There is a "significant and pervasive" gap between women and men in access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), which could widen if nothing is done, according to a United Nations study.
The report indicated that around the world, women were getting online later and more slowly than men, noted a report released over the weekend by the Broadband Commission Working Group on Broadband and Gender.
The UN study called "Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women & Girls in the Information Society", is the first comprehensive global snapshot of broadband access by gender. It was officially launched by Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
It added there were 1.3 billion women Internet users, compared with 1.5 billion men. The group warned that the gap could grow from 200 million now to 350 million within the next three years if nothing was done.
According to the study, while the gap between male and female users is relatively small in OECD nations, it widens rapidly in the developing world, where expensive, "high status" ICTs like computers are often reserved for use by men.
For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, only half the number of women are as connected as men. Worldwide, women are also on average 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone--representing a mobile gender gap of 300 million, or US$13 billion in potential missed revenues for the mobile sector.
Women as an emerging market bigger than India, China
The report also speclates that the untapped pool of female users could also represent a market opportunity for device makers, network operators, and software and app developers that might equal or even outstrip the impact of large emerging markets like China or India.
The report pointed out that, in developing countries, every 10 percent increase in access to broadband translates to a 1.38 percent growth in GDP. That translated to a boost of US$18 billion if an additional 600 million women and girls are given online access.