Bridging the Gender Digital Divide in Developing Countries

Bridging the Gender Digital Divide in Developing Countries

The gender digital divide is a human rights violation. Gender equality is a keystone for a prosperous, modern economy that provides sustainable inclusive growth.

Novel approaches need to be introduced to stem this violation that is growing at cancerous levels. In developed countries the divide is estimated at 12% and 30% for low and middle income countries.

Accessibility is limited by both physical and social/cultural impediments. These are closely linked to affordability and access to information.

The Government of Uganda had previously removed taxes on computers, but like typical banana republics back tracked as the revenue collection bodies are devoid of creative ideas beyond harvesting from low hanging fruits.

The gender digital divide is composed of a skills gap and a gap of physical access to Information Technology (IT) and the two gaps often contribute to each other in circular causation.

Access to Information and Communication Technologies has created a class of “haves” and “have nots”. Access to digital resources is a multi-faceted phenomenon consisting of four factors that work to regulate access; psychological, material, skills and usage.

Psychological access is where the user has little interest in gaining access, or has negative attitudes towards computers. Material access relates to not having the physical infrastructure. Skills access is where a person does not have the digital literacy skills to be effective on-line and usage access is where a person does not have the time or opportunity to access digital information, regardless of their skill level.

To stem this cancer, we have to inject innovative approaches beyond the current practices of teaching girls MsWord and HTML.

We need to establish modern computer labs and marker spaces with frontier technologies such as 3D printing, drones, IoT, Augmented Reality, Machine learning to spark interest in young female learners to foster innovation and let the creative juices flow.

Girls need to be creators and not simply users of technology. More than 20 trillion dollars can be added to the global economy if we nail this thing. The USA has close to 8 million unfilled tech jobs. The growing trend of remote working brings opportunities if girls are trained in frontier technologies.

The 1995 Beijing declaration recognized the need for increased participation of women in new technologies.

Female led enterprises are more profitable and have a lower mortality rate. Unfortunately less than 20% of digital startups are owned by women.

Governments need to adjust their procurement procedures to encourage and provide affirmative action for female owned enterprises.

Organizers of Tech events, conferences need to go an extra mile in ensuring participation of women is at the core of the planning process.

The role for Statistics

Dis aggregated statistics should be made available. This is particularly important for evaluating the effectiveness of policy measures aimed at improving digital inclusion in general and reducing the gender digital divide. More research needs to be done to better understand the dynamics and the underlying causes of the gender digital divides. For example we know that girls out perform boys at high school and college. When I used to teach at the University some 20 odd years ago, female enrollment was higher and performance better than the male peers.

What is strange is that many females who graduate with ICT related degrees pursue careers in other fields or drop out entirely from the work force.

Accessibility needs to be addressed for women with disabilities in order not to exclude them from participating in the digital age as users, content creators, employees, entrepreneurs, innovators, and leaders.

Innovation & Diversity

Lack of diversity in the composition of innovation teams across the world reflects widespread socio cultural biases. To counter this, a greater diversity of inventors is needed. Female participation in patenting activities increased at a faster pace than the average rate at which all patent applications grew over the period 2004–15 — and in ICTs increased relatively more than in all other technological domains. But the low starting point coupled with the relatively slow progress means that, at the current pace, it will be 2080 before women are involved in half of all patented inventions.

90% of innovative start-ups seeking VC investments are founded by men. Women-owned start-ups receive 23% less funding and are 30% less likely to have a positive exit — i.e. be acquired or to issue an initial public offering — compared to male-owned businesses. Nevertheless, progress is possible: VC firms with at least one female partner are more than twice as likely to invest in a company with a woman in the management team, and three times as likely to invest in female owned enterprises.

We need to do better in facilitation of the labour market participation of women, at the same time as monitoring and ensuring job quality and the provision of support services aimed at allowing women to work and pursue a career while being mothers or having a family.

The ability of women to access and use digital technologies is directly and indirectly affected by market related factors including investment dynamics, regulations, and competition, especially in rural areas. In rural areas, which are often scarcely populated, the investment and installation of infrastructures, such as broadband infrastructures and cell phone towers, is less economically profitable. This can affect dis-proportionally more women in developing countries as they seem to be more often located in rural areas, whereas working age men tend to be mainly in urban areas.

The “gig economy” currently accounts for a relatively small share of workers, platform-based or enabled jobs may be particularly interesting and empowering for women. They may create new options for women to participate in labor markets, both local and global, and give them the chance to emerge from the shadow economy in which they might have been working, thus earning or supplementing much needed income from other paid work. Platforms such as freelancer.com and upwork make it possible to have more flexible work schedules which in turn may support women to both work and care for their families.

Studies looking at labor platforms such as Fiverr, Upwork and Design99 show that workers’ evaluations are correlated with gender. Women often receive less positive reviews than men, and this may affect their further employment opportunities and reinforce existing gender biases. Also, gender-biased buying behaviors on online market platforms tend to result in lower
auction prices for women selling their products on eBay. These studies have showed that women earn 20% less when selling identical new products on eBay. Differences in selling prices also emerge for used items,with auction prices that are 3% lower in the case of female sellers. To try and avoid being discriminated against and to be able to tap into the repository of opportunities that platforms represent, women may at times have to hide their gender.

The Gig Economy

The gig economy has grown recently with ever increasing demand for online services. These platforms are important for women because they may help reduce barriers to participation in the labor market and enhance the opportunity to work for different clients and/or projects. Particularly for less developed countries, platforms can help women in particular, to transit from the informal, “shadow” economy to standard work, but policy needs to ensure that online platforms do provide real opportunity, rather than substituting a traditional sweat shop for a digital one.

The role of Education

Education is one of the most powerful tools that policy makers may leverage to bridge the digital gender divide. It is essential to equip and train women and girls with the skills needed to participate and thrive in the digital transformation, and to educate the rest of society so as to curb socio-cultural norms that discriminate against women and their use of digital means. This could be obtained in several ways. Among them are undertaking campaigns aimed at awareness raising and education that demonstrate that women and girls are well-suited and perfectly able to perform STEM and ICT-related jobs. Showcasing female role models would help convey the idea that female leadership is as “normal” as male leadership. Pedagogical approaches
fostering mixed-gender teamwork, especially in STEM-related subjects, could help forge working together with women as the new “normal” and demonstrate the value that diversity brings. Lastly, the pervasiveness of the
Internet and of social platforms may be leveraged to convey these messages on a recurrent basis, targeting specific user cohorts and customizing messages to make them more effective.

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