This article was published by MEDA on April 25, 2023, and is cross-posted here with permission. Some revisions were made for Amplio's audience.
In March, Amplio participated in the NGO Forum alongside two of our Talking Book partners during the United Nations’ 67th Commission on the Status of Women. Founder and executive director Cliff Schmidt presented during an FAO side event on digitalization and gender equality. In addition, Amplio Ghanas' business development officer Simon Tang participated in a webinar hosted by MEDA.
Entitled "Knowledge is Power: Harnessing Technology for Greater Gender Equality," the panel was moderated by Jennifer Denomy, MEDA's technical director for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion.
Lydia Le-entuo Dogee, GESI Manager for GROW2, MEDA Ghana
Maria Mor, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Development, Pro Mujer
Patricia Nyasuna, Gender & ICT Policy Advocacy Officer, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
Simon Tang, Business Development Officer, Amplio Ghana
In this blog, we summarize the panel discussion. You can also watch a recording.
What is the gender digital divide?
Today, digital technology is an integral part of our lives. It has transformed how we access and use information, how we communicate with each other, and even how and where we work. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can provide access to knowledge and resources even in rural remote locations. However, technology is not neutral. Rural women are often at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing ICTs.
So, why do women face digital inequalities?
Poverty, illiteracy, language barriers, and lack of digital skills are among the top barriers that limit women’s access to mobile phones and internet. Also, the digital space is not always safe, especially for women. Misogyny and gender-based violence are rampant on social media platforms, and companies are often reluctant to address these issues. Women's use of ICTs may also depend on family or cultural approval.
These challenges create a gender digital divide. But it doesn't need to be case.
Using innovative technologies to empower rural women
Our NGO Forum panel brought together four organizations that use innovative digital technologies to improve gender equality and sustainable development:
Patricia shared how Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) uses ICTs to improve women farmers’ access to information through mobile and web-based approaches, providing services such as market identification, pest and disease control, extension services, and weather forecasting. Maria described how Pro Mujer uses data from their beneficiaries to design technology-based services to empower Latinamerican women, including digital tools such telemedicine, chatbots, and digital financial products.
Lydia shared how MEDA's Greater Rural Opportunities for Women project (GROW2) supplements the efforts of agricultural extension agents through the use of radio, mobile, and Amplio Talking Books to reach rural women farmers with training. Simon explained that Amplio's inclusive technology is designed for people with low literacy and is used to amplify program reach across many sectors. Users play messages in their local language, listen when it's convenient, and record their feedback.
Careful selection, design, and incorporation of technologies has enabled all four organizations to reach more people, boost women’s knowledge and access to markets, and provide more equitable access to essential services and information.
Addressing ICT safety and security with a gender lens
Women face safety and security risks and barriers in accessing and using ICTs, including data security, online harassment, scams, and family and cultural attitudes. The lack of policies to address these challenges also affect women’s access to digital tools.
WOUGNET builds women’s online safety and security through digital literacy training programs and evidence-based advocacy, including building strategic partnerships and engaging policymakers in Uganda and beyond. Lydia shared that MEDA identified a cultural challenge around mobile phones for women in northern Ghana. Namely, in some communities there's a perception that mobile phones will increase women’s likelihood of meeting men outside their family, placing them at risk.
Simon agreed with Lydia. He said that Amplio considers cultural acceptance and approval when it comes to women's safety. When starting a new program, it's a best practice to look for "the gatekeepers" in each community and engage them in the project to reduce rejection of the device. Amplio designs targeted, culturally appropriate content and ensures data security for Talking Book usage data and the user feedback messages that users can record directly onto the device.
Pro Mujer builds security for their clients’ financial, educational, and health information with strong online platforms that comply with national and regional regulations. Maria said they also provide digital skills and safety training for women, on topics such as what data is sensitive, what to share online, and how to be a good digital citizen.
Overall, the panel stressed the importance of addressing safety and security issues with a gender lens in program design, along with implementation of policies and selection of ICT solutions that that women can access and use digital tools safely and securely.
Increasing women’s agency with technology
Technology can enhance women’s agency by building their skills and knowledge, promoting financial inclusion, and increasing access to essential services. Digital skills training can empower women to participate in decision-making at the household level and in communities, enhancing their economic power. With Talking Books in the hands of women volunteers, such as lead women farmers and community health volunteers, women gain knowledge and increase their status as experts in their community. The technology also helps engage men on issues that impact women's lives.
Mobile money can promote financial inclusion, including for those who may not be comfortable going to banks, while access to weather information can improve women’s ability to diversify economic activities. Technology can also provide access to varied and targeted markets, helping women entrepreneurs increase their sales and improve their skills. Finally, inclusive technology can bridge the information gap, providing women with accurate, relevant information that increases their stature in the family and community, leading to greater agency.
Designing and selecting tech solutions for gender equality
Selecting effective technology solutions to increase women's digital inclusion and gender equality requires understanding the specific challenges that women face. In a study on gender-responsive agricultural innovations, WOUGNET highlighted the M-Omulimisa mobile app, which bundles services to smallholder farmers. The study found that factors that boosted women’s use of the app included training and education on how to use the app. Whereas, factors that limited women’s use of the app included affordability, control, and involvement in community activities.
Maria shared how Pro Mujer redesigned their technology platform in response to feedback from their women clients, moving to WhatsApp after they found that few women had email addresses. Pro Mujer adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic by going digital for some of their services, while maintaining some in-person components. The platform uses a hybrid model in rural areas to increase retention and accessibility.
When selecting technologies, Lydia highlighted the importance of affordability, accessibility, and flexibility for women. That's why MEDA's GROW2 project used a combination of technologies, including radio, cell phones, and Amplio Talking Books. Technology can bridge the access gap for financial services, as many women are not comfortable seeking loans at formal financial institutions.
Simon shared that the Talking Book's built-in microphone supports a community feedback loop, giving women and communities a voice. User feedback allows Amplio and its partners to identify and respond to community issues and barriers both through content updates and at the local level. For example, user feedback on a women's land rights project raised awareness on the need to address gender based violence. In another project, community feedback highlighted child protection issues.
The critical role of knowledge sharing
Overall, the discussion pointed to the importance of knowledge sharing to empower women and marginalized communities. From digital innovations like the M-Omulimisa mobile app to Pro Mujer’s health platform to Amplio Talking Books, organizations are designing solutions that are tailored to the needs and constraints of rural women. It is important to acknowledge affordability, accessibility, and sustainability.
To overcome the top gender barriers, programs should consider adopting a hybrid approach that combines various technologies and media to maximize outreach and flexibility. Moreover, feedback loops, like that provided by Amplio Talking Book allow for continuous improvement and refinement of messaging based on the effectiveness of the solutions. Ultimately, the discussion on tech and gender equality emphasized that knowledge is power and, when coupled with the right tools and resources, can help women achieve greater economic empowerment, health, and well-being.