There are around 250 million fewer women online than men - and the gap is widening. Harnessing information and communication technology to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment is not only important for women and girls, it’s a critical part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Digital initiatives from not-for-profit organisations are enabling women from developing countries to improve their prospects. E-commerce social enterprises are also aiding women in remote areas to generate an income from their artisan crafts, creating a positive ripple effect within their wider communities.
There are around 250 million fewer women online than men - and the gap is widening. Harnessing information and communication technology to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment is not only important for women and girls, it’s a critical part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Access to the internet is largely concentrated within the developed world, and 53 percent of the world’s population (equivalent to around 3.9 billion people) is not even online yet. In several of Africa’s poorer countries, only one person in 10 is believed to have internet access.
However, evidence shows that empowering women in developing countries with economic resources is an effective way of accelerating community development and tackling poverty. This is because women feel a deep and innate attachment to their families and communities, and want to improve their wider economic outlook. Arming women with the knowledge and access to use the internet in a meaningful way has the potential to produce far-reaching positive ripple effects within those communities.
This potential has not gone unnoticed by public and private sector organisations across the world, and a number of initiatives have been launched to train women to be technologically and economically independent. In the Republic of Moldova, the GirlsGoIT initiative is inspiring girls aged 14 to 20 to pursue STEM subjects and careers. In Rwanda, UN Women in partnership with the government and World Food Programme (WFP) has piloted the ‘Buy from Women’ enterprise. This is a “data-driven, enterprise platform that combines an open source end-to-end cloud-base, and mobile enabled supply chain system to connect women farmers to information, finance and markets.” This innovation enables women farmers to have a complete view of their entire business cycle. Also in Africa, there is an accelerator for women-led start-ups called “She Leads Africa”, an online community that helps young African women to achieve their professional dreams.
In Latin America, millions of young women can’t afford quality higher education. However, Laboratoria in Peru is a start-up that teaches Latino women to code for free. To date, more than 1,000 women have graduated from the six-month programme and more than 80 percent of those women have progressed to work in technology. The company is not only improving these women’s lives, but is helping to diversify the tech industry in Latin America.
There are numerous examples of women in developing countries using this type of education to create profitable businesses. In Pakistan, the artisan craft sector represents the second largest employment sector but many artisans still live in poverty as they are unable to access technology that could amplify the potential of their business. Amneh Shaikh-Farooqui helps lead a not-for-profit organisation called the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Institute specialising in “microenterprise, technical skills development and value chain development programming focused on women and young people.” The organisation uses market development approaches to lift marginalised artisan, rural producers and slum-dwelling urban communities out of poverty to create livelihood and employment opportunities. Shaikh-Farooqui also runs a social enterprise in Pakistan called Polly and Other Stories. It’s an e-commerce initiative supporting small producers of artisanal products, working from home or within communities in remote villages, that aren’t connected to the mainstream world of commerce. The platform allows them to bring their products to market and generate income while meeting demand for authentic, homemade items around the world.
Similarly, Soko is an ethical, fast-fashion company founded in Nairobi, Kenya that uses a mobile marketplace model. It connects artisans in developing countries with customers around the world. The business uses innovative supply chain technology to help promote goods to the international community, enabling the women to improve their production capacity and build their businesses. As a testament to the demand for this type of product, the business relocated to Silicon Valley in San Francisco in 2015.
Tapping into the interests of women in developing countries will help to unearth their socioeconomic potential. More broadly though, digital education initiatives will ensure the digital divide between men and women doesn’t widen.
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