The digital economy can provide women with a means of earning a living, even if they are otherwise excluded from the traditional labor markets. This is especially true for those in the developing world, where cultural bias, mobility restrictions, security, and time limitations often prevent women from taking their rightful place in the workforce. The key benefit of the digital economy is that it allows and encourages remote working, where gender may not matter as much as in the physical economy. It opens up a world of opportunities for women in poor countries.
And yet the barriers to taking part in the digital economy can often be as difficult to surmount as those that prevent women from engaging in the traditional economy. These restrictions and constraints can prevent women from taking advantage of the ‘digital dividend’.
One key challenge is unequal access to the internet. According to Mavis Ampah, Lead ICT Policy Specialist, Transport & ICT GP at the World Bank, most of the focus in the last decade has been on increasing developing countries’ connectivity to the digital world. This has seen rapid improvement, especially in the area of mobile penetration. But when it comes to internet access there is still a stark gap. In the upcoming WDR report on the digital economy, it will be reported that only 18% of African men have access to the internet. For women, the connectivity gap is even wider: only 12% of African women have access to the internet.
Another obstacle is getting women educated about the digital world. Andela is one company that has systematically designed a business model to help women overcome these hurdles to participation. Its business model centers on placing remote software developers with Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. But it also specifically aims to train up female developers in Africa.
According to its Co-Founder and COO, Christina Sass, “the training available is woefully inadequate compared to the opportunities that are out there.” Sass further notes that in some computer science university programs in Africa, zero time is spent actually coding, a critical skill in the sector. To address this, Andela has developed a rigorous training program for these women, including specific software development training and soft skills training
This lack of skills training is a common barrier to entry for women into the IT sector all over the developing world. “Many countries have outdated education systems which give no practical skills, so we need to find initiatives that are online and agile,” says Stela Mocan, Lead IT Officer, Business Solutions Information and Technology Solutions at the World Bank Group. Mocan previously helped the Government of Moldova put together a program to draw more women into the IT sector.
The resulting GirlsGoIT program combines training in basic coding as well as critical thinking and problem solving. After initial success in Moldova, especially targeting rural women, it is now regionalizing and expanding into Ukraine, Turkey and Romania.