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Latin America: Online Access Opens Economic Doors

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A Conversation With Johanna Godoy

Gallup’s Regional Director for the World Poll in Latin America

So, the U.N. Women’s theme for International Women’s Day this year focuses on the digital gender divide and how it feeds into widening economic and social inequalities around the world. Access to technology, of course, is a basic element of this.

You’ve been asking women (and men) in Latin America for years whether they have access to the internet through their phone, computer or some other device.

In many of the countries in your region, there is a lot of parity between men and women — when it comes to internet access. But a few countries stand out.

Can you talk about this a little bit? What are some of the changes you’ve noticed over the years as women and men have become more connected — or not? What have you seen happening?

What are the barriers to internet access for women in your region?

Godoy: Internet access has increased significantly throughout Latin America over the past 16 years that we’ve been conducting our World Poll there. The bright side is that in most countries, the digital divide between women and men is relatively small. Unfortunately, there are some countries where there are important disparities. For example, women’s access lags behind men’s by at least 10 percentage points in El Salvador, Peru, Mexico and Colombia.

It’s somewhat worrisome, though, that while women may have access in many countries, they are not using digital tools in the same way that men are. In general, women may not be using the internet as a vehicle for acquiring knowledge, finding jobs or making professional connections to the same level that men may be.

What could stop women in Latin America from reaping the benefits of having access to these digital tools?

Godoy: There are a number of barriers that prevent women in Latin America from taking advantage of digital access. One is that they often lack exposure and training related to technology and digital skills, and another is that they simply lack time. Latin American women are juggling so many responsibilities, from educating and raising their children to managing the home, working multiple jobs, and playing roles within their local communities.

Another important barrier in the region is insecurity. In general, women in Latin America feel less safe than men do, largely because of the high rates of femicide and domestic violence that they face in their daily lives. This violence is not just physical. They also face harassment in the virtual world. In Mexico, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography reported that in 2021, 23% of women and girls (aged 12 and older) who used the internet experienced cyberbullying.

What are some of the costs of digital exclusion for women and girls in Latin America?

Godoy: Over the past several years, various Community of Latin America and Caribbean States councils have highlighted the need to promote women’s participation in technology information and communication (TIC) fields to help combat poverty. Jobs in these fields generally pay more, which helps lift not only women — but also their families — out of poverty.

Digital exclusion limits employment opportunities for women in the region, who are disproportionately more likely than men to be unemployed. In 2021, unemployed women in the region significantly outnumbered unemployed men (14% vs. 8%, respectively, according to the World Poll). This gap has only been getting larger over the past several years.

Unfortunately, unemployment also limits women’s independence and empowerment in other areas of their lives. Economic dependency is one of the reasons why women who experience domestic violence are unable to leave their aggressors.

It’s important to note that digital exclusion in the region does not occur homogeneously. People have less access to the use of digital tools in disadvantaged economic areas, as well as in rural areas. For example, in Peru, seven in 10 people who live in the Lima area have access to the internet; this access drops drastically in rural areas, where only two in 10 have internet access.

Therefore, it is even more challenging for women and girls from these excluded sectors to have access to technology and technical information that could represent hope for a better future.

Digitalization is rapidly transforming society, but digital exclusion is far from the only challenge facing women and girls in Latin America.

Many of the problems they faced before the pandemic — such as gender-based violence, for example — only became worse during the pandemic.

How have things changed since the pandemic? For better or worse?

Godoy: Unfortunately, inequality has become even more pronounced since the pandemic.

Like the rest of the world, the pandemic negatively affected all Latin Americans, but women in particular. Unemployment rose, incomes fell, and domestic violence — which was a problem before the pandemic — only increased in its wake.

Tell me about some of the positive changes you are seeing for women — if you are seeing any. What gives you hope?

Godoy: Despite the multiple difficulties and challenges faced by people in Latin America, especially women, there are initiatives and examples that sow hope for a future in which the gender and social inequality gap is reduced.

An example of this type of initiative is the Peruvian startup, Laboratoria, which focuses on increasing women’s participation in technological fields and training them to develop web solutions to significantly improve their personal and family income.

In addition, in recent years, more women have been present in leadership roles within the technology industry, holding executive positions such as CTO or CEO in companies or organizations that aim to increase digital access and innovative solutions.

Latin America is a region with great growth potential. However, this growth requires focusing efforts on the creation and compliance of public policies that are not only oriented toward access to digital tools, but also consider the gender inequality that is still evident in the region. Women and girls need real development opportunities in areas that empower them and increase their independence.

Read more stories about women around the world on our International Women’s Day page.

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