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Mia Mitchell MPP 2015 served as a Belfer IGA student fellow in the past academic year, conducting research on Internet governance. Before coming to the Kennedy School, she worked for the state department in the Bureau of African Affairs and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
As the academic year came to a close and my classmates began to scatter across the globe, it was a great time to reflect on what we as Kennedy School students had learned over the past year and what we hoped to take away from the next.
I came to the Kennedy School from the state department, where I worked on human rights and security issues in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. At HKS, I planned to continue studying international affairs and human rights, but also hoped to delve further into Internet and technology policy. In pursuit of that goal, I undertook a year-long research fellowship on Internet governance and cyber issues with Professor Joseph Nye through the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. I also took Nicco Mele’s class, "Media, Politics, and Power in the Digital Age," for which I dedicated my final project to studying why women contribute to Wikipedia at lower rates than men (only about 13 percent of Wikipedia editors are women). Considering who contributes (or not) to the online encyclopedia matters for public policy students as Wikipedia remains one of the most popular websites in the world (and is frequently the first source people turn to for information).
I examined a related gender and technology issue for my final project in policy analysis, a new module in the MPP core. Recently there’s been a growing push to increase Internet access in developing countries. The motivations for doing so range from accessing untapped markets for profit to viewing Internet access as a human right. The number that’s often cited is that there are still about four billion people (or two-thirds of the planet) who have yet to come online. What’s less discussed is that women comprise a disproportionate share of that four billion. Across the developing world, 25 percent fewer women than men are online, and in some countries that number is nearly twice as high.
Recognizing that digital skills are critical to professional and economic opportunities in the 21st century (not to mention opportunities to exercise voice and agency), I used my policy analysis project to research how to increase women’s Internet use in Uttar Pradesh, India. Through an analysis of political, economic, and operational factors, I found that digital training in combination with more affordable Internet-equipped devices had the potential to help close the gender gap in Internet usage, as well as raise women’s future earnings.
After concluding the project last winter, I explored ways to continue studying and working to expand women’s Internet access in the developing world. I traveled to Nepal over January term and, following my return to HKS, co-founded an initiative to increase women’s Internet use there. This summer, with support from the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, I’ll return to Nepal to lay further groundwork and run a pilot project.