Pacific digital transformation: is everyone a winner?

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Digital transformation – based on improving digital connectivity and expanding internet access – offers a substantial opportunity for the development of the Pacific private sector. According to the World BankDigital transformation in the Pacific could add more than $5 billion to regional GDP, increase total government revenue in the region by $1 billion, and create nearly 300,000 new ICT jobs in the region by 2040. Digital transformation will improve access to markets, information, government services, and financial and banking services.

Yet little attention has been paid to the digital gender divide in the Pacific – the differences between Pacific men and women in accessing and using digital technology.

Globally, the International Telecommunication Union has found that the the digital gender divide is narrowing, 62% of men and 57% of women now use the Internet (although the gap is widest in least developed countries, where the proportion of women using the Internet is 12 percentage points lower than that of men). The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022 also indicates that the gender gap in mobile internet is narrowing, but notes that there are still 264 million fewer women than men who have access to it.

However, global reports and indices rarely include data for the Pacific. So how does the Pacific compare to global trends? Are Pacific women well placed to benefit equally from the economic gains to be made through digital connectivity in the region?

To answer this question, we need reliable data and analysis on the differences in digital opportunities and access between men and women, so that we can identify and address the gaps. However, there is little information and analysis on the gendered impact and opportunities presented by digital transformation in the Pacific.

To fill the data gap, the Asian Development Bank Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI), in partnership with the World Wide Web Foundation and local partners (PNG Digital ICT Cluster, Samoa Information Technology Association and Tonga Women in ICT Incorporated), used the Women’s Rights Online Global Methodology to measure the digital gender gap.

The methodology is based on 14 indicators that are used to measure countries’ progress towards closing the digital gender gap. The dashboard uses existing secondary data, where available, and identifies evidence gaps where data on women and ICT is missing or not publicly available.

Digital gender gap audits conducted in three countries varied internet penetration rates – Papua New Guinea (11.2%), Samoa (33.61%) and Tonga (41.25%). Dashboards were produced for each country to measure the state of women’s digital inclusion and empowerment on five key themes: internet access resulting in women’s empowerment, affordability, digital skills and education, content and services relevant to women, and online safety. The scorecards also assessed the policy environment and efforts to collect gender-disaggregated data.

Given low internet penetration, PNG scored the lowest of the three countries on all five themes, with an overall score of 47%. Samoa and Tonga performed better in key areas, with overall scores of 71% and 71.6% respectively (Table 1).

Audits and findings are explained in more detail in the regional summary report. The report notes that the Pacific has the lowest mobile internet penetration rate in the world (18%).

Tonga was the only country to collect and report gender-disaggregated ICT data, and none of the three countries had clear, time-bound targets for closing internet use gaps in national policies. in ICT.

The implications are clear: if women are less likely to have access to the Internet, they are less likely to access information and services online. The internet is less affordable for women due to lower levels of labor market participation, the gender pay gap, and lower levels of digital literacy. As a result, many women will be unable to take advantage of new platforms and services that could open up opportunities for improved economic and social outcomes.

Recognizing these opportunities, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) has designed a e-commerce strategy and roadmapfollowed by the development of eCommerce Strategies for Samoa and Tonga. E-commerce readiness assessments that informed these strategies include very little sex-disaggregated data or gender analysis, although they cover many of the same themes as the scorecards, such as access, affordability and digital skills. It is therefore not surprising that these strategies include commitments to empower women through e-commerce, but lack specific activities or targets to reach women, apart from building digital skills for female entrepreneurs.

Expanding access to and use of digital technology has significant potential for female entrepreneurship in the Pacific, including for women in the informal sector. But without targeted interventions that target women’s participation, based on reliable sex-disaggregated data, many Pacific Island women will be left behind as the digital economy grows and others reap its benefits.

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