Digital accessDigital access for all is becoming more and more necessary with the growing digital economy. Ecuadorian businesswoman Pierangela Sierra recently became the United Nation’s eTrade for All initiative representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. The program seeks to “expand and promote” the digital economy across middle to low-income countries. Sierra is the founder of Tipti, which is an e-commerce online grocery shopping platform in Ecuador. The platform makes strides for women entrepreneurs around the world as Sierra advocates for their place in the digital workforce. Unfortunately, the growing global digital divide creates barriers to access. People in lower-income countries, especially women, have less access to the online world. Sierra’s advocacy for internet access equality provides much hope for the global digital accessibility movement.

The Digital Divide: A Global Crisis

On February 15, 2021, the United Nations Commission for Social Development discussed the presence of the global digital divide as it applies to the COVID-19 pandemic and global poverty. Members of the Commission noted that while technology has made it possible for numerous countries to overcome educational and economic crises throughout the pandemic, the digital divide has expanded globally.

The U.N. Secretary-General Amina Mohammed states that half the world’s population currently lacks internet access, “the majority of whom are women and mostly in developing countries.” The World Bank reports that only 35% of people in developing countries have access to the internet, indicating that the greatest digital access disparities are seen within rural areas as “these disparities impede shared prosperity and constrain access to pathways out of poverty.”

These disparities can sometimes even impact the speed, and therefore, the accessibility of the internet in different areas. As of 2019, it would take an average of 30 hours, one minute and 40 seconds to download a 5GB movie in Yemen in comparison to the average eight minutes it would take in Taiwan.

Pierangela Sierra and Founding Tipti

The global digital divide has grown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as those in rural or impoverished areas lack access to the resources the digital world provides. As impoverished communities and women continue to bear the brunt of internet inaccessibility, communities need advocates now more than ever. Sierra and her company Tipti work to debunk myths surrounding digital access and generate change by advocating for greater e-commerce and digital access among low-income populations and women.

After working for a variety of international corporations across Latin America, Sierra founded Tipti in 2016. Tipti is an abbreviation of “Tiempo para ti” or “time for you.” Tipti is an e-commerce grocery shopping and delivery platform designed to save clients time otherwise spent buying groceries in person.

Tipti’s Impact on Women

While 346 million people in Latin America have internet access, only 20% of the population “made online purchases in 2019.” The U.N. reports that there is an overall “lack of trust in postal services” and barriers to online bank account access. Sierra attributes the low level of e-commerce in Latin America to inadequate technology access and a lack of internet education. Sierra emphasizes that “there is a great need for access to education” in low-income areas, especially for women.

As part of the United Nation’s eTrade for All initiative, Sierra will teach a Masterclass “geared toward women who are ready to craft their own business plan for the tech sector.” Furthermore, Sierra aims to mobilize communities in order to create lasting change and significantly reduce the digital divide. As Sierra states in talks with the United Nations, “the moment you lend a woman a helping hand, you are helping up to 20 other people, too.”

The Future for Women in the Digital Workplace

As the digital divide increases worldwide, advocates like Sierra are extremely important. Fortunately, Sierra is not alone in her fight to increase e-commerce access and internet equality. Among various other organizations, the World Bank recently called for global broadband internet access for everyone. Currently, the World Bank is embarking on initiatives surrounding sector policy, loans and grants for broadband access. Individuals like Sierra along with organizations such as the U.N. and the World Bank further the movement to close the global digital divide through their advocacy and educational efforts.

– Lillian Ellis
Photo: Flickr

Engineering Good On April 7, 2020, Singapore commenced its Circuit Breaker — a series of measures designed to restrict social interaction — in an effort to safeguard the country from COVID-19. The government eased the restrictions after June 1, 2020, but the economic consequences reverberated long after, including a spike in unemployment and an estimated GDP contraction of 2.2%. As in other countries, low-income families in Singapore were more adversely affected by the pandemic and the disruptions that came with it. Impoverished Singaporeans felt a disproportionate impact, particularly in education, as students transitioned to home-based learning in compliance with Circuit Breaker measures. Parents and children from low-income households felt the proverbial rug pulled from under their feet as they scrambled to access laptops and reliable Wi-Fi routers and struggled to create an environment conducive to learning. Fortunately, Engineering Good stepped in to help with its Computers Against COVID campaign.

Engineering Good

Engineering Good, a Singapore-based charity established in 2014, supports low-income families and people with disabilities by improving their digital literacy and access to technology. Responding to the urgent need for laptops that arose due to home-based learning, Engineering Good refurbished secondhand laptops for low-income families in Singapore. The project became its flagship campaign, Computers Against COVID.

Computers Against COVID

The Computers Against COVID campaign began when the South Central Community Family Center reached out to Engineering Good requesting 24 laptops for low-income families in Singapore to support households’ home-based learning efforts. Leveraging the power of social media, the charity made requests to the public to donate their old laptops and computer accessories.

The response to Engineering Good’s social media campaign was overwhelming. Within two weeks, the charity had recruited more than 100 volunteers and received more than 600 laptops as donations. In an interview with The Peak Magazine, the executive director of Engineering Good, Johann Annuar, attributed the campaign’s success to Singaporean people’s desires to give back to society. The goodwill of donors and volunteers has enabled what was meant to be a one-weekend project of fixing a few laptops to transform into a more than year-long community endeavor.

As of May 2021, Engineering Good has refurbished and donated more than 4,000 laptops for low-income families in Singapore. The charity continues to receive requests of up to 200 laptops each month and works with around 200 social service organizations that help identify those most in need.

Continuing to Fight Digital Inequality

Given the Computers Against COVID campaign’s success, Engineering Good is now looking to transform the project into a long-term, sustainable initiative. The charity hopes to continue providing laptops and technical expertise to anyone in need, whether it be for home-based learning or other purposes, such as remote work. Invigorated by a sense of purpose, the organization’s volunteers are eager to continue making a difference, especially after realizing, as one volunteer described it, that “an extremely tiny sacrifice’’ of one’s time to fix a computer could potentially transform a family’s life for years.

While the issue of digital inequality has long loomed large in Singapore, COVID-19’s subversion of work and student life has accentuated the urgency with which both the public and nonprofit sectors must address the digital divide. As Engineering Good supports low-income families through laptop repair and other services, public demand for further government action is growing. As Singapore’s digital divide closes, impoverished families are able to participate in endeavors that educate and empower them, allowing disadvantaged Singaporeans to rise out of poverty.

Vyas Nageswaran
Photo: Flickr

Gender Inequality in TaiwanLocated in East Asia, Taiwan is a part of the Republic of China. The government has taken steps to improve gender inequality in Taiwan, but like other countries, it has made slow progress in increasing women’s participation in the labor force. From 1978 to 2015, the percentage of working women over the age of 15 increased from 38% to 51%. According to recent research, digital media has the power to fuel efforts to close the gap between men and women.

Gender Inequality in Taiwan

Historically, women in Taiwan were taught that they must obey their fathers, husbands and sons and depend on men. This traditional view incited women to form organizations that promoted gender equality. After World War II, the “Civil Code of the Republic of China” was applied to Taiwan. This code gave women the right to work, participate in politics and vote. Unfortunately, the gender pay gap remains an issue. In 2016, female workers in Taiwan made 14.6% less than their male co-workers.

The country has made progress, however. Today, Taiwan’s government has taken pride in increasing gender equality with a female head of state, President Tsai Ing-wen. Additionally, in the 2016 election, women made up 38% of the lawmakers voted into government positions. Voting in a significant percentage of female lawmakers opens opportunities for the Taiwanese government to fight against gender-based violence and discrimination. Some other ways to decrease gender inequality in Taiwan include supporting working mothers, establishing equal worker rights and offering fair access to education, business training and loans.

How Media Empowers Women

“Digital Media: Empowerment and Equality” is a study on how digital platforms empower female users and reduce gender inequality in Taiwan. The research discovered that digital technology gives women the power to spread awareness, as well as market and network. While the platforms offer opportunities, women would benefit even more if they have access to education to help them be successful on social media. For example, the Taiwan Women Up program has helped middle-aged and older women learn information and communication technology to support their organizations and empower themselves.

Furthermore, social media has the power to increase female empowerment through political involvement. Hashtag activism gives women the ability to make a public issue a global issue and pressure lawmakers. Social media also offers a platform for gendered violence stories and holds communities in multiple countries accountable for gender equality. Unfortunately, women sometimes have barriers to using this powerful tool, including limited access to technology, language barriers and censorship.

Need For Digital Education

Accenture found that digital fluency helps countries grow closer to equality in the workplace. The Digital Fluency Model reveals that countries with better digital fluency rates among women have higher rates of gender equality in the workplace. Women with better digital fluency also have more employment opportunities and flexibility. They can work from home and use technology to access more job opportunities.

Achieving gender equality is a challenge around the world, but Taiwan’s efforts to close the gap between men and women push the country in the right direction while adapting to the digital world.

Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Flickr

Digital Gender GapAs the world becomes more technologically advanced and digitally connected, access to technology remains an issue, especially in developing countries. More so, the digital gap between women and men continues to expand, with 300 million fewer women than men using mobile internet, creating a 20% gap. The lack of access to digital devices for these women means being denied essential services including employment opportunities, financial resources, educational resources and medical information. There are several global initiatives trying to bridge the digital gender gap between women and men.

Safaricom

In Kenya, women are 39% less likely than men to have access to mobile internet despite women making up 51% of the Kenyan population. Safaricom, a mobile network in Kenya, therefore created a partnership with Google to offer an affordable smartphone, the Neon Kicka with Android GO, compromising 500 megabytes of free data for the first month. The mobile network believes that empowering a woman empowers an entire community and focuses on the following three barriers: affordability, relevance and digital skills. The company ensured that the price point was the lowest it could be and featured important content including access to health information and educational content to highlight the smartphone’s daily relevance for women. Safaricom recognizes that many women are not familiar with Gmail accounts and therefore developed a guide covering the basics of smartphone use.

Novissi

Togo, a country in West Africa currently run by its first female prime minister, launched a digital cash transfer program called Novissi. Its goal is to provide aid to informal workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, covering residents of three urban areas under lockdown. Many underserved women tend to be excluded from COVID-19 relief digital cash transfer programs launched by governments since they either do not have access to digital bank accounts or are uninformed. Through Novissi, women receive a monthly sum of $20, whereas men receive $17, to support the cost of food, communication services, power and water. The three additional dollars allocated to women account for the fact that women are more likely to be informal workers and take care of a family’s nutritional needs.

Wave Money

In Myanmar, Wave Money has become the number one mobile financial service, with 89% of the country benefiting from its agents. Since Wave Money deals with 85% of rural areas in the country, money enters and leaves from nearly every state and facilitates familiarity with the service. The financial service created a partnership with GSMA Connected Women to allow greater access to financial services for women. Through this partnership, women are encouraged to run Wave Money shops in Myanmar, providing them with extra income even if they live in very remote areas of the country.

Telesom Simple KYC Account

It can be challenging for women to acquire the identity documents necessary to open accounts with service providers. In Somaliland, Telesom created a simplified know-your-customer (KYC) account, allowing women that do not possess an ID to sign up for mobile money services. The service solely requires a name, date of birth, image and contact details, favoring accessibility and reducing the digital gap between women and men.

Equal Access International Partnership with Local Radio Station

In Nigeria, women and girls are denied access to technology due to the fear of moral decline that accompanies the widespread culture. Equal Access International recognizes the need to address societal norms for women and amplify women and girls’ voices. In an effort to do so, Equal Access International partnered with a local radio station in order to create a show that tackled cultural taboos and promoted women and girls using digital technologies. The episodes last 30 minutes and cover weekly themes including common misconceptions about the internet, internet safety and moral arguments regarding women and the internet.

Closing the Digital Gender Gap

Despite a digital gender gap that exists between women and men, organizations around the world are making an effort to foster a sense of inclusion and empowerment for women and girls to become familiar and encouraged to take on the digital world that is constantly emerging.

Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

Innovative Projects Empowering WomenIn our booming technological world, the gender digital divide continues to suppress women’s access to technology and the global economy. In low- and middle-income countries, women are 10% less likely to own a mobile device than men, and 23% less likely to use the internet. A 2019 report from the GSMA highlights four main reasons for the divide, including affordability, literacy and tech-literacy rates, safety and security, and relevance to daily life. The report also estimates that closing the digital divide in just mobile internet usage by 2023 could increase GDP growth by $700 billion in low- and middle-income countries over the next five years.

Through the U.S. government’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), presidential advisor Ivanka Trump and USAID Administrator Mark Green launched the WomenConnect Challenge. With this funding, initiatives seek to shrink the barriers of digital illiteracy and “technophobia” fueled by a lack of complex resources, such as Internet access or formal education. That these barriers unequally limit women and girls leaves entire populations further and further behind in an increasingly digital world. In the first round of the challenge in 2018, USAID awarded more than $2 million to an initial nine projects working to close gender-based digital divides. The W-GDP initiative hopes to connect 50 million women in developing nations by 2025.

The First Projects that Received Funding

  1. Mali Health – Launched in 2019, the Mali Health application’s trial run proved useful in the lives of 65 women, most of whom live under the poverty line. The women were provided with a smartphone as well as training on the app’s features. The app allows users to search for medical information, advertise their small businesses and connect with larger markets using voice navigation in their native language. An upcoming feature will allow users to voice-record their medical questions and receive a recording back from a doctor. Surveys from the trial run indicate that innovative projects empowering women with knowledge and information boost women’s views on gender equality.
  2. GAPI and Bluetown – GAPI-SI and technology partner Bluetown established the Women in the Network program in Ribaue, Mozambique in late 2019. The project created content “clouds” for locals to access at lower costs than traditional network access, as well as a rent-to-own cell phone program. Additionally, they are training a team of Ribaue women in technology and internet use so that they may bring this knowledge to their peers and promote widespread connectivity.
  3. GramVaani – Meri Awaz Meri Pehchan, or “My Voice My Identity”, is an app from GramVaani enabling women to connect with other women and spread important information securely in Bihar, India. The application is voice-based, removing the literacy barrier from the equation. Women are trained as “reporters” and sent to rural communities to play informational recordings. They gather voiced comments on topics ranging from government programs and water availability to women’s rights. Innovative projects empowering women such as GramVaani make an impact through the dissemination of knowledge, a resource that cannot be taken for granted.
  4. Viamo – The Calling all Women program from Viamo makes use of a voice-based informational platform called the 3-2-1 Service, which allows for individuals to share valuable information for free on topics like health, hygiene, and financial literacy. The information has reached over 150,000 people in Tanzania and Pakistan. Additionally, Viamo’s program includes recorded lessons for women on mobile technology and the internet to help bridge the gender digital divide.
  5. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) – HOT’s project #LetGirlsMap trains women and male allies to map data from Tanzanian villages and report significant issues via mapping platforms. The program has reached 78 villages and has partnered with schools to gather and disseminate knowledge on gender-based violence and economic literacy. Such innovative projects empowering women and girls help them to confront gender norms and inequality while learning about technology and the economy.
  6. Evidence for policy design (EPoD) India at the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) – EPoD’s project Mor Awaaz utilizes a preexisting government program that is distributing 2 million mobile phones to women in rural India. Mor Awaaz offers training and voice-recordings for women on technological literacy and has reached 11,000 women so far, eliminating barriers like caste, mobility, and affordability.
  7. AFCHIX – Innovative projects empowering women like AFCHIX are addressing inadequate internet access in poor communities. AFCHIX created four women-led “community networks” in Kenya, Namibia, Morocco and Senegal. In these countries, women in community networks lead development projects to bring internet access to their communities and learn the skills needed to upkeep the hardware. They serve as both technicians and role models.
  8. Equal Access International – Based in Northern Nigeria, Equal Access International created the Tech4Families program to address the cultural norms that prevent women from accessing technology. Tech4Families launched a radio production in August consisting of twelve episodes that teach listeners about the benefits of technology and justify women’s use of technology via religion and social concepts. They will be meeting with families to discuss the show’s impact and the next steps toward destigmatizing the idea of women in tech.
  9. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) – Low-income women in the Dominican Republic are often unable to access credit from financial institutions because they do not have a credit score. IPA, along with the World Bank, a couple of American universities, and other institutions use machine learning and specialized algorithms to redo the credit-earning criteria for women, separately from men. This will allow more women to gain financial credit, and many have reported that they will use the money for entrepreneurial endeavors, to feed their families, and to invest in education.

– McKenna Black
Photo: USAID