In March 2023, MEDA participated in the NGO Forum alongside the United Nations’ 67th Commission on the Status of Women. MEDA hosted a panel entitled Knowledge is Power: Harnessing Technology for Greater Gender Equality to discuss how innovative, inclusive technology solutions are overcoming the digital gender divide, promoting women’s leadership and increased decision-making in health, land rights, agriculture and entrepreneurship.
In today’s world, technology has become an integral part of our lives. It has transformed how we access and use information, how we communicate with each other, and even how and where we work. However, when it comes to the gender divide, technology is not neutral. Women are often at a disadvantage when it comes to access to information and communication technologies (ICTs).
ICTs can offer flexibility in time and space, and can provide access to knowledge and resources even in remote locations. But why do women face digital inequalities? Poverty, literacy, and language barriers are among the key factors that limit women’s access to technology, including ICTs. Moreover, the digital space is not always safe for women. Misogyny and gender-based violence are rampant on social media platforms, and companies are often reluctant to address these issues.
Despite these challenges, ICTs also offer opportunities to empower women. They can help overcome mobility issues by bringing services closer to those who need them. They can increase safety by enabling people to report incidents of harassment. ICTs can even open up public spaces for women and girls who are not participating in public or social life.
In this blog, we will delve deeper into the topic of “knowledge is power: harnessing technology for greater gender equality.” We will explore the challenges that women face in accessing ICTs and the opportunities that these technologies provide for empowering women.
Key innovative technologies
The NGO Forum panel brought together four organizations which use innovative technologies to support their clients. The Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) uses ICT to improve rural women farmers’ access to information through mobile and web-based approaches, which provide different services such as market identification, pest and disease control, connection to extension services, and weather forecasting. On the Greater Rural Opportunities for Women 2 (GROW2) project, MEDA supplements the efforts of Agric Extension Agents in Ghana through the use of radio, mobile, and Amplio Talking Book devices to reach rural women farmers with training on various topics.
Amplio Talking Books are battery-powered audio devices designed for low-literate people; they are designed and deployed by Amplio, which partners with government agencies and organizations to deliver rural development programs across multiple sectors. Pro Mujer uses data from their beneficiaries to design technology-based services that address the needs and desires of women, such as Emprende Pro Mujer, Chatbots, and digital financial products. Careful selection and incorporation of technology has enabled these organizations to reach more people, boost women’s knowledge and access to markets, and provide more equitable access to information and services.
Identifying and Addressing ICT Safety and Security Issues with a Gender Lens
Women face numerous challenges related to safety and security in accessing and using ICT, including data security within the device, harassment in the digital space, and family and cultural attitudes. The lack of policies addressing these challenges can also affect women’s access to and use of digital tools.
WOUGNET builds women’s online safety and security through digital literacy training programs and evidence-based advocacy, including building strategic partnerships and engaging specific policymakers.
MEDA identified a cultural challenge that some women in northern Ghana face related to mobile phones, namely the perception in some communities that mobile phones and other ICTs increase women’s likelihood of meeting men outside their family, placing them at risk.
Amplio’s Talking Books support safety and security for women by tailoring content to community concerns and ensuring device security, with recordings protected by software. Users can also record feedback and responses securely, including sensitive information for program staff.
Pro Mujer builds security for clients’ financial, educational, and health information with strong online platforms that comply with national and regional regulations. They also provide training for women on what data is sensitive, what to share online, and how to be a good digital citizen.
Overall, panelists stress the importance of addressing safety and security issues with a gender lens in the design and implementation of policies and ICT solutions to ensure that women can access and use digital tools safely and securely.
Increasing women’s agency with technology
Technology can play a significant role in enhancing women’s agency by building digital skills, promoting financial inclusion, and increasing access to information. Digital skills training can empower women to participate in decision-making at the household level and in communities, enhancing their economic power. Amplio’s technology can increase women’s agency by providing messages on gender equality, engaging men in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise be, and building women’s credibility and respect in the communities.
Mobile money can promote financial inclusion for women, including those who may not be comfortable going to banks, while access to weather information can improve women’s ability to diversify economic activities. Technology can also provide access to varied and targeted markets, helping women entrepreneurs to increase their sales and improve their skills. Finally, technology can bridge the information gap, providing women with accurate, relevant information that increases their stature in the family and community, leading to greater agency.
Designing and selecting effective technology solutions to increase gender equality
Designing and selecting effective technology solutions to increase gender equality requires understanding the specific needs and challenges faced by women and designing solutions that are affordable, accessible, and responsive to their needs. In a study on gender-responsive agricultural innovations, WOUGNET highlighted the M-Omulimisa mobile app, which bundles services to smallholder farmers. The study found that factors that boosted women’s use of the app included training and education around how to use the app, while factors that limited women’s use included affordability, control, and involvement in community activities.
Pro Mujer’s technology platform was redesigned in response to feedback from their women clients, moving WhatsApp when they found few women had email addresses. adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic by going digital while still maintaining some in-person components. The platform also used a hybrid model in rural areas to reduce the desertion rate and increase accessibility.
MEDA’s experience with selecting technologies for maximum impact highlighted the importance of affordability, accessibility, and flexibility for women, as well as the need to use a combination of technologies such as radio, talking book, and mobile phones. MEDA also looked at how technology can bridge the access gap for financial services, as many women are not comfortable seeking loans at formal financial institutions.
Talking Book, a device used for two-way communication in local languages, was found to give women and communities a voice and allow them to provide feedback on sensitive topics such as domestic violence and child trafficking. The feedback loop allows Amplio to refine messaging based on client input.
The critical role of knowledge sharing
Overall, the discussions around harnessing technology for greater gender equality have highlighted the critical role that knowledge and information play in empowering women and marginalized communities. From digital innovations like the M-Omulimisa mobile application to Pro Mujer’s technology platform, organizations have been designing and implementing solutions that are tailored to the unique needs and constraints of women. However, it is important to acknowledge the challenges and limitations that come with using technology to advance gender equality, such as affordability, accessibility, and sustainability.
To overcome these obstacles, organizations must adopt a hybrid approach that combines various technologies and media like radio, talking books, and mobile phones to maximize outreach and flexibility. Moreover, the feedback loops, like that provided by Talking Book allow for continuous improvement and refinement of messaging based on the effectiveness of the solutions. Ultimately, the discussions around harnessing technology for greater gender equality show that knowledge is power, and when coupled with the right tools and resources, women can overcome barriers and achieve greater economic, social, and political empowerment.
The panel featured:
- Jennifer Denomy, Moderator and Technical Director, Gender Equality and Social Inclusion at MEDA, where we have been creating business solutions to poverty for 70 years
- Lydia Le-entuo Dogee, GESI Manager from the MEDA Ghana GROW2 project, supporting 40,000 women farmers, 5,000 entrepreneurs and 50 agribusinesses
- Simon Tang, Business Development Officer at Amplio Ghana, which creates innovative, cost-effective, gender-sensitive technology-based solutions to empower low-literate people with access to knowledge
- Maria L Mor, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Development at Pro Mujer, an industry leader in financial inclusion, entrepreneurship and health in Latin America and
- Patricia Nyasuna, Gender & ICT Policy Advocacy Officer at Women of Uganda Network, which bridges the gender gap in agriculture through ICTs.