“The digital skills gap persists because the discrimination starts early in life – at home – with the cell phone as the first point of contact with digital technology,” said Tania Nusrat Zaman, head of child rights and protection at Plan International Bangladesh. “Parents, particularly mothers, believe that daughters will use cell phones to communicate with boys and begin relationships that will lead to sexual encounters. The most ubiquitous, and cheapest, form of digital technology is therefore viewed negatively in the context of girls.”
The problem extends outside the home as well. Girls in Uttar Pradesh, India, receive fines of 2,100 rupees if they’re caught using mobile phones in public, a law that was purportedly designed to prevent these girls from eloping with young men. A third of men surveyed in Indonesia said they felt responsible for policing the content women consumed on the web.
But even in the absence of fear-based, discriminatory policing, girls face challenges. Iris Caluag, Youth Employment Solutions (YES!) Program Officer at Plan International, said that in poor families, parents will prioritize their sons’ educations over their daughters. When girls do attend school, they may assume they’re not capable of studying tech-centric subjects and they’re less likely to pursue technical fields of study if they’ve never been exposed to them in supportive ways.
While cultural perceptions of gender and technology vary in different parts of the world, they’re not the only factors in exacerbating the digital skills gap. Even in societies that ostensibly attempt to offer gender neutral educations, women still fall behind when it comes to digital skills.
Swati Sharma, a product tribe leader at Telenor, said a lack of role models plays a significant role in the gender gap in developed countries. When women don’t see their peers entering unfamiliar career fields, such as programming, those areas remain opaque, she said.