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Region's 'Digital Divide' Keeps Women Stranded, 5 June, 2001

SINGAPORE--Statistics promoting Asians as Internet savvy are disguising the fact that women are being left well behind in the development of an online community, according to figures released Tuesday.

Women may make up half the population, but they account for just 22 percent of Asia's 48 million Internet users, the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nation) Women Leaders convention was told.

By comparison, women outnumber men online in the United States, while in Britain about 30 percent of online users are women.

Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Education, Aline Wong, told delegates: "There is not a more urgent women's issue for women leaders to consider than the digital divide.

"Women fall behind men most of the time in terms of job advancement, skills training, pay and ... women will find themselves falling more and more behind if they do not acquire IT skills or do not even have access to computers," she said.

Jannie Tay, president of the Asean Business Forum said "it could be a lack of understanding and fear of the technology that is keeping women away from the Internet," while other speakers said the Asian culture encouraged women to remain passive and made them reluctant to experiment with new technology.

"Some women prefer to stay behind the curtain in a way," said Fione Tan, president of a Malaysian e-business portal and consultancy

"They are less likely to venture into things like the Internet that they feel is too technical for them."

Rita Chaudhuri, who founded Identification Technologies in Singapore, said the Internet could be harnessed to empower women.

"The Internet provides women access to other women, builds up a global community. And you don't need any background to use it."

India's efforts to make computer terminals widely available were cited as an exemplary move to educate the underprivileged, with delegates suggesting over countries could adopt the idea of taking Internet facilities to the streets to provide women with hands-on contact.

"Currently, the only problem for women is adopting the technology. Once we get there, there will be many benefits," said Chong Yoke Sin, assistant chief executive of Singapore's National Computer Systems.

"Region's 'Digital Divide' keeps Women Stranded -"

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