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 GSMA’s Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020 to size up the problem and understand the barriers:
- 1 billion women do not use mobile internet
- 165 million fewer women than men own a cell phone
- The divide is still widest in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa
Understanding women’s barriers to mobile phones
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. In order to bridge the gender gap, development projects need to address the barriers.
How Talking Books help bridge the gender gap
At Amplio, we get asked, “Why Talking Books? Why not mobile phones?” The reality is that, in last-mile communities, many women may not own mobile phones, use the internet, or have sufficient literacy or numeracy skills to access print or digital information. Happily, our technology is designed with the user to overcome common 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 Books are purchased by a governmental agency or development organization. There’s no cost to the women and families who use the device. Depending on the program, Talking Books can be rotated among households, played at community gatherings, shared by extension workers, or placed in classrooms and clinics. A single device can reach 100 listeners!
Safety and security
The Talking Book is a dedicated device. Unlike phones and radios, they don’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 courtship or harassment with a Talking Book. Also, the Talking Book 2.0 has enhanced data security.
With the Talking Book, you can deliver hours of targeted content, with multiple topics and playlists. There are no ads or distractions. Messages are produced as songs, dramas, interviews, and endorsements. Users can listen on demand, replay messages, 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 (rather than 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 stakeholders to ensure that content is culturally appropriate. They often include endorsement messages from social influencers and local leaders, which helps build trust and engagement.
Access to knowledge creates positive change
Including Talking Books in a program can help you amplify your reach, engage more women, and ensure that their voices and perspectives are included. As a result, women gain new skills and knowledge to improve their lives. Time and again, we’ve seen that when women are empowered, they give back to their families and communities—causing a visible ripple of positive change.
Ready to bridge the gender gap?