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INTERNET5: Shaping an Internet for women’s empowerment

May 29, 2019

Under the right conditions, digital technologies can contribute to achieving the targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030 by fostering economic growth, improving governance, and delivering better outcomes in education and health. But these positive effects can also be undermined by the role that technology can play in amplifying social, economic, and political inequalities.

Three challenges stand out:

Lack of access and skills:

Poor women, girls, and other marginalized communities in the developing world struggle for equitable access and often lack the skills to use digital tools. This entrenches the significant wage gaps that already exist, and means that women will struggle to harness 21st century employment opportunities as more jobs move online.

Online harassment:

Many women, more so than men, are targets for online “trolls” who seek to shame, taunt, and marginalize female voices. This means that although women may overcome access and skills barriers to get online, they often face severe harassment once they’re active in cyberspace.

Under-representation of women in fields such as computer science and engineering:

The digital bias is further compounded by the absence of women in the fields that shape and drive the design of technologies. Ensuring women contribute in these spaces means technological innovations will be designed with their needs in mind. For example, providing information on better sanitation or supporting flexible work options to counter bias or harassment.

INTERNET5 — an Internet that helps achieve SDG 5 on gender equality — aims to support research focused on what works in building social, political, and economic empowerment for women and girls. It seeks to understand how to improve women’s skills and access to the Internet and to explore how digital and networking tools can best be used to achieve SDG 5 targets. INTERNET5 is also leveraging research to facilitate equitable policy and regulatory environments that support the rights of women and girls online and offline.

INTERNET5 research themes are designed to support better gender-related outcomes through technology and development in three related areas:

  1. enhancing pro-women policies and rights online;

  2. improving governance and creating economic opportunities that empower women by testing and scaling digital innovations; and

  3. improving access to technology and the skills needed to create and innovate.

Current projects


A feminist approach to open government: investing in gender equality to drive sustainable development

A feminist open government – or FOGO – promotes increased transparency, participation, accountability and government responsiveness to advance gender equality and better governance.

Making a Feminist Internet Research Network

Hosted by the Women’s Rights Program (WRP) of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) in South Africa, the research network aims to inform policy and practice through evidence to foster an internet that enables gender equality.

Prospera Digital: Financial inclusion for low-income women in Mexico

Prospera Digital aims to improve the way that beneficiaries of Mexico’s conditional cash transfer program (Prospera) access and use government financial services through digital technologies. The expectation, based on preliminary research, is that Prospera Digital will empower low-income women by giving them more control over family expenditures.

Tackling online inequality: Making digital platforms work for inclusive development

The expansion of digital platforms like Facebook, Amazon, Uber, AirBnB, and Twitter is driving the need for an understanding of how these platforms shape work, learning, communication, and engagement, and their impact on inclusion, equity, and power in the Global South.

Building an Africa open data network

The Open Data for Development Network (OD4D) seeks to catalyze a more vibrant and viable multi-stakeholder ecosystem in Africa through the creation of an Africa Open Data Network that will serve as a knowledge hub. The most challenging issue to address with open data is the lack of disaggregated data focusing on women.

Understanding digital access and use in the Global South

Public policies contribute to affordable and inclusive Internet infrastructure. To ensure that the benefits of broadband are more evenly distributed, such policies must account for the needs and usage patterns of marginalized populations. This project will generate evidence on Internet access and use, and the issues that users and non-users face, including women.

Improving prospects for digitally enabled livelihoods among marginalized communities in Egypt

This project aims to improve understanding of the conditions that can enable Egyptian youth and women in marginalized communities to improve their livelihoods in the digital economy, and address skills and organizational practice deficits in this sector. It focuses on individuals and organizations as change agents that can enable women and youth to harness the opportunities of new digital tools.

Digital learning innovations for Syrian refugees and host communities

Since the start of the Syrian civil conflict, Jordan and Lebanon have borne much of the burden of educating refugee communities. Estimates suggest that approximately 714,000 displaced Syrian children in the region, especially girls, are out of school. The project seeks to provide an effective and low-cost educational model that will build the capacities of teachers, administrators, and counselors.

Crowdsourcing data to fight social misconduct: The scaling of HarassMap

HarassMap helps address sexual harassment in Egypt by tracking incidents of harassment and using data for evidence-based policy input. Harassmap is being scaled up to target additional universities in Egypt, the model is being replicated elsewhere in Egypt to help tackle corruption, and it is being expanded to other countries.
Graduate courses leading to master’s and doctoral degrees are an important step for Haiti’s sustainable development.

Preparing Haitian women and girls for digital jobs

This project aims to create enabling conditions for young Haitian women to find employment in the digital economy. Building on research that suggests online work can enhance women’s feelings of empowerment, the project is designing, piloting, and evaluating locally adapted online courses to enhance the technical skills of young Haitian women.