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Putting women and girls at the center of digital development

Nicole Klingen, Alicia Hammond & Sharada Srinivasan

Gender equality and digital development are inextricably linked. Yet globally, men are 21 percent more likely to be online than women, a figure that rises to 52 percent in low-income countriesThe Web Foundation estimates that barriers that keep women and girls offline — high device and data costs, lower digital skills, and restrictive social norms, to name a few — have cost developing countries about $1 trillion over the last decade.

The Digital Development Global Practice recently launched a new approach to accelerate its work on gender equality, with an ambitious vision that centers women and girls across its financing and analytics. The approach orients solutions to the five foundational pillars of the digital economy: digital infrastructure, digital public platforms, digital financial services, digital businesses, and digital skills. It also emphasizes the need for more and better sex-disaggregated data and to tackle risks, such as algorithmic bias and online gender-based violence.

Digital Infrastructure

Within infrastructure, practical solutions that increase access, affordability, and usage are critical. Intentional design that locates public Internet access points in safe spaces (for example, libraries and community centers) is a good start. Other interventions that support the closing of adoption gaps improve the affordability of devices and data plans and tailor digital skills programs for women. Traditionally underutilized universal service and access funds can help. However, only four out of 69 countries have deployed these funds to close the gender digital divide.  Device affordability schemes also show promise. The recently approved Uganda Digital Acceleration Project will test some of these innovations.

Digital Public Platforms

Access to digital public platforms often requires digital identification, which women lack compared to men. Barriers that women face often include legal requirements to present additional documents, for example, a marriage certificate. High registration costs and inconveniently located registration points also deter women. The Nigeria Digital Identification for Development Project conducted a qualitative study designed to understand the needs of women and marginalized groups, which surfaced several solutions. These include working through trusted networks and women’s groups to share information; locating registration centers close to communities; and designing registration policies that prioritize vulnerable groups. Other options include women-only registration centers, mobile registration services, and female enrollment agents.

Digital Financial Services

Digital payments, whether to provide wages, social assistance, or agricultural transfers, can save women time and provide added privacy, security, and control, thereby contributing to women’s empowerment. This is a key focus on the G2Px initiative, launched in early 2020 in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In Benin, where an estimated 19 percent of women make or receive digital payments compared to 38 percent of men, another World Bank initiative aims to provide women smallholders with a safe and private place to store their money and connect them with other financial services. 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.

Digital Businesses

Women entrepreneurs often face a range of barriers, including unequal access to financing, legal discrimination, differences in skills, less access to networks, and more care responsibilities. They are also poorly represented in technology startups. To address these constraints, the Digital Cabo Verde Project aims to support women entrepreneurs with business and entrepreneurial mindset training, access to business networks, peer support, and mentoring.

Beyond comprehensive support for women-led businesses, tackling investor bias is critical. Research suggests that the persistent gender gap in financing cannot easily be explained by differences in education, experience, sector, intellectual property, or geography.

Digital Skills

Building digital skills starts early with hands-on exposure to technology to build girls’ interest and confidence. Typically, complementing technical skills training with soft skills, engaging role models, and creating structured linkages to the labor market through internships, apprenticeships, and job placement programs have positive outcomes. The Kosovo Digital Economy Project, which trains rural women in programming and web design to become online freelancers, shows how digital skills training can create pathways to economic prosperity. Women with disabilities, older women, and illiterate adults may require tailored curricula and flexible programs with active outreach to develop their basic digital skills — another key area for engagement.

Cutting across these pillars is the need to address restrictive gender norms that prevent women from fully participating in the digital economy. Solutions to tackle these vary with context but addressing gender stereotypes and engaging men and boys are essential steps in shifting beliefs and behaviors.

Ensuring that women and girls have equal access to and use of digital technologies — mobile phones, computers, and the internet — is central to their economic and social empowerment and inclusive economic recovery. As we accelerate our efforts on the digital inclusion of women and girls, we call on our partners to join us in this ambitious agenda.

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WEF
The Davos Agenda virtual event offers the first global platform of 2022 for world leaders to come together to share their visions for the year ahead.

The week long virtual event, taking place on the World Economic Forum website and social media channels 17-21 January 2022, will feature heads of state and government, CEOs and other leaders. They will discuss the critical challenges facing the world today and present their ideas on how to address them.

The event will also mark the launch of several Forum initiatives including efforts to accelerate the race to net-zero emissions, ensure the economic opportunity of nature-positive solutions, create cyber resilience, strengthen global value chains, build economies in fragile markets through humanitarian investing, bridge the vaccine manufacturing gap and use data solutions to prepare for the next pandemic.

“Everyone hopes that in 2022 the COVID-19 pandemic, and the crises that accompanied it, will finally begin to recede,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. “But major global challenges await us, from climate change to rebuilding trust and social cohesion. To address them, leaders will need to adopt new models, look long term, renew cooperation and act systemically. The Davos Agenda 2022 is the starting point for the dialogue needed for global cooperation in 2022.”


Davos Agenda 2022 participants

World leaders delivering “State of the World” Special Addresses will include:

  • Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India
  • Kishida Fumio, Prime Minister of Japan
  • António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations
  • Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
  • Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia
  • Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia
  • Naftali Bennett, Prime Minister of Israel
  • Janet L. Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury of the United States
  • Yemi Osinbajo, Vice-President of Nigeria.

The programme will also feature speakers including:

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO)
  • Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency
  • José Pedro Castillo Terrones, President of Peru
  • Ivan Duque, President of Colombia
  • Anthony S. Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health of the United States of America
  • Yasmine Fouad, Minister of Environment of Egypt
  • Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF)
  • Alejandro Giammattei, President of Guatemala
  • Al Gore, Vice-President of the United States (1993-2001) and Chairman and Co-Founder, Generation Investment Management
  • Paulo Guedes, Minister of Economy of Brazil
  • Paula Ingabire, Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation of Rwanda
  • Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda
  • John F. Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate of the United States of America
  • Haruhiko Kuroda, Governor of the Bank of Japan
  • Christine Lagarde,President, European Central Bank
  • Guillermo Lasso, President of Ecuador
  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General, World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • Abdulaziz Bin Salman Bin AbdulazizAl Saud, Minister of Energy of Saudi Arabia
  • Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, European Commission
  • François Villeroy de Galhau, Governor of the Central Bank of France
  • Sarah bint Yousif Al-Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology, Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology of the United Arab Emirates.

Davos Agenda 2022 sessions and launches

Conversations will focus on critical collective challenges across several key areas:

Climate action

Climate action failure, extreme weather and biodiversity loss are ranked the top three most-severe risks for the world over the next decade, according to the Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022, published 11 January 2022.


Top 10 Global Risks by Severity 2022
Climate-related risks top the list of global risks by severity.
Image: World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2022

For a brief moment, a drop in emissions in 2020 proved climate action is possible – and the collective response to COVID-19 is evidence that, if we work together, it’s not too late to save the planet. This requires reaching net zero, achieving the energy transition, committing to circular economies and sustainable consumption and – above all – putting climate and nature at the heart of recovery plans.


Global cooperation

The recent years have seen deepened political and social divides as well as a heightened mistrust of institutions and the spread of misinformation and disinformation. We must renew our commitment to global cooperation and shared prosperity – from vaccine equity to wherever the new era of global space exploration may take us.

At the same time, the shocks of COVID-19 accelerated the digital transformation of business and society ­– and innovations in vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and contact tracing have helped us to address the pandemic’s worst impacts. Looking ahead, technology holds the keys to solving the biggest challenges ahead of us: decarbonizing energydiagnosing and treating diseasesecuring our food supply and helping small businesses and entrepreneurs everywhere survive and thrive.

But this rapid digital transformation is not without risk, as we’ve seen cybercrime spike and digital divides widen in the past two years, too. We must work together to balance innovation and responsibility to ensure the digital transformation is driving growth and innovation, and not creating harm.

The Forum will release the Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2022 report on 18 January.

What to watch:

How to follow the Davos Agenda 2022

The event will be livestreamed across the Forum’s website and social media channels. All content will be shared using the official event hashtag #DavosAgenda.

Make sure to follow us on all of our platforms to stay up to date on key quotes, moments and news from the event:

WEF

Digital currencies are growing: the market is valued at more than $2 trillion and involves more than 15,000 varieties. In 2021, El Salvador even adopted Bitcoin as its legal currency.

While private digital currencies are blooming, central banks are catching up. In October 2021, Nigeria joined the Bahamas, the Eastern Caribbean States and Cambodia as one of the first jurisdictions to officially launch central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). Based on the Atlantic Council’s CBDC tracker, 14 countries have launched CBDC pilots while 16 countries are developing CBDCs and 41 are conducting research.

From precious metals to paper money, currencies are crucial for global trade and commerce. As society enters the digital age and more forms of digital currency compete for virality, what does it mean for international trade?

There are three potential ways digital currencies could change international trade:

1. Digital currencies could cause an increase in efficiency for cross-border payments

The speed of settlement for cross-border payments varies from the same business day to five business days. Human interaction is often required in the process of verifying the sender and recipient’s information, for example for anti-money laundering and combatting terrorism financing (AML and CTF) purposes. As a result, the speed of payment is often determined by how much the business hours of the sending institution and the receiving institution overlap; and whether the sending and receiving institutions rely on the same messaging standards.

For digital currencies that rely on decentralized ledgers, money could be sent and received within seconds and around the clock. Future regulatory compliance requirements on digital currency service providers and foreign exchange controls may have an impact on the speed.

2. Digital currencies could provide alternative credit information for trade finance

There’s a $1.7 trillion global trade financing gap, which heavily impacts SMEs who typically don’t have established financial records with banks. Public ledgers of digital currencies could be used to share payment and financial history to underwrite loans for import and export. At the same time, strong privacy protocols would need to be enforced in order to achieve this.

3. Digital currencies could alleviate the issues of de-risking

De-risking creates obstacles for countries perceived with high AML and CTF risks who want to participate in global trade and can increase the transaction costs for buyers and sellers in those countries. While digital currencies do not help reduce the risks of AML and CTF, they could provide alternative payment methods to allow consumers and merchants from those countries to be reconnected with international buyers and sellers.

What European countries are developing digital currencies?
What European countries are developing digital currencies?
Image: Statista/Atlantic Council

New issues caused by digital currencies

Despite their promising potential, digital currencies may not, however, solve some existing problems facing international trade and could raise new issues including:

  • Last-mile problems for financial inclusion: Financial inclusion will continue to be a problem for countries or communities that cannot afford the digital devices needed to hold digital currencies or do not have access to basic infrastructures such as electricity, internet, identification services or outlets to convert cash into digital formats. In the context of global trade, without the basic infrastructure, communities, and especially SMEs, that are excluded today will face an even greater challenge in a world where money is widely digitized.
  • Supply and demand of foreign exchange: It is debatable whether digital currencies could encourage all countries to trade more. While the potential benefits may help increase trade volume for certain countries, it does not change the fundamentals of international trade, which depend on comparative advantages. For countries that struggle with economic development or political stability, they may continue to face these challenges even with digital currencies. The currencies of those countries with limited trade with the outside world would remain undesirable. As a result, even if one type of digital currency gains global presence, converting that into local currency to allow for international trade may still be expensive and difficult if the demand for such local currency is limited internationally.
  • Implications for foreign direct investment (FDI): Many questions are raised by the intersection of cross-border investments and digital currency, as the current framework, such as the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) and the protections it offers, was built well before the age of digital currencies. Would digital currencies be considered as “covered investments” under BIT? Would BIT protections apply to investments made by and in digital currencies? How would the tokenization of FDI work under the current rules? Both states and foreign investors need guidance on these questions.

The international trade community needs to be prepared and capture the opportunities of this new age by closing the digital divide. As we head towards a new age where money and trade in goods and services are more and more digitized, it is crucial to ensure no one is left behind. Investments are needed to provide the right infrastructure for the future, to ensure accessible and affordable connectivity for all.

It is also important for policy-makers to work closely with the technical service providers behind digital currencies to fully understand the potential benefits and risks. Laws and regulations can then provide sufficient protection without stifling innovation. The digital currency governance consortium has provided a great example of public-private partnerships with more than 85 public and private organizations working together to address issues related to digital currencies.

Furthermore, the advancement of payments technology needs to be accompanied by the digitization of trade. A chain is as strong as its weakest link and with heavy reliance on paper documents and a lack of legal support for e-documents or e-signature, the benefits of digital currencies will be limited. Trade policy-makers need to focus on building the right physical and legal infrastructures to create trade for tomorrow.

To achieve the full potential of digital currencies, it will be crucial for countries to sign new types of trade agreements to enable market access for private issuers of digital currencies, to allow payments to operate in conjunction with each other, and to allow data to flow freely and with trust. Singapore, Australia, the UK, Chile and New Zealand have championed such forward-looking trade agreements.

While traditional financial institutions have started to offer settlement through digital currencies and some retailers have started to accept digital currencies, adoption on a large scale is still a long way off, particularly in the cross-border setting. There are yet many technical and regulatory challenges to overcome, ranging from issues of interoperability to the issues of AML, CTF and consumer protection. There’s no doubt, however, that we are entering the age of digital currency and more work needs to be done to allow participants of international trade to reap the benefits.

ILO

Find out about the world of digital labour platforms and the people who work on them, via our interactive map.

 

Digital labour platforms have become a common feature in today’s world and part of our everyday lives. Platforms have grown five-fold over the past decade and have become even more prominent since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Online platforms provide businesses with a new way of outsourcing work to a global workforce. Platform work covers a range of tasks such as designing a website, developing software or training an algorithm. They are changing the way work is organised and regulated. According to an ILO study , digital platforms are creating new opportunities, particularly for women, young people, persons with disabilities and marginalised groups in different parts of the world.

However, digital platforms are also blurring the previously clear distinction between employees and the self-employed. Most of the time, workers are poorly paid, and their everyday experience is defined by algorithms. They also often lack access to traditional employment benefits such as social protection, paid leave, minimum wages and collective bargaining.

Consumers International

Every year, on March 15, the consumer movement celebrates World Consumer Rights Day, raising global awareness of consumer rights, consumer protection and empowerment. Consumers International is proud and privileged to coordinate this day of global collaboration, with 200 consumer advocacy members in over 100 countries. In 2021, 73 of our Members carried out local campaigns to ‘Tackle Plastic Pollution’. Collectively, we reached a total global audience of over 31 million consumers.

 

Today, Consumers International announce that the theme for World Consumer Rights Day 2022 is Fair Digital Finance.

The global consumer advocacy movement will call for fair digital finance for consumers everywhere. The movement will generate new consumer-centred insights and campaigns for digital finance that is inclusive, safe, data protected and private, and sustainable.

In a rapidly changing marketplace, World Consumer Rights Day will spark the first-ever global conversation, making the case for solutions that put consumer rights at the core of meaningful and long-lasting change.


About the theme

Digital technologies are reshaping payments, lending, insurance, and wealth management everywhere becoming a key enabler for consumers of financial services.

Digital financial services and financial technology have driven significant changes across the world:

  • By 2024, digital banking consumers are expected to exceed 3.6 billion(Juniper Research, 2020).
  • In the developing world, the proportion of account owners sending and receiving payments digitally has grown from 57% in 2014 to 70% in 2017(Findex 2017).
  • 39% of companies are making fintech adoption a high priority, highlighting the worldwide demand for a more innovative financial landscape  (JDSpura, 2020).

However, digital financial services have created new risks along with exacerbating traditional risks that can lead to unfair outcomes for consumers and leave those who are vulnerable behind in an increasingly cashless society.

There is strong evidence to suggest these risks have increased in recent years and crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic have enhanced these risks, where vulnerable consumers are more fragile due to economic hardship. Achieving fair digital finance for all requires a global, collaborative, and coordinated approach. The rapidly evolving and complex nature of digital financial services demonstrate the need for innovative regulatory approaches and digital financial services and products that centre consumer protection and empowerment.

It is more important now than ever to build on our knowledge and work together to understand what fair financial services looks like in a digital world, and what role consumer-centred financial services can play in global challenges like sustainability. 2022 will be a crucial moment for change with upcoming international policy moments such as the G20 and OECD review of High-level Principles on Financial Consumer Protection.

Our previous work in this area includes: “Banking on the Future: An Exploration of FinTech and the Consumer Interest” and “The role of consumer organisations to support consumers of financial services in low- and middle-income countries”.


Fair Digital Finance Summit (14-18 March 2022)

Consumers International will be hosting a week-long event starting on 14 March 2022, the Fair Digital Finance Summit. The Summit will spark the first-ever global conversation around consumer-centred solutions in digital financial services by bringing together diverse voices of consumer advocates and key marketplace actors in digital financial services to accelerate change.  This global summit will showcase the work, perspectives, and ideas from consumer advocates around the world.

The Summit will kick-off with the Consumer Vision for Fair Digital Finance, offering insights from leaders in the consumer movement on what actions are needed to ensure fair digital finance that is inclusive, safe, data protected and private, and sustainable for consumers everywhere. The week of events will take the form of consumer-centred design sprints and incubators, high-level leadership dialogues and multi-stakeholder workshops, with representation from governments, business, academia, and civil society.


How to join the global movement this World Consumer Rights Day?

We invite all marketplace stakeholders to celebrate World Consumers Rights Day and collaborate with us to promote Fair Digital Finance.

What you can do:

  1. Collaborate with Consumers International and our Members for World Consumer Rights Day 2022 to support our Vision and/or take part in our Summit.
  2. Share information about your plans for World Consumer Rights Day 2022 or for any questions, email wcrd@consint.org.
  3. Connect with us on  TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Instagram for all the latest news and announcements on World Consumer Rights Day 2022.
  4. Engage in this global conversation by using our hashtags #FairDigitalFinance and #BetterDigitalWorld on social media.
  5. Read about our previous work on Financial Services.

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