If development projects seek to reach more women with equal access to information, they need to look beyond mobile phones
It’s no secret that there’s a gender gap in access to digital information, but many people don’t realize the level of disparity. As international development projects increasingly turn to mobile phones and new digital technologies for program and service delivery, there’s a risk of creating new groups that are left behind, including women and girls.
Let’s take a look at a few of the stats from the Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020 to size up the problem and understand the barriers:
– One billion women do not use mobile internet.
– 165 million fewer women than men own a cell phone.
– The divide is widest in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
In GSMA’s report, women ranked their main barriers to mobile internet as: literacy and digital skills, affordability, safety and security, relevance, and family disapproval. Although access to internet and other information and communication technologies is considered necessary to achieve the SDGs, including gender equality, nearly half the world’s population remains offline. Women face significant barriers to digital connectivity.
To bridge the gender gap, we need to address the barriers.
How the Talking Books Overcomes Barriers
Here’s how our technology supports women’s access to information:
Literacy and Digital Skills
The Talking Book has a user-friendly interface with pictures instead of words or numbers. Equally important, the audio system prompts and messages are recorded in the user’s local language. This means people of all ages, with zero literacy or numeracy skills, can easily use the device. Constance Teage, Land Tenure Specialist at Landesa, told us of a 90-year-old woman in Liberia who was able to operate a Talking Book independently after watching a demonstration—much to the surprise of young people in the room.
Talking Book devices are purchased and provided by a governmental agency or development organization. This means there’s no cost to the women and families who use the device. Depending on the program design, Talking Books are shared and rotated among households, played at community gatherings, used by extension workers, or placed in classrooms and clinics. A single device can reach 100 listeners!
MEDA’s GROW project used Talking Books to economically empower women farmers.
Safety and Security
The Talking Book is a dedicated device. Unlike phones and radios, it doesn’t get lost or stolen. You can’t go online, so there’s no way for someone to steal your identity or scam you. And while mobile phones often play a role in romantic and sexual relationships, there’s no risk of courtship or harassment with a Talking Book. Moreover, the Talking Book 2.0 has an Arm microprocessor, providing enhanced data security.
With the Talking Book, you can deliver hours of targeted, local language content, with multiple topics and playlists. There are no ads or distractions. Users can listen on demand, replay messages for learning retention, and record their feedback. Our partners often describe the excitement of listeners when they hear Talking Books “speak” their language.
The Talking Book is viewed as a community resource that provides useful information. It’s not a personal device. A built-in speaker allows families and groups to listen and learn together, in public or the privacy of their home. Our partners work with local experts to ensure that content is culturally appropriate. They often include endorsement messages from social influencers and community leaders, which helps build trust and engagement.
Access to knowledge creates positive change
Integrating Talking Books into a project can help you amplify your reach, engage more women, and ensure that women’s voices and perspectives are included. With access to information, women are can gain new skills and knowledge to improve their livelivehoods and lives. Time and gain we’ve seen that when women are empowered, they give back to their families and communities—causing a visible ripple of positive change.
Bridge the Gender Divide
Ready to bridge the gender gap? We’re happy to set up a free consultation to discuss your project.