WomenConnect Challenge

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 digital gender 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 digital gender 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 Digital Gender 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
    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 do not have access to the Internet or smartphones due to cultural restraints. Equal Access International works with communities to address the barriers that women and girls face to access and use technology at the community level, including working with men and boys to support women’s use of phones. The program will improve the conditions for women to use technology and benefit from digital information.
  • Gram Vaani
    In Northern India, low-income urban and rural women are limited in their ability to use cell phones. Gram Vaani uses community radio and interactive voice technologies to create a media platform that fosters peer learning and collective action among women users, and facilitates a safe forum to discuss issues which can alter social norms and strengthen local governance.
  • Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team
    Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team is a global community of 130,000 people worldwide who create free, open source map data for humanitarian and development purposes. The team will work with young women in Tanzania, Zambia, and Paraguay to use mobile-based mapping platforms and crowdsourcing to determine the issues that are preventing them from reaching their full potential, such as gender-based violence, lack of access to education, or lack of economic opportunities. This mapping process empowers women to address these challenges.
  • Innovations for Poverty Action 
    In the Dominican Republic, low-income women disproportionately lack access to credit because they lack credit histories, property rights, and formal earnings. The Innovations for Poverty Action program uses proxies from mobile phone data to uncover gender biases in the credit market in the Dominican Republic, making it possible for women to gain a credit score in order to start new businesses. Women’s access to technology is used as a means to increase access to credit and financial inclusion.
  • Institute for Financial Management and Research
    Evidence for Policy Design India at the Institute for Financial Management and Research will develop an innovative phone-based push-pull information delivery service that provides women with mobile messages about government programs and benefits they can use. It also requests feedback about their experiences with the use of the technology as well as how to improve services that benefit them.
  • Mali Health
    In Sabalibougou, a large slum in Mali, most women have never had access to digital technology and thus are cut off from vital services and information that can help improve their health, wellbeing and autonomy. Mali Health(link is external) uses a locally-developed, voice based app on a basic cell phone. This extends the reach of the numbers of women who can benefit from this appropriate, simple, and accessible solution.
  • 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
    Viamo aims to tackle barriers for women 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 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
 

Get Involved

For more information about the WomenConnect Challenge, download this fact sheet.

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