AfterAccess chapter in UNU-Equals report on gender digital equality

Posted by on March 29, 2019  /  0 Comments

The regional gender findings from AfterAccess were recently featured in the United Nations University-Equals’ Global Partnership’s inaugural report, Taking Stock: Data and Evidence on Gender Digital Equality in Digital Access, Skills and Leadership. The report has been combined in an effort to provide a resource for decision makers who are interested in reducing gender disparities in ICT access and use.

LIRNEasia contributed to a chapter, Towards understanding the digital gender gap in the Global South, based largely on the nationally representative AfterAccess survey data from 17 (of the 23 surveyed) countries.

The chapter relates some of the challenges in collecting rigorous gender-disaggregated data, and then illustrates the magnitudes of the gaps in access to mobile phones, internet and social media in the three regions. The chapter also examines gender digital inequality in the three regions through different lenses and methods. The analysis provides statistical evidence that speaks to the importance of education and income in determining ICT adoption and use across the Global South. The chapter argues that the underlying gender disparities in these two key variables are major contributors to the gender ‘gaps’ that we see in simple descriptive numbers. In addition the chapter uncovers some of the digital disparities at the intersections of gender and other factors of exclusion (socio-economic status, disability, ethnicity, etc). Both qualitative and quantitative data are used to show the importance of social and cultural norms (the ‘unobservables’) in influencing gender digital inequality. Socio-cultural norms influence both ICT access and use directly (so whether or not a woman will own a mobile) and indirectly (whether or not she will be literate or have disposable income to access internet services). As we have been saying for several years now:

‘What this means is that there are greater and deeper concerns that need to be addressed in these societies: change is needed in the attitudes and perceptions that shape the ways in which women gain access to technology and are able to make use of it. While attitudes and perceptions are not easy to change in the short term, a good starting point may be to focus on more tractable solutions that can help women to become (and stay) affordably connected, and to provide them with the skill set to make use of the host of services and platforms offered through mobiles and the internet, in a safe and secure way — and perhaps even earning a living from these opportunities.’ (p.233)

Taking a step back, the report has two main focuses: the state of gender digital equality and data relating to the same. Therefore the first part of the report is dedicated to documenting the state of gender digital equality, the gender barriers and some of the approaches that have been tried to address the digital inequality. The report states that the barriers are generally related to infrastructure availability, economic constraints, digital skills, interest/ perceived relevance of ICTs, safety and security, and socio-cultural and institutional contexts. In reality, as we have seen in much of our own research (for example in Myanmar), socio-cultural norms (which create these barriers) are usually intertwined, if not precursors to other barrier types, leading to gender disparities. The report also talks about both the perpetuation of, as well as the opportunity to overcome gender stereotypes and norms via AI, design, policy, institutions etc., and the need for all key actors to pay attention to gender dynamics.

The second part of the report focuses on the state of data on gender digital equality. The report argues that data collection is a key ingredient to ensure that ‘greater gender inclusion does not lead to increased exposure to negative experiences, such as cyber violence, sexual harassment and gender discrimination.’ The importance of data collection was similarly highlighted through the inclusion of the Research category in the #EQUALSinTech awards last year, whereby the efforts of research organizations and initiatives including AfterAccess were recognized for their role working toward gender digital equality (previously, only those working in enhancing access, skills or leadership were recognized). The report therefore highlights the inadequacy of currently available data, in terms of what indicators are collected, as well whether or not they are gender/sex disaggregated, their generalizability, the coverage (over countries as well as time), etc.

The full report can be found here; the AfterAccess chapter can be found on pages 220-242.

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