Narrowing Gender Gaps through Data and Technology

Mobile and digital technology plays a critical role in empowering disadvantaged groups and improving socioeconomic and health outcomes for people in developing countries. Yet, women have fallen behind their male counterparts in technological adoption. This disparity, known as the digital gender divide, is one of the largest gender divides today. Women worldwide lack access to financial, educational, social, and health resources available through technology. As users and content creators, women are disadvantaged; 250 million fewer women than men use the internet while only 10% of Silicon Valley tech jobs are held by women. Representatives from the Digital Impact Alliance, Qualcomm Wireless Reach, and KPMG discussed these issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's International Women’s Day Forum. The panelists identified key challenges and opportunities for increasing women’s ability to fully benefit from new innovations and close the digital gender gap.

Overcome barriers that prevent women from fully benefiting from technology

The Digital Impact Alliance works with stakeholders from the public and private sector to foster a more inclusive digital society. Kate Wilson, Digital Impact Alliance’s chief executive officer, said that women face four barriers to fully benefiting from technological advancements. The barriers of accessibility, adoption, appropriateness, and affordability are collectively known as the 4As. Whether women are unable to access a charging station for their phone or don’t have a form of personal identification to obtain a SIM card, women are adversely impacted by a lack of accessibility. Even when life-changing technology exists, certain demographics, particularly in very poor communities, struggle to adopt it due to women’s limited education, finances, and time. Women are unable to benefit from new innovations when the design is not appropriate. As poor women tend to have lower levels of education than men, they may lack digital and literacy skills to use new devices and applications. Economically disadvantaged women, who often manage large households and engage in labor-intensive housework, struggle to afford new technology due to limited disposable income.

To overcome these barriers, Kate suggested that more women should be encouraged to develop technology. Only 6% of app developers are women. As the app field becomes more diverse, there will be increased opportunities to apply new thinking and problem solving to better meet women’s needs.

Equip women with technological skills and resources to improve their livelihoods

Qualcomm, an American multinational company specializing in semiconductors and telecommunications equipment, is seeking to bridge the gender digital divide. In the film the Power of 9, Qualcomm explores mobile innovation for good. The film is named after Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 9 - build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation - which Qualcomm Wireless Reach has embraced.

One of the mobile innovations that is explored in the film is Hapinoy in the Philippines. Qualcomm Wireless Reach partnered with the Grameen Foundation, Hapinoy, MasterCard, and Smart to launch the Hapinoy Mobile Money Hubs. With the use of 3G Android smartphones, nanay, which is Tagalog for mother, entrepreneurs have the ability to become Mobile Money Agents. This capability enables them to earn additional income by providing remittance services to members of the community through their small convenience stores. Qualcomm Wireless Reach has also developed a program that provides nanays with mobile literacy training, access to microfinance, and new business opportunities using wireless technology. As 5 billion people have access to mobile phones, this concept presents a significant opportunity worldwide.

Leverage partnerships to achieve economic and social outcomes

Angela Baker, Director at Qualcomm Wireless Reach, said that women are 10% less likely to own a mobile phone than their male counterparts. If access to mobile phones were to increase, this would generate rewards for individuals and serve as a compelling business prospect. Closing the gap presents a $15 billion opportunity for mobile operators. As women gain greater access to technology, they are better positioned to benefit from opportunities to improve economic, environmental, educational, health, and public safety outcomes.

In emerging markets, mobile technology is more readily available than computers. Angela described how mobile technology is being used in India to improve economic, health, and environmental outcomes. Through SootSwap, women are able to use their mobile phones to track the use of clean cook stoves. The app monitors how women use the stove and incentivizes the adoption of clean cooking technologies. The savings from using clean cookstoves instead of biomass burning cookstoves translates into money that can be reinvested in the family.

Other opportunities for women to benefit from digital technology include health apps that enable women to monitor their pregnancy or self-manage a chronic disease. This is particularly useful when they live in remote areas and face barriers to accessing clinics regularly. These transformative technological developments are often the result of cross-sector collaboration and support from government and other local actors. As Angela said, SDG 17 - to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development - is key to achieving educational and health outcomes.

Collect and use data to bridge the gender digital divide

Through KPMG’s International Development Assistance Services, the accounting firm strives to develop innovative solutions to overcoming challenges in achieving the SDGs. A key factor in developing solutions is ensuring that the needs of girls and women are addressed. Kate Maloney, Senior Manager, Development & Exempt Organizations, shared the work KPMG is doing through Equal Measures 2030 to ensure every girl and woman counts and is counted.

Equal Measures strives to ensure advocates and decision makers advancing girls and women’s issues have accurate, accessible data enabling them to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Kate Maloney said that in the research gathered thus far, there has been a significant difference between policymakers’ perception and the reality of the status of girls and women. This underlines the project’s importance and the imperative to facilitate more effective policymaking.

The panelists agreed that having reliable data is key to developing policies and practices that close the digital gender gap. Equals Global Partnership, which is dedicated to increasing access to technology, facilitating skills development, and promoting women’s leadership in ICT, offers research to advance digital gender equality. GSMA’s report Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity is another useful resource assessing the mobile phone gender gap in low and middle-income countries. While the quality of data is essential, Kate Maloney emphasized that the usability of data is also critical. If one has data but is unable to analyze it in a private and secure manner, it is challenging to transform it into something to drive decision making.