Her future is digital

Christine Zhenwei Qiang, Director, Digital Development Global Practice
Alicia Hammond, Digital Development Specialist

For years, we’ve argued that technology can be a force for women’s empowerment around the world. But on this International Women’s Day, while we celebrate digital’s transformative power, we also recognize the need to address the barriers that stand in the way. This is why the World Bank is prioritizing three key accelerators for women’s digital inclusion: online safety, inclusive digital public infrastructure, and digital skills.

Place women’s online safety front and center

As more and more women use the internet, the risk of online violence increases too. The impact and scale of cyberviolence is under-researched, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. However, available data from high-income countries suggest that this form of violence is pervasive: A survey of over 40,000 women from 28 countries across the European Union finds that 11percent of women have experienced online harassment, specifically receiving offensive, unwanted or explicit emails or text messages.

The threat of harassment, stalking, or defamation in their digital spaces often leads women to reduce their online presence. With this withdrawal women experience serious psychological impacts and lower levels of wellbeing. They also lose the opportunity to build vital digital skills and access online work.

Cracking down on the perpetrators of this abuse is not easy. ICT policy frameworks and strategies are often not designed with women’s safety at the forefront. While the specific legal safeguards that are effective for tackling this form of violence require further research, there are some important approaches that we can keep in mind. For instance, when creating or amending cybercrime and data protection policies, governments can collaborate with local communities and women’s groups to design laws and policies that are fit for purpose. World Bank operations are leveraging this inclusive approach in the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

Leverage digital public infrastructure for women’s economic empowerment

Digital public infrastructure is fast becoming essential for service delivery—these digital platforms can serve as critical enablers of inclusion, resilience, and economic opportunities. Yet, meaningful participation often requires verifying your identity and having a bank or mobile money account. This represents a particular challenge for women who face gaps in both account and ID ownership. Despite good progress, a six percentage point gap in account ownership persists between men and women. And, women living in low- and middle-income contexts are still 8 percentage points less likely to have an official ID than their male counterparts.

Account ownership and identification are important pathways to women’s economic empowerment. To this end, the World Bank’s Digitizing Government -to -Person Payments (G2Px) initiative is helping countries around the world to digitize government-to-person payments with women’s economic empowerment at its core. For example, in Rwanda, qualitative research showed that social assistance payments using mobile money enhanced decision-making and more privacy. Its sister initiative, Identification for Development (ID4D), is actively identifying barriers for women and working with countries and partners to design more inclusive identification systems. In Indonesia, a study aims to understand the barriers that vulnerable populations face in accessing population and civil registration services. Forthcoming work will explore how using digital ID for online transactions could help empower women and persons with disabilities.

Empower women and girls with the digital skills to shape our world

Gender gaps in digital literacy persist around the world. Available data show that women are less likely to have performed tasks like setting a PIN number on a mobile phone. A lack of self-confidence in using mobile phones often acts as a barrier as well. Addressing women’s digital literacy, especially for vulnerable women, is urgent—it also requires that we design training programs with their needs in mind. Flexibility in program design is key, along with addressing constraints to women’s time or mobility. Other promising approaches allow women to interact directly with mobile phones or computers, as well as their peers. Modules that teach women how to stay safe online are also critical.

In Uganda, a World Bank collaboration with the EQUALS Global Partnership’s Access Coalition, GSMA, Trickle Up, and Avsi tested the impact of an innovative skills training program that connected women with their own mobile phones, female trainers, and lessons on online safety. Community consultations on gender and social norms also took place. After the program, 30 percent of participants could use the basic functions of a smartphone compared to 5 percent before the start of the program. New World Bank projects in Uganda and Rwanda are now providing the opportunity to scale such innovations.

The gender gap in information, communication and technology (ICT)  studies is another challenge. Among the students pursuing careers in ICT fields, 28 percent are women and 72 percent  are men. These disparities are often linked to gender stereotypes and biases that contribute to lower levels of interest, aspirations, and confidence. But the good news is that exposure to female role models, addressing gender biases in learning and training materials, and partnerships that create links to internships, apprenticeships, and job placements can help level the playing field.

Join us as we push for digital progress

Technology can be both a force for change and a challenge for inclusion. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we call on our partners to join us as we continue to push for progress in online safety, inclusive digital public infrastructure, and women’s digital skills. Because realizing the true promise of technology depends on unleashing the potential of women and girls

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