Relevance of gender in the policy area

The Digital Agenda for Europe was established with a view to stimulating economic growth while at the same time addressing social challenges through information and communications technology. In both cases, gender has particular relevance.

In terms of economic growth, the so-called knowledge economy is a key economic factor underpinning national and EU development. The World Bank suggests that every 10 % increase in access to broadband results in a 1.38 % rise in GDP in developing countries. The 2015 progress report on the EU Digital Agenda confirms this correlation: digitalisation accounted for 30 % of growth in GDP in the EU between 2001 and 2011.

According to the Broadband Commission report, the presence of women online can boost GDP: bringing an additional 600 million women and girls online around the world will result in a GDP increase of up to USD 18 billion.

The report underlines that, for women, having access to the Internet means:

  • increased efficiency/productivity in their work and businesses;
  • improved access to markets to sell and buy goods;
  • improved education;
  • wider networks;
  • new innovations;
  • faster access to relevant information.

In addition, the European Commission report Women active in the ICT sector concludes that including more women in the digital economy could create an annual GDP boost in the EU of EUR 9 billion.

In terms of addressing social challenges, access to modern ICT and the Internet enables the exercise of human rights, freedom of expression, cultural rights and the right to assembly. It can also confer a sense of identity. Internet access also encompasses the right to participate and fully engage in policy and decision-making processes, thereby making the Internet a gateway to new ideas and opportunities and a driving force for innovation.

Women’s digital inclusion is an empowering process, giving women a voice and enabling them to effectively participate in governance processes and innovate to build and shape the future they want.

Furthermore, ICT also enables people to acquire new skills and acts as a catalyst in the delivery of public services such as education, employment, healthcare and financial services. In this light, ensuring equal access to ICT and the Internet is not only a matter of human rights (e.g. freedom of expression); it would also improve women’s health and the health of their families and communities, support women’s access to education and other social services, and contribute to women’s employment, economic independence and the sustainable development of their livelihoods.

However, the full potential that women can bring to the digital field – in terms of economically sustainable growth, human rights and social achievement – is still blocked by persistent gender inequalities. First of all, there is a gender divide in Internet use among women and men. This may be related to the lower take-up of digital education among women: for example, the use of ICT and the Internet is usually part of scientific education pathways, where women are present in smaller numbers. Women are also underrepresented in ICT employment and are generally employed in low-quality digital jobs, despite research suggesting that gender balance in high-value ICT positions, both in management and operational roles, improves business performance.

Second, ICT has been increasingly associated with cybercrime, which is increasingly becoming an instrument to harass and harm women while at the same time reinforcing existing structures of inequality.

The Digital Agenda is thus an area that remains influenced by a set of persistent gender inequalities. These are as follows:

  • gender gaps and differences in access to and use of digital technologies;
  • gender gaps and differences in digital-related education: segregation across fields of study among women and men and girls and boys;
  • gender and the digital labour market: women’s low participation in the digital labour market and in particular in high-quality jobs and top management positions;
  • ICT, cybercrime and gender.

Gender inequalities in the policy area - Main issues 

Existing gender-equality policy objectives at EU and international level

The digital sector falls under the responsibility of both the European Commission and EU Member States. While the Member States are in charge of creating favourable conditions for the development of the digital economy, which includes the increased participation of women in the digital economy and society, the remit of the Commission is to create the Digital Single Market. The Digital Single Market is one of 10 political priorities and is defined as a market for the free movement of people, services and capital, where individuals and businesses can seamlessly access and exercise online activities under conditions of fair competition and with a high level of consumer and personal data protection, irrespective of their nationality or place of residence. As one of the pillars of the Digital Single Market strategy consists in maximising the growth potential of the digital economy, the European Commission has been taking action to encourage EU Member States to speed up the development of the digital economy, including initiatives to support Member States in boosting women’s participation in this sector.

Policy cycle in digital agenda

Click on a phase for details

How and when? The Digital Agenda and the integration of the gender dimension into the policy cycle

The gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle click here.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into the Digital Agenda. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.

Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in the Digital Agenda


The key milestones of the Digital Agenda policy are presented below.

Current policy priorities at EU level

The overarching policy priorities of EU policy for Digital Agenda are encompassed in the Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative Digital Agenda for Europe. The main aims of the Digital policy in Europe are:
  • increasing access to high-speed Internet and digital content
  • ensuring cyber-security
  • increasing the development and use of electronic government and new health services
  • bridging the digital divide, ensuring inclusion of all European citizens.
In order to reach these aims, in 2012, the Commission revised the Digital Agenda adopted in 2010. The new agenda includes seven pillars (main objectives) and a subset of 132 actions grouped around seven priority areas:
  • Create a new and stable broadband regulatory environment.
  • Create new public digital service infrastructures through Connecting Europe Facility.
  • Launch Grand Coalition on Digital Skills and Jobs.
  • Propose an EU cyber-security strategy and Directive.
  • Update the EU’s Copyright Framework.
  • Accelerate cloud computing through public sector buying power.
  • Launch a new electronics industrial strategy.

Full implementation of this updated Digital Agenda is expected to increase European GDP by 5%, or €1,500 per person, over the next eight years by increasing investment in ICT, improving e-skill levels in the labour force, enabling public sector innovation and reforming the framework conditions for the Internet economy.

In terms of jobs, up to one million digital jobs risk going unfilled by 2015 without pan-European action, while 1.2 million jobs could be created through infrastructure construction. This is predicted to rise to 3.8 million new jobs throughout the economy in the long term.

The Digital Agenda policy area intersects with other topics in other policy sectors, notably research and innovation, environment, transport and mobility, and e-health and ageing.

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