Bridging the Gender Gap in Technology by Putting Women’s and Girls’ Access to Technology First

Gender and Technology

At the “How Can We Bridge Gender Gaps and Increase Women and Girls Access to Technology?” Technology Salon in Washington, D.C., leaders in various fields came together to discuss data and initiatives aimed to bridge the gender gaps in technology, with lead discussants Shireen Santosham, Revi Sterling, and Elise Young.

I was fortunate enough to participate in this gathering of minds and during the Salon, we addressed many important issues relevant to gender and technology in development. Below, are three of the points made at the Salon that I found particularly interesting:

1. It’s more than just women having technology devices.

If it were as easy as giving every woman a cell phone and walking away from it all, there wouldn’t be a need for research, Tech Salons like this wouldn’t exist, and I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. In order for mobile access to be meaningful, women have to also overcome the many barriers to meaningfully using their devices that were listed out in GSMA Connected Women 2015’s report.

gsma-gender-report
  • Cost of the handset and airtime
  • Network coverage and the quality of the connection
  • Literacy, both general and digital
  • Trust in the mobile network ecosystem, from airtime sales agents to MNOs.
  • Security and privacy, including spam calls & texts, device theft, and unwanted and harassing calls from others

Participants at the Salon discussed innovative ways women have gotten around these issues. My favorite was women using Emojis in lieu of words to convey messages, which can require a great deal of creativity. In order to make this increase in access meaningful and sustainable, global developers need to start thinking about these barriers seriously, and how to overcome them.

2. Everyone – women, men, or anyone – wants to use technology that is relevant to their interests and needs.

That statement may seem like a waste of characters, but how often are the wants and needs of women explicitly prioritized, or at the very least considered, when designing mobile technology? Caveat: no one is calling for ridiculous “for her”products.

Instead, at the Tech Salon, participants highlighted the importance of actually listening to women and paying attention to what they want and need. For example, many women in Jordan love using WhatsApp because they can create closed groups that are perceived as safe, and they can communicate directly with loved ones.

The participants at the Tech Salon pointed out that they’ve found that women really do value mobile phones. Women feel more connected and more empowered to make good decisions. For example, leaders of female agricultural cooperatives in Latin America who use mobile phones are more aware of market prices and better able to identify pricing scams, which allow them to run their businesses more efficiently and effectively.

Designing technology in a way that prioritizes women’s values increases the likelihood that they will get connected, stay connected, and use that connection to benefit their lives. And, as a participant of the Salon said, “If you’re leaving out half of the population, it’s not ICTD; it’s just IT.”

3. We need to pay attention to the gender gap here at home.

There is undoubtedly a huge gender gap in the field of technology here in the U.S. Women in tech face discrimination and endless challenges in order to do what they are passionate about. Beyond that, convening such as this Salon, in which we bridge the professional gap between gender and technology, are uncommon.

Someone pointed out that it’s often the same three or four people (usually women) in the room discussing gender issues, which is nice but could use more input from more people. The data from GSMA Connected Women 2015 pointed out that stakeholders need to focus on empowering women and working together to bridge the gap, but I would argue that this rings true for us at home too.

Organizations ought to empower women who work in technology, and work together as a whole to address the gender gap in access to mobile technology around the world.

By Tamara Chin Loy, MAMA Global

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Links and Resources

As part of this Technology Salon we’ve compiled a list of resources around the topic to serve as a reference and a primer on the topic.

Top 4 Links (if you only read 4, read these)

1. Bridging the Gender Gap: Mobile access and usage in low and middle-income countries GSMA Connected Women 2015
“Women own and use mobile phones at lower rates than men due to barriers such as cost, network quality and coverage, security and harassment, agent and operator trust, and technical literacy and confidence. However, women in our survey cited substantial benefits to mobile phone ownership, regardless of whether they currently owned a phone or not.”

2. Women and ICT in Africa: A New Digital Gap Rainatou Sow
“Without access to ICT, women are at greater risk of being left behind as agents of change and leaders in a rapidly changing global society. We must ensure that women, as well as men, at all social levels and in all countries, can access and use such technology.”

3. No Equality for Women Without Equal Access to Internet Cherie Blair for Devex
“Equal access to the Internet may not sound as significant as inequality of poverty or illiteracy. But it’s an increasing barrier to progress. And it can be the key to addressing those age-old inequalities on a significant scale.”

4. Five Barriers, Five Solutions: Closing the Gender Gap in ICT Policy World Wide Web Foundation
“…Concrete targets for gender equity in ICT access and use should be backed by specific programmes that have been allocated adequate budget, and there should be a plan to collect timely gender-disaggregated data to monitor the target.”

Other Articles

Empowering Women through the Tech Revolution Africa Outlook
“The challenge [of gender equality] begins in our schools where careers in telecommunications, construction, engineering and mining are not directly offered to girls. Typically speaking, telecoms is not their first career choice; women tend to choose a career in something they are already familiar with – something that is closer to their hearts – such as nursing or teaching for example.”

Technology, Women, and Africa: Access, Use, Creation and Leadership Shikoh Gitau
“A major source of discussion was the design of technology and, as one participant pointed out, ‘it is very hard for an all pale male design team, to have the perspective of a mahogany female,’ referring the design teams of many of the widely used technology. The context that determines if an African female will be a technology user is complex concoction of culture, socialization, infrastructure and education, to mention just a few.”

Unlocking the Potential of Women Through Technology for Sri Lanka’s Development Dilinika Peiris
“While governments, policy makers and practitioners work on making systemic changes, civil society groups can help improve this situation at the individual and household level through exposure, encouragement and advocacy,’ said Pryce, ‘encouraging NGOs to incorporate ICT as well as gender and development into their existing programs.”

Empowering Women and Girls Through ICT at Libraries Brief – Beyond Access
“As trusted community figures, librarians are well-positioned to support women through the process of applying ICT and other information tools.”

Illiteracy and High Cost Widen Gender Gap in ICT Access Marc Shoul
“…For women to access ICTs just like men, Amuriat argues, they need to get rid of technophobia as many of them do not use their phones beyond calling,receiving calls and text messages.”

Studies and Academic Articles

Connected Women – How Mobile Can Support Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Vodafone
“A mobile device, for instance, can connect a woman to the outside world in a uniquely private, portable way, opening up previously unattainable opportunities. The applications described in this Report have been selected to demonstrate how mobile can address the main access challenges: education, healthcare, economic participation, safety and community. ”

Women and the Web: Bridging the Internet Gap and Creating New Global Opportunities in Low and Middle-Income Countries Intel
“The question of how we can improve women’s and girls’ access to the Internet must begin with an evidence-based understanding of the present context. This report, rich in primary data and drawing from global databases and practitioners’ research and experiences, seeks to provide it. It (i) identifies how women and girls in low and middle income countries access the Internet, (ii) validates the benefits that can result from Internet use, and (iii) identifies barriers that prevent women from getting online—as well as ways to overcome them.”

Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity – A study on the mobile phone gender gap in middle and low income countries. GSMA Development Fund
“Mobile phone ownership in low and middle-income countries has skyrocketed in the past several years. But a woman is still 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. This figure increases to 23% if she lives in in Africa, 24% if she lives in the Middle East, and 37% if she lives in South Asia. Closing this gender gap would bring the benefits of mobile phones to an additional 300 million women. By extending the benefits of mobile phone ownership to more women, a host of social and economic goals can be advanced.”

Preparing Girls and Women for 21st Century Success: Intel Teach Findings Allison M. Glinski, Ellen Weiss & Adithi Shetty, with Gillian Gaynair
“…students in Chile, India, and Jordan came to recognize that they have the power to discover the knowledge they want and need on their own. This is an important realization for girls—particularly those in some low- and middle-income countries who tend to become isolated as they enter adolescence. During this time, many parents require their daughters to take on more household chores and are less inclined to allow them to go out in public. Many girls are ultimately cut off from accessing a world of information that could help them grow intellectually and socially.”

The Gender Digital Divide in Developing Countries Amy Antonio and David Tuffley
“In recent years, it has become more and more evident that traditional development strategies or charity alone will not solve these complex problems of inequity and unsustainability. Increasingly, the private sector is called upon to use its know-how, influence and innovations to sustainably serve those billions of poor people that have been neglected by global markets until this day.”

Access to ICT Education for GIrls and Women in Rural South Africa: A Case Study Nomusa Dlodlo
“This paper represents the results of a needs analysis on gender and socio-economic status of villagers in a South African rural area in relation to women’s access to ICT education. The research question was ‘What impact does the socio-economic environment have on girls’ and women’s access to ICT education and what measures can be taken to enhance their access to ICTs’. The study was undertaken in Mootse village in the Elandsdoorn area of Mpumalanga province in South Africa.”

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