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