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USAID How To Guide for Bringing More Women Online

By Guest Writer on January 17, 2024

mobile gender gap

Internet adoption and mobile phone ownership are on the rise globally, yet 2.7 billion people remain unconnected to the Internet. Within this digital divide, there are staggering gaps in access for women and girls in many regions of the world.

Women are still less likely than men to own a mobile phone and use key services, such as mobile internet and mobile money. This is particularly true for women in LMICs who are 19% less likely than men to use key services. This means that there are 900 million women in LMICs who are still not using mobile internet, almost two-thirds of whom live in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

This USAID How to Guide for Bringing More Women Online is intended to act as a resource for Internet service providers and technology companies interested in incorporating a gender-sensitive approach to their work. The guide presents recommendations and actionable steps to design, operationalize, and sustain gender programs.

USAID is also funding the Women in the Digital Economy Fund to accelerate progress on closing the gender digital divide.

7 Reasons to Reduce Gender Digital Divides

Internet service providers and technology companies should be interested in accessing new markets and opportunities for business growth and innovation and contributing to a more equitable and inclusive society. For example, they can:

  • Grow The Customer Base: The gender gap demonstrates that there are many underserved women and girls who will be the next generation of Internet users and customers.
  • Achieve Financial Gains: It is estimated that closing the gender gap in mobile phone ownership and use in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 would generate $230 billion in additional revenue for the mobile phone industry.
  • Spur Economic Growth: Improving women’s access to technology drives their economic empowerment and vastly expands economic opportunities available to them, enabling more women to join and meaningfully contribute to a country’s workforce and economic growth.
  • Connect the Unconnected: Addressing the gender digital divide is now more critical than ever, as multiple sectors—such as agriculture, health, education, and civic engagement—increasingly use digital solutions. As such, women without digital skills or access to technology are being left behind.
  • Innovation: A diverse user base can lead to a more diverse range of ideas and needs, spurring innovation in products and services. Women, like any other group, have unique needs and preferences that can inspire new and tailored digital services.
  • Regulatory Compliance: In many regions, there are increasing regulatory pressures and incentives to promote digital inclusivity. By working to close the gender digital divide, ISPs can comply with these regulations and potentially qualify for governmental or non-governmental partnerships and funding.
  • Customer Loyalty: Engaging women and ensuring their digital inclusion can create long-term customer loyalty. Women who are provided with the means and skills to access and utilize the internet effectively are likely to continue using these services and recommend them to others.

 6 Barriers to Closing Gender Digital Divides

Closing the gender digital divide faces several key barriers, which are often interconnected and vary across different regions and communities:

  • Affordability: Prohibitively high costs for accessing and using digital technologies and
  • Availability: Lack of critical connectivity infrastructure, including significant gaps in Internet coverage and adoption in remote and low-income regions.
  • Safety: Women often face unique safety challenges online, including harassment, cyberbullying, and privacy violations. These concerns can deter women from participating fully in the digital world.
  • Ability: Lack of women’s digital literacy and skills needed to functionally use digital technologies, as well as negative cultural perceptions surrounding women’s use of information and communications technology (ICT).
  • Appetite: Potential users’ perceptions regarding the relevance and applicability of digital technologies to their lives. This barrier is often compounded by educational disparities and the lack of tailored training programs for women.
  • Policy: In some cases, government policies and regulations (or the lack thereof) can impede efforts to close the gender digital divide. This includes issues like lack of support for ICT education for girls or inadequate privacy and security laws.

Women in the Digital Economy Fund

The Women in the Digital Economy Fund was launched by US Vice President Kamala Harris in March 2023, with initial funding from a five year $60 million initiative of USAID and the Gates Foundation. WiDEF will identify, directly fund, and accelerate investment in proven solutions to close the gender digital divide – including women-led solutions, products, and tools – thereby improving women’s livelihoods, economic security, and resilience.

WiDEF will create opportunities for organizations and businesses at the forefront of equitable digital inclusion to receive financial, technical, and operational support in the five focus areas for investment:

  • Access and affordability
  • Products and tools
  • Literacy and skills
  • Safety and security
  • Data and insights

In addition, USAID launched the Women in the Digital Economy Initiative to bring together governments, private sector companies, foundations, civil society, and multilateral organizations to accelerate progress towards the closure of the gender digital divide.

Initiative partners have already pledged contributions totaling over $515 million to create a community of practice and collect and share sex-disaggregated data, wherever possible, as well as their progress towards achieving the key results of the initiative.

Filed Under: Connectivity, Women in Tech
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3 Comments to “USAID How To Guide for Bringing More Women Online”

  1. Royal Nelwamondo says:

    Women are more responsible than men. They can’t afford to buy smartphones and data. So they are limited to discussing or sharing their problems. If women get access things like abuse will be reported and shared amongst others without fear.

  2. Aimee says:

    GSMA also includes language as a barrier to women’s digital inclusion. 3 billion people worldwide don’t have access to digital tools because their languages aren’t supported. Women make up the majority of people who do not speak “major” languages.

  3. Kpoli says:

    I respectfully request access to the data supporting the assertion of a gender digital divide. I harbor reservations regarding the credibility of the theorist, questioning their firsthand experience in this matter. It is imperative that we elevate our discourse and cease allowing entities such as USAID to exploit Africa for their financial endeavors. Substantial financial investments in various programs, particularly in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector, have yielded limited tangible results across the African continent. I propose a more critical examination of these initiatives for a transparent and constructive discourse.