Three Questions on D4D” series: An overview of the gender digital divide in Europe and Africa

Interview conducted by the D4D Hub ( 

The gender gap remains a major obstacle to achieving an inclusive digital transformation, according to Paola Cervo, coordinator of the Digital for Development (D4D) African Union-European Union (AU-EU) Hub project. “Bridging the gender digital divide is a shared challenge in Africa and Europe,” she says.

As an illustration, the digital sector in Africa is booming. However, despite the notable advances, African women do not seem to benefit equally from these developments. One of the latest Afrobarometer reports sounds the alarm that the gender gap may, in fact, be widening. A survey of 34 African countries shows that women are less likely than men to use a cell phone every day, have phones with Internet access, own computers, access the Internet regularly, or follow the news through the Internet or social media.

The picture in Europe is no more promising, says Paola. According to a report by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, women make up only 17 percent of all ICT students in the European Union. This has been traced back to gender stereotypes that strongly influence subject choices and determine that less than 3% of European teenage girls show an interest in working in the ICT field.

In this interview, Paola explores the underlying causes of the gender digital divide, possible solutions, and the contribution of the AU-EU D4D Hub to this challenge.

Q: Why do we talk about a gender digital divide? And what are the barriers to women’s access to information and communication technologies (ICTs)?


PC: The digital divide refers to “gender differences in resources and capabilities for accessing and effectively using ICTs within and across countries, regions, sectors and socio-economic groups,” according to UN Women.

However, when assessing digital inequality, it is important to keep in mind that the issue is not just about Internet access and technology use. It is also referred to as the “gender digital divide,” which highlights digital inequality as “one aspect of a broader system of discrimination and disadvantage that limits the potential of women and girls to participate in society.”

Many studies corroborate this reality. Indeed, while the gaps continue to narrow, the GSMA Mobile Gender Gap 2021 report reveals that 374 million women do not have a cell phone, 97 million of whom are in Africa. According to the World Wide Web Foundation, “men are 21 percent more likely than women to be connected to the Internet, with the gap rising to 52 percent in the least developed countries.

The reasons why women are less likely to participate and seize the opportunities offered by the digital age are multiple. Several individual and societal factors combine to create real barriers related to accessibility, education, and lack of technological knowledge.

Certainly, the problem interfaces with other structural challenges. Cultural and social norms, issues related to power dynamics, and income levels are some of the factors that make gender digital inequality a complex issue. Taking into account intersectionality between gender and other forms of discrimination is essential to effectively addressing the digital divide.

As a representative from Digital Woman Uganda who responded to our call for input ahead of the upcoming D4D Hub Africa-Europe Multi-Stakeholder Forum highlights:

“Ugandan women face a variety of challenges that compromise their use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies. These reflect the barriers women face in the offline world, whether in accessing education and economic opportunities, participating in civic technology processes, or asserting their freedom of expression and assembly.”


Access to training opportunities is a prerequisite for women to play a role not only as users and consumers of technology, but also as developers and creators of it. Photo: Getty Images


Q: What are some possible solutions that can be explored to address these barriers?



PC: There is no shortage of arguments about how gender equality can be a decisive element in a digital revolution that is not only inclusive but also effective.

A new study by the Alliance for Affordable Internet and the World Wide Web Foundation estimates that the gender digital divide has cost low- and middle-income countries $1 trillion over the past decade. According to the World Bank, this is equivalent to nearly two-thirds of the combined annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of sub-Saharan Africa.

The European Commission also estimates that the inclusion of more women in the digital economy could create an annual increase in GDP in the European Union of 9 billion euros.

In this sense, promoting women’s equal access to the potential of digital technologies is at the heart of the African Union and European Union’s digital strategies.

The Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020-2030) promotes policies that increase educational opportunities and digital skills development for women and girls in STEM subjects.

Similarly, the European Union is working to ensure that the digital transition is fair and that women are encouraged to participate fully. Similarly, seizing the opportunities for women’s empowerment offered by digitization is one of the six main thematic areas of action of the Third Action Plan on Gender Equality in EU External Action.

These strategic directions point in the right direction. Possible solutions to the gender digital divide require a comprehensive and systematic approach to define the problem, raise awareness and educate key actors, and implement effective measures to address it.

The availability of sex-disaggregated data on digital inclusion, including internet access and participation in the digital sector, is a fundamental starting point. Efforts are growing but need to continue in order to make accurate and comprehensive data available to policymakers, especially for the most marginalized groups.

Strategies, policies, plans, and budgets that explicitly address women’s needs, circumstances, capabilities, and preferences are essential if governments and other key actors in the digital transformation are to effectively address the digital divide. The consolidated tools of gender mainstreaming remain the most appropriate for integrating gender into all phases of the policy cycle in the digital sector.

Awareness of opportunities and visibility of positive experiences also play an important role. Access to training opportunities for the development of specialized digital skills is a prerequisite for women to play a role not only as users and consumers of technology, but also as developers and creators of it. It also means making visible and celebrating the contributions and achievements of women in ICT


Q: How is the AU-EU D4D Hub contributing to these efforts?


PC: Contributing to digital equality is at the heart of the AU-EU D4D Hub’s mandate. Our activities support African and European institutions in creating an enabling environment for an inclusive digital transformation, with a particular focus on the causes and consequences of the digital divide as well as the opportunities that can be addressed. In terms of technical assistance, we aim to ensure that inclusiveness is a key element of implementation from the very identification of the need that is being addressed. We strive to sensitize and inform policy and decision makers of the gaps that exist and to help them target the needs and expectations of women in their countries or regions.

Both at the intercontinental level and across Africa, we facilitate multi-stakeholder dialogues that are based on the principle of engaging all stakeholders in the digital ecosystem and fostering equal representation of their views. The next D4D Hub Africa-Europe Multistakeholder Forum, which will take place in ten days, will not be outdone. A session co-organized with CONCORD, the European NGO Confederation for Relief and Development, will highlight the visions of different actors in order to explore the main challenges and opportunities for women and girls in Africa and Europe, and to contribute to reflections on a transformative and intersectional approach to digital equality.

At the AU-EU D4D Hub we are convinced of the importance of promoting positive role models that celebrate the diversity of girls and young women engaged in the digital sector. To this end, we are launching today the #GirlsinD4D communication campaign that aims to give visibility to inspiring young professionals, especially those working to advance digital cooperation between Africa and Europe. We are looking forward to highlighting these young women in the digital world on the International Day of Girls in ICT but also in the months to come. Other interesting activities and initiatives are in the works. We hope to further contribute to African and European commitments and efforts for a truly inclusive digital transition.

These strategic directions point in the right direction. Possible solutions to the gender digital divide require a comprehensive and systematic approach to define the problem, raise awareness and educate key actors, and implement effective measures to address it.



 About the interviewee:

Paola Cervo is the coordinator of the AU-EU D4D Hub since January 2021. She has over 15 years of experience in the international development sector, having accompanied public institutions, international organizations, NGOs and start-ups in Africa and Europe in the implementation of inclusive and sustainable development initiatives.