AfterAccess: Uncovering the gender gap

September 21, 2018
Sisters Emilsa Otilia Lopez Mèndez and Yelmi Guadalupe Lopez both migrant workers from Malacatan,Guatemala, make use of the Center for Migrant Women.
IDRC / James Rodriguez

Digital technologies contribute to socioeconomic development in many ways. Networked information communication technologies (ICTs) can reduce transaction costs, ease information flows, and improve outputs. There is evidence that high-speed Internet access, for instance, not only contributes to job creation and stimulates economic growth, but it also enhances the general well-being of those who are connected. 

However, these benefits are not enjoyed equally. The limited global-level evidence available indicates major differences in the volume, frequency, and quality of ICT access among men and women, particularly in the Global South. Women often face entrenched discriminatory social norms and persistent structural barriers that interfere with their access to ICTs, which also limits their socioeconomic prospects and developmental benefits. Women’s digital exclusion is even more worrisome when we consider that a woman’s family and broader community are also more likely to miss out on developmental benefits when she is digitally excluded. 

AfterAccess surveys

AfterAccess is a large-scale data collection initiative aimed at compiling comparable information and communication technology indicators for countries in the Global South. Their surveys are the Global South’s most comprehensive mobile and Internet use database.

Among other factors, the surveys measure the gender gaps in mobile and Internet usage. The disparities reveal a sobering picture in some Asian and African countries. For example, women in India between the ages of 15-65 are 46% less likely than men to own a mobile phone, while in Bangladesh and Rwanda women of the same age group are 62% less likely than men to use the Internet.

The AfterAccess team’s focus on gender is motivated by the lack of robust, nationally representative data sources that can be gender-disaggregated to accurately measure the gender gap in the Global South. AfterAccess surveys dig deeper than others by moving beyond the scope of the gender gap to highlight the fact that even once women gain access, their user experience differs greatly from men’s — for example, in the levels and forms of online harassment. Experiences can even vary significantly among women, therefore the data highlights disparities in ICT access along the lines of income, education, and other dimensions of marginalization. Such data is crucial for evidence-based policymaking for women’s digital inclusion.

Funded by IDRC and conducted jointly by DIRSI, LIRNEasia, and Research ICT Africa, AfterAccess surveys collect data on ICT access and use through household and individual surveys across 22 countries, covering a sample of 38,000 and counting. The sampling method allows for representation with a plus or minus 3% margin of error, and the sample sizes are large enough to allow for gender-disaggregation of the indicators collected.

Bringing evidence to the policy process

While fieldwork was staggered over a two-year period, data from the first 17 countries has already been widely used to provide evidence for many policy-relevant debates that affect women and girls and their access to and use of ICTs. For example, the mobile, Internet, and social media use data from these 17 countries was used to develop a toolkit to mainstream gender into World Bank ICT projects in late 2017. It is expected that this toolkit will be widely used in the Bank's ICT division to ensure that the ICT projects it conducts globally will be gender-sensitive.

The data also forms the basis of a chapter in the upcoming inaugural report of the United Nations University ICT EQUALS Research Group, which is expected to be widely used and referenced by key decision-makers.  

The gender-disaggregated data have also been used to provide rigorous comparative data points in multiple presentations on topics such as access, social media use, online harassment, and online work at meetings with global stakeholders such as the Internet Governance Forum, the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), RightsCon, and GIZ.  

AfterAccess gender gap data has also been instrumental in putting gender on the policy agenda. For example, soon after presentations to policymakers and circulation to the media, India’s Department of Telecom urged staff to attend a workshop focused on closing the mobile gender gap.

As data continues to be collected, analyzed, and disseminated, it is expected that this kind of comparative and nationally representative data will provide much-needed quantitative evidence as a base that will feed into other activities and decisions that will go on to have direct impacts for women and girls.

Award-winning research

On September 22, 2018, AfterAccess was presented with the 2018 EQUALS in Tech Award for research, which honours efforts to close the ICT gender gap through research. AfterAccess was recognized for its contribution to addressing the gender gap through the collection of robust data on women’s (versus men’s) access to and use of ICTs to measure the gender gap, but also for examining the nuances and barriers of use to enable evidence-based policymaking.

IDRC has long supported research to build inclusive ICT policies. The growing impact and recognition of AfterAccess insights highlight the need for continued funding and support in this area.

Read more about AfterAccess.