Assessing UNCDF IDE Programme in Uganda

Barriers and Opportunities for Women in Digital Technologies
  • March 15, 2023


In an increasingly digitalized and connected world, digital technologies are unlocking the potential for women to participate fully in the economy. Digital technologies have the potential to break barriers imposed on women's mobility and provide an extra layer of security by eliminating the need for physical interactions. They avail women with time-saving solutions for education, health, agriculture, and other social services, thus empowering them to participate in other productive activities despite the time paucity imposed on them by traditional gender roles such as unpaid domestic work. Digital technologies are also a vehicle to financial inclusion through mobile money and innovative digital wallets opening up channels for accessing credit.

However, we are cognizant that left to their own devices, digital economies will not level the playing field. There must be deliberate efforts and intentionality to ensure that digital economies are genuinely inclusive, contribute to equitable growth, and bring long-term benefits to the underserved. Owing to the rapid development of technology with the global and national economy becoming increasingly digital, it is vital to act now to ensure existing inequalities are not exacerbated.

Our latest report, Assessing the UNCDF Inclusive Digital Economies (IDE) Programme in Uganda, Barriers and opportunities for women in digital technologies, reveals a digital gender gap across all communities in terms of digital devices ownership and usage, internet usage, digital skills, and awareness as well as adoption of digital innovation.

The assessment carried out in Northern Uganda targeting areas where UNCDF is implementing its 'Leaving No One Behind in the Digital Era' strategy used a two-pronged evaluation:

  1. A survey to establish the constraints to women's participation in the digital economy aligned to UNCDF's digital strategy workstreams (policy & regulation, digital infrastructure, inclusive innovation, and skills), and
  2. A social norms study to get a deeper understanding of the social and cultural influences to these.

Key Highlights:

  • Findings from the assessment showed that only 64 percent of women owned phones compared to 89 percent of men. Female phone ownership was especially low in the refugee community at only 58 per cent. More than three-quarters of the phones owned were basic phones without Internet capabilities. At least half of the men interviewed had access to the Internet compared to only 25 percent of the women. Additionally, men had received digital literacy training and possessed more digital skills than women. The primary constraint to access and ownership of digital devices was affordability, especially pronounced in the refugee community.
  • Gendered social norms were also identified as a significant barrier to women's participation in the digital economy. The underlying drivers of these norms were established, including household power dynamics (control), traditional gender roles and time use profiles of men and women, and cultural and traditional beliefs, among others. In addition, female personas in the communities likely to be affected by these social norms were identified and profiled to craft relevant solutions to close the digital gender gaps in these communities.
  • As far as digital skills are concerned, whereas nine out of every ten people interviewed could make and receive phone calls by themselves, indicating the ability to operate the essential functions of a phone without assistance, only four out of every ten men and one out of every ten women could browse the Internet. Out of a list that included social media, and email use, browsing the Internet was the most common advanced digital skill in the communities. Findings generally indicated that women trailed men in advanced digital skills.
  • Within the policy and regulation workstream, findings show that whereas the Government has fully mainstreamed the SDGs into its planning framework in the National Development Plan III and put in place laws and policies regulating digital communications to ensure that no one is left behind, some of the fundamental laws and policies aimed at digital inclusion are still gender blind, and are not tailored to address specific social, cultural, economic and political contexts of the rural women.

Key recommendations:

Policy and regulation: The assessment recommends strengthening institutional mechanisms for coordination and regulation of digital services, and working with the Government to ensure that government policies do not promote gender gaps in the population. Supporting the implementation of the National Gender Policy (2007) Action Plan will help ensure that women have greater agency and control over digital technologies and can leverage these technologies to improve their welfare and status at the household and community level. This action plan mainly provides guidance on gender mainstreaming across all sectors of Government.

Digital infrastructure: The assessment recommends prioritizing product price affordability for women, user-friendliness of the technology solutions, product marketability targeting women, and after-sales services for women using these products. In addition, digital programmes should harness the influence of opinion leaders (religious and clan elders) as champions for sensitizing communities and role models to champion digital inclusion at the community level.

Inclusive innovation: To improve the adoption of digital solutions and narrow the gender gap in their use, the assessment recommends that the unique needs of women be identified and aligned to a proposed digital solution at the inception stage. The product design and pricing of digital solutions should not disproportionately impact women's access to and usage of digital technologies compared to men. There is also a need to employ specific marketing tools, channels and promotion approaches that deliberately target women.

Skills: Given the varying levels of education among women, the assessment further recommends the need for a combined skilling approach using customized solutions (simplified digital training approaches largely informed by pictorial) content. This should be hinged on increasing women's economic opportunities, such as access to financial and market opportunities, to address cost-related expenses in accessing digital services (internet, airtime etc.).

Next steps:

To transform results from the assessment into actionable plans and interventions, UNCDF has developed a women's economic empowerment strategy, including gender mainstreaming guidelines to be used by UNCDF staff, implementing partners and other stakeholders working toward fostering women's active participation in the digital economy. The guidelines provide strategic direction for gender mainstreaming within all stages of the project cycle including identification, planning and design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

At a macro-level, the strategy aims to achieve:

  • A favorable policy and regulatory environment that promotes gender equality in the digital economy.
  • Increased ownership, agency, and decision-making power over digital technologies among women.
  • Increased awareness and adoption of digital products and services among women.
  • Improved capacity of women to effectively use digital technologies.