are 771 million illiterate adults globally – 18 percent of the world’s population. Women, the study says, “account for 64 percent of the adults worldwide who cannot read and write with understanding.”
I believe the availability and use of communication technology can impact literacy. A woman who knows how to read and to write gains not only for herself, but she can better pass those skills along to her children – male and female – to her extended family, and in some cases, her village or town. A literate and educated community increases economic potential, helps to shape societal norms and civic responsibility, and gives voice to those who otherwise might be excluded.
A few years ago, I heard author Ray Bradbury speak about writing during a literary festival. Bradbury said that for him, walking into a library is a bittersweet experience because when he sees all of the filled shelves he thinks: Look at all of the books that I’ll never have time to read.
For Bradbury the sole barrier to reading is time – the finite amount of a lifespan that all of us have. For a girl or woman who is illiterate; lives in poverty and does not have access to technology; is excluded from giving her input, or who does not have an advocate or voice fighting for her at the technology resource table, the barriers beyond time multiply.
That at-the-table resource is where we see the other extreme of barriers caused by the gender digital divide that affects women who do have technology education and access. Women continue to be under represented in the traditionally male field in employment, study and teaching. That lack of female presence impairs the ideas and connections that could better bridge the effects of the gender digital divide.
Women bring a needed perspective and should be present and have a voice in the decisions, policies and innovations in communication technology going forward. That way, everyone benefits when working toward a happily ever after for all.