Bridging the Digital Gender Gap: Empowering Women in the Digital Age

“If we lose the fight to liberate women we will have lost all right to hope for a positive transformation of our society into something superior.” -Thomas Sankara

Originally coined in the 1990s and referring specifically to physical access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), the term “digital divide” has broadened in meaning as our world has grown increasingly digitised and complex. The wide distribution of personal computers, the World Wide Web, and the proliferation of mobile technologies have shifted scholars’ focus from material access to a more layered approach to digital inequality. Alexander van Deursen and Jan van Dijk assert that “it is wrong to assume that physical access to computers and the Internet automatically entails all benefits associated with their use” (van Deursen & van Dijk, 2024). Van Dijk identifies four layers of access that nuance our understanding of differences in the use of technology: Motivational and Physical access, which are the desire to use technology and the geographic and financial availability thereof; and Digital Skills and Usage access, which refer to what people are able and willing to use ICTs for. It is in the latter two that Van Dijk identifies a deepening divide.

A worrying example from recent scholarship comes from India: “A survey conducted in semi-rural Madhya Pradesh revealed that a majority of the women who owned a mobile phone did not know how to operate it. Unable to read or write, they could not dial a number or read messages; most did not know their mobile numbers and had to ask their husbands. Their mobile phone usage was mostly limited to pressing the green button when the phone rang” (Mariscal et al., 2019). This example illustrates not only that ICTs and digital literacy skills are unevenly prevalent, but also that most scholars now agree that differences in internet access among segments of the population tend to reinforce social inequalities.

A traditional so-called “axis of inequality” is gender. The many ways in which gender inequality is both globally reinforced by, and potentially alleviated through, ICTs has been the subject of much debate. The “digital gender divide” (DGD), as explained by Nicholas O. Alozie and Patience Akpan-Obong, is premised on three axioms: Technologies are not gender neutral; in a knowledge society where virtually all significant aspects of human life (economics and commerce, politics and governance, and cultural change) are woven into ICTs, women risk falling further behind unless concrete steps are taken to bring them into the ecosystem of the technology; and to the extent ICTs are tied to significant aspects of human life, ICTs can engender gender equality (Alozie & Akpan-Obong, 2017).

Mariscal et al. find significant evidence for the digital gender divide: differences in internet use are huge across gender lines, with women using less internet on average, especially in developing countries and least developed countries. Differences in mobile ownership and smartphone ownership are also significant, and these differences are even more pronounced when it comes to women creating technology. Alozie and Akpan-Obong identify several gender-specific constraints to ICT use in developing and lesser-developed countries that disadvantage women in accessing and using technology. These include community and family discouragement, the idea that “only boys ‘do’ technology”, lower literacy and education levels, lesser physical access to technology and information on how to use it, location factors, and women’s triple burden of domestic, productive, and community management responsibilities acting as a time constraint. Mariscal et al. posit a lack of female role models in ICT as an additional impairment.

Analysing the digital gender divide in 6 sub-Saharan African countries, Alozie and Akpan-Obong found that “women are disadvantaged only to the extent that they have less education, lower economic status and higher levels of domesticity.” In other words, the digital gender divide is built on older, more entrenched inequalities. The rising tide of women’s liberation will inevitably close the digital gender divide. More important is the flip side of this argument: closing the DGD can be an invaluable tool in women’s liberation, especially in developing countries.

There are many ways in which improving women’s access to ICTs and equipping them with the necessary toolkit to participate in digital society can empower them within a patriarchal society. Being able to navigate the internet might facilitate “more attractive and lucrative” employment opportunities and lead to higher wages. Having access to the world of e-finance opens up myriad opportunities for financial independence. Being able to participate in online communities can mean better access to specialized knowledge, as well as provide crucial virtual safe spaces for women. Amartya Sen argues “that some variables relating to women’s agency […] often play a much more important role in promoting social well-being (in particular, child survival) than variables relating to the general level of opulence in the society” (Sen, 1999). The improvement of women’s agency, their freedom and capacity to act on their own behalf, is essential. A key way of expanding this agency in our modern digitized society is through digital education and improving women’s digital literacy.

In the pursuit of gender equality, addressing the digital gender divide stands as a pivotal challenge of our time. As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, let us heed the words of Thomas Sankara, recognizing that the liberation of women is integral to the advancement of our society. At Digital Skills Foundation, we are committed to bridging this divide by providing sustainable, scalable, and cost-effective solutions for digital inclusion. By empowering women with digital literacy skills and access to technology, we not only enable their participation in the digital ecosystem but also pave the way for greater economic independence, social empowerment, and collective progress. Together, let us harness the power of technology to build a more equitable and inclusive future for all.

Otje van der Mark | Content Creator



  • Alozie, N. O., & Akpan-Obong, P. (2017). The Digital Gender Divide: Confronting Obstacles to Women’s Development in Africa. Development Policy Review, 35, 137-160.
  • Barua, A., & Barua, A. (2012). Gendering the Digital Body: Women and Computers. AI and Society, 27, 465-477.
  • van Deursen, A., & van Dijk, J. (2024). The Digital Divide – An Introduction. University of Twente Centre for Digital Inclusion. Retrieved January 26, 2024, from
  • Mariscal, J., Mayne, G., Aneja, U., & Sorgner, A. (2019). Bridging the Gender Digital Gap. Economics: The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E- Journal, 13, 1-12.
  • Sankara, T. (1990). Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle. Toronto: Pathfinder Press. (Original work published 1987)
  • Sen, A. (1999). Development as Freedom. New York: Anchor Books.

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