The Direction of Digital Equality
By Sonia Jorge

In today’s digital world, access is power. Internet access opens up a new world of information and opportunities, and has become such an integral part of our lives that it has been said that to be offline today is to be silenced. Today, close to half the world remains offline, unable to access the information and opportunities that come with an Internet connection. Their voices are silenced in the digital world and as a result, their voices are also missing from social, political and economic discourse offline.

Connectivity has become so indispensable to modern life that in 2015, the United Nations set a new global goal as part of the new Sustainable Development Goals: universal, affordable Internet access for all by the year 2020. This ambitious goal, together with the goal to enhance the use of ICT for women’s economic empowerment, underscores the importance of Internet access to global development and empowerment, but the reality is that we still have a long way to go in order to achieve this goal.

As the digital revolution marches forward, with increasing hype around all the possibilities and potentials, billions are being left behind. This digital divide falls along gender and income lines—women and the poor comprise the majority of those offline today. These populations are often already marginalized offline and, as a result, arguably stand the most to benefit from the opportunities associated with online access; instead, they are now seeing these offline inequalities replicated online.

The World Economic Forum has warned that growing global inequality is one of the major threats facing our world today. While Internet access has the power to upend this balance of power, today’s digital exclusion is instead reinforcing existing patterns of privilege and discrimination.

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