For women around the world, digital technologies are a double-edged sword. Women run the risk of falling further behind men in terms of economic and social advancement due to men’s greater access to these technologies. However, if women can fully utilize digital technologies, they will have access to important new opportunities. The GSM Association estimates that 1.7 billion women live in low- and middle-income countries and have access to the Internet and mobile devices at a level that is approximately 85% lower than that of men. This significantly reduces the opportunities for women and girls. Digital development and gender equality are intrinsically intertwined. However, men are 21% more likely than women to be online globally; in low-income nations, this percentage jumps to 52%. The Web Foundation believes that over the past ten years, hurdles that prevent women and girls from using the internet, such as high device and data costs, a lack of digital literacy, and constrictive social standards, have cost developing countries roughly $1 trillion.
Digital technologies have such huge time-saving potential that they might be the difference in allowing women to pursue paid jobs. Today, women perform 75% of all unpaid caregiving tasks, contributing $10 trillion, or 13% of the global GDP, but none of this labor results in income or even economic influence. Women are not the only ones who profit from women’s economic empowerment. By 2025, increasing gender equality, according to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), may generate $12 trillion in annual economic growth. Increasing the number of women working full-time in higher-paying, more productive industries may boost the GDP in the Asia-Pacific area by $4.5 trillion annually, a 12 percent increase over present trends. With mobile banking, women can avoid lengthy commutes to a branch or ATM, improving their access to finance. The same is true for technology-enabled health care delivered via phone or tablet, which improves health outcomes by reaching women even in the most distant locations.
Practical infrastructure solutions that improve utilization, access, and cost are essential. A smart place to start is through intentional design that places public Internet connection points in secure areas (like libraries and community centres). The price of devices and data plans is improved, and programmes for developing digital skills for women are specifically tailored as additional interventions to help close adoption gaps. Funds for universal service and access, which are typically underutilized, can be useful.
Women typically lack the digital identification needed to access public digital platforms, compared to men. Legal requirements to submit additional documents, such as a marriage certificate, are common barriers that women must overcome. Women are put off by high registration fees and awkward registration locations. A qualitative study undertaken by the Nigeria Digital Identification for Development Project to better understand the needs of women and other marginalized groups produced several solutions. These include developing registration policies that give priority to disadvantaged populations, placing registration centers close to communities, and exchanging information through reliable networks and women’s groups. Mobile registration services, female enrollment agents, and registration facilities just for women are further choices.
Digital payments can save women time and provide more privacy, security, and control, which helps to empower them. These payments can be made for wages, social aid, or agricultural transfers. The G2Px programme, which was started in early 2020 in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, places a strong emphasis on this. Complementary training on digital financial literacy for recipients and promoting a network of women agents can also help, as social norms often limit women’s ability to interact with male agents. Women business owners frequently encounter a variety of obstacles, such as unequal access to financing, legal discrimination, skill gaps, limited access to networks, and increased childcare duties. Additionally, they are underrepresented in technological startups.
Developing digital skills begins at a young age with hands-on technology exposure to boost girls’ self-confidence. Positive results are typically achieved by adding soft skills training to technical skill training, involving role models, and establishing organised connections to the labour market through internships, apprenticeships, and job placement programmes. Another crucial area for participation in the development of fundamental digital skills, may require an adapted curriculum and adaptable programmes with active outreach for women with impairments, older women, and adults who lack literacy. For women and girls to be economically and socially empowered and for there to be an inclusive economic recovery, it is essential that they have equal access to and usages of digital technology, such as computers, smartphones, and the internet.