Improving women's participation in everyday life by meaningfully changing the ways women and girls access and use technology
What is the Gender Digital Divide?
Technology is revolutionizing the world by providing tools for entrepreneurship, access to critical health and education, as well as life-enhancing information, yet women increasingly have limited access to technology, resulting in a gender digital divide.
Today, 1.7 billion women in low- and middle-income countries still do not own mobile phones, and the gap between the number of men and women using the internet has grown steadily over the past three years.
The persistent gender digital divide is reinforcing or even exacerbating existing socioeconomic gaps between men and women. By reducing this divide, women and girls will have access to life-enhancing information, networks, and services, reducing poverty and driving inclusive economic growth.
Bridging the Gender Digital Divide
Launched by Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump and USAID Administrator Mark Green on International Women’s Day in March 2018, the WomenConnect Challenge is a global call for solutions to improve women's participation in everyday life by meaningfully changing the ways women and girls access and use technology. We are looking to identify and accelerate comprehensive solutions that empower women and girls to access and use digital technology to drive positive health, education, and livelihoods outcomes for themselves and their families.
WomenConnect Challenge Winners
In response to the call, USAID received more than 500 applications from 89 countries.
USAID is proud to announce the challenge winners: AFCHIX, Equal Access International, Gram Vaani, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Innovations for Poverty Action, Institute for Financial Management and Research, Mali Health, GAPI and Bluetown, and Viamo. These nine winners will work across 13 countries.
AFCHIX creates entrepreneurial opportunities for rural women in Senegal, Morocco, Kenya, and Namibia to run local internet service providers and work as network engineers. This initiative contributes to improving connectivity and building the capacity of communities to establish and maintain telecommunications infrastructure. The entrepreneurial and empowerment program helps women establish their own companies, provides important community services, and positions these individuals as role models.
Equal Access International
Millions of Nigerian women are prohibited from using the Internet or smartphones, contributing to inequality and exacerbating poverty. Equal Access International will produce a 12-episode show for a popular Nigerian radio station to break down gender stereotypes, challenge cultural taboos, and promote skills and opportunities for women and girls to use digital technology. The show writers will use data collected from focus groups discussion and input from activists, village elders, religious leaders, and community representatives to develop compelling storylines and content. After each episode, facilitators will lead discussions with families with the goal of empowering women and girls to use digital technology.
In Northern India, low-income women have limited access to information. Women may not be able to use the Internet due to costs and low literacy. Gram Vaani will develop a mobile phone-based platform where women can create and share news on topics such as labor rights, maternal and child health, livelihoods opportunities, and human rights. This platform will allow women an opportunity to learn from their peers, safely voice their concerns and discuss collective solutions to their most pressing challenges. A network of community leaders and volunteers will then advocate for the issues to be addressed by local decision makers, leading to greater representation of women in community decision-making.
Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team
Often, women are not included in decisions that impact their daily lives. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team will train young women and vocal male allies in Tanzania and Peru on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to collect and plot out data on free, open source maps. For example, a map can illustrate where there are high occurences of sexual harassment and violence. The maps can then be used as an advocacy tool with local government to affect positive change. Through this project, female mappers can be empowered and supported in areas where leaders are not typically female, setting an example for the whole community.
Innovations for Poverty Action
In the Dominican Republic, low-income women disproportionately are denied access to credit because they lack credit history, property rights, and formal earnings. The Innovations for Poverty Action program uses data from mobile phones to test new credit scoring models. The models determine the best predictors of creditworthiness separately for men and women, making it possible for women to gain a credit score. By using digital technology, more women will have access to financing and have the resources needed to be entrepreneurs.
Institute for Financial Management and Research
India has a substantial gender digital divide, especially for low-income women. Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) India at the Institute for Financial Management and Research will develop a phone-based information delivery service that provides women with useful information about government programs and benefits. The messaging service will be available to women in more than 150 villages who recently received connected smartphones through a government of India program. By creating information that directly benefits women, women will benefit from this access to digital technology.
In the Malian slum Sabalibougou, where women do not have the means to access quality healthcare and related services, Mali Health is using technology to help these women connect, access services, and increase their financial and decision-making autonomy. Through a custom social network application designed for a basic cell phone, women in local savings and loan groups receive information on preventative health, as well as ways to access and finance health services for them and their families. The social network application is voice-based so that it is accessible to low-literacy women, who are the primary intended users, and supports local languages.
GAPI and Bluetown
GAPI, a Mozambican Development Finance Institution, and Bluetown, an internet service provider, have joined efforts to create “Women in the Network,” an entrepreneurship program that provides rural women with technical skills courses and the ability to lease or finance phones. They help incorporate these women into the digital agricultural marketplace and gain access to income-generating activities.
Viamo aims to tackle barriers for women in Tanzania and Pakistan such as low digital literacy, and the perception that mobile internet is not relevant to their lives. Viamo’s free, on-demand information service, 3-2-1, partners with mobile network operators in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to provide low-literacy women with interactive, educational content to access life-saving information and digital literacy training.
Putting It Into Practice
Video: Maria Inga, an entrepreneur in the Peruvian jungle
Maria Inga is a woman entrepreneur who won the Jungle Winner Contest in 2014. Thanks to the support received by the telecenters in the Peruvian jungle, she has helped her community to prosper.
Video: Babajob | Acceleration
Babajob is shaping the way people hire and get hired. By seamlessly connecting employers and jobseekers through our digital platform, we make jobs accessible to everyone, and make hiring fast and easy.
Blog: Three Women Who Are Bridging the Digital Gender Divide(link is external)
In this blog from Administrator Mark Green, meet three entrepreneurs who bring women into the digital world through empowerment and innovation
For more information about the WomenConnect Challenge, download this fact sheet.
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