Key Resources: ICTs

Gender and ICTS

Access: the gender digital divide
Agency and empowerment
ICTs and violence against women and girls
ICTs, development, and humanitarian
Organisations and initiatives

Gender and ICTS

Feminist Principles of the Internet, Version 2.0
(2016) Association for Progressive Communications (APC)

This set of radical principles developed by the Women’s Rights Programme at the APC (for more on which, see the Organisations and initiatives section, below), argues for a feminist internet that ‘works towards empowering more women and queer persons – in all our diversities – to fully enjoy our rights, engage in pleasure and play, and dismantle patriarchy’ (from the Preamble). The 17 principles address questions of access, censorship, corporate control, and the promotion of open-source software among others.

Gender and ICT: Gender Tool Box Brief (2015) SIDA, 4 pp.

This handy four-pager emphasises how power in society determines who benefits from and shapes the content, development, and use of ICTs. Highlighting some key gender-specific ICT issues, such as the disproportionate effects of poverty and illiteracy on women, gendered assumptions about science and technology, and online violence against women and girls, the briefing also provides examples of the use of ICTs in gender and women’s rights-focused work, and gives a brief outline on how gender can be integrated into ICT programmes for development.

Gender Equality in the Information Society: A Review of Current Literature and Recommendations for Policy and Practice (2014) Anita Gurumurthy and Nandini Chami,Brighton: BRIDGE at IDS, funded by UK DFID, 50 pp.

This literature review addresses issues such as the gender gap in access to mobile phones and the internet, the importance of a rights and citizenship approach, and meaningful access. It is also very useful for its survey of literature relating to what it calls ‘critical themes for gender equality in the information society’. It covers: ICTs and women’s economic empowerment, which includes sections on ICTs for traditional livelihoods, small enterprises, and mobile money services; ICT-enabled learning for women and girls, which includes formal and non-formal education; ICTs and women’s health; ICTs and gender-responsive governance, ICTs and violence against women; and ICTs and identity and sexuality.

Mapping Research in Gender and Digital Technology (2017) Anri van der Spuy and Namita Aavriti, Melville, South Africa: APC, 144 pp.

This survey of research published between 2006 and 2017 relates to gender and digital technology in low- and middle-income countries. Adopting a feminist perspective, it incorporates a wide range of issues in its thoughtful discussion of the literature – which includes access, employment, online violence, and movements and participation. The publication also identifies the challenges, gaps, priorities, and emerging areas in the light of the literature review, in interviews with key actors, academics, and researchers.

Gender and ICTs, BRIDGE Cutting Edge Pack (2004) Brighton: Institute of Development Studies, available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish

Although now nearly 15 years old, the Overview Report in this resource pack provides an excellent introduction to thinking about gender, ICTs, and international development, summarising theories of women’s relationship to technology in different strands of feminist thought. The report itself adopts a gendered/‘technology as culture’ approach, rejecting the view of technology as inherently neutral or inherently masculine, and seeing power relations in society as determining who benefits from technology. The report also looks at ideas around ‘old’ and ‘new’ ICTs (making the point that centuries after ICTs such as cheap printing appeared, a large section of humanity is still illiterate – thus illustrating the failure to prioritise the social role of technology) and charts the history of gender advocacy milestones within global ICT and development debates up to 2003 and the first United Nations (UN) World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Other sections discuss the political, economic, and gender dimensions of exclusion; assess opportunities and risks of ICTs as tools for women’s development and empowerment; and set out prescriptions for gender-sensitive ICT policies.

Gender, Technology and Development

Gender, Technology and Development journal publishes multi-disciplinary new research and reflection in the area of gender, technology, and development, with many articles focusing specifically on gender and ICTS. (Article abstracts can still be read online by those without subscription access.)

Access: the gender digital divide

Women’s Rights Online: Translating Access into Empowerment
(2015) Anne Jellema and Ingrid Brudvig, London: World Wide Web Foundation, with support from SIDA, 52 pp.

Based on research undertaken in nine low- and middle-income countries around the world, this report reveals, and seeks to explain, gendered differences in digital access and use. It considers social capital (e.g. use of social media), access to information to claim and demand rights, and civic engagement and political voice. Major findings of the report relate to education, age, and income. Poor, urban women who have some secondary education were found to be six times more likely to be online than women who have primary level or no education, with the gender gap in connectivity diminishing as education levels rise. The report finds women are still around 50 per cent less likely to use the internet than men of similar age, levels of education, and household income.

Universal Service and Access Funds: An Untapped Resource to Close the Gender Digital Divide (2018) Dhanaraj Thakur and Lauran Potter, Washington, DC: World Wide Web Foundation, with the Alliance for Affordable Internet and UN Women, 20 pp.

In an effort to achieve universal, affordable internet access in least developed countries by 2020 (a key target under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 9), many countries have set up funds, known as Universal Service and Access Funds (USAFs), to extend coverage to unserved communities. Research conducted for this Africa-focused report found that much of the money in the 37 funds across Africa is lying dormant (at an estimated total of US$400 million). The report argues these unspent funds could be used to address the growing global gender gap in internet use, widest in Africa (where 22 per cent of the population across Africa have internet access, with a 25 per cent gap in use between men and women). The report finds that even where funds are being dispersed, only three of the 37 USAFs explicitly aim to connect women and girls as part of their drive to expand access.

The Mobile Gender Gap Report (2018) GSMA Connected Women, London: GSMA, 29 pp.

The GSMA is the membership organisation for the global mobile technology industry. This report, produced with support from the UK’s Department for International Development, outlines the key findings from research into mobile phone ownership and usage across low- and middle-income countries. These include the fact that women in these countries are, on average, 10 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, with gender gaps wider in certain parts of the world – women in South Asia being 26 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone. Where women do own mobiles, there is a significant gender gap in usage for what the report calls more ‘transformational services’ such as the mobile internet. The research finds that affordability is the main barrier to mobile ownership for both men and women. Difficulties in terms of literacy and using mobile handsets were the next most commonly reported barriers for both sexes, but these issues were more commonly reported by female non-owners. Forty per cent of Nigerian women non-owners, for example, identified literacy as a barrier to mobile ownership, compared to only 22 per cent of men. Not unsurprisingly, while advocating for the necessity of addressing the mobile gender gap in order to benefit women, their families, and communities, the report also identifies it as a major commercial opportunity for the mobile industry.

REACT with Gender-responsive ICT Policy: The Key to Connecting the Next 4 Billion (2018) Dhanaraj Thakur and Lauran Potter, Washington, DC: World Wide Web Foundation, 14 pp.

This briefing paper assesses the efforts of low- and middle-income countries to address the gender digital divide through their national ICT and broadband polices. Fifty-eight low- and middle-income countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean were surveyed, with the finding that only a handful had taken any action at policy level, and even here, steps were inadequate to effect real change. In response, the paper proposes a model for policymakers to adopt that will close the digital gender gap by focusing on the key areas of rights, education, access, content, and targets, or REACT. The paper provides examples of successful, existing initiatives in these areas, and stresses the need for the implementation of targets, and the involvement of women, in policy planning.

‘Maintenance affordances and structural inequalities: mobile phone use by low-income women in the United Kingdom’ (2018) Becky Faith, Information Technologies & International Development (Special Section) 14: 66–80

Quoting the UN Development Programme Human Development Report, which argues that ‘[m]edium, high and very high human development countries are home to hundreds of millions of people living in low human development’, this article discusses a study of mobile use by low-income, insecurely housed young women in the UK. Adopting a capabilities approach, and aiming to discover whether use of mobile phones helped the women overcome the structural, gendered inequalities they were facing (e.g. enabling them to find a job), the research uncovered the significant problems encountered by the women in maintaining their phones – namely the costs relating to charging the battery, repairs, credit, and using the internet solely via mobile devices. These problems mirrored some of those faced by users in low- and middle-income countries, and reflected the existing structural inequalities the women were already contending with. The research demonstrates the necessity of challenging the uncritical acceptance of ICTs as a resource for improving women’s lives, given the maintenance costs revealed here that were imposing a significant burden on users.

Gender Digital Divide Online Course (n.d.) Panoply Digital

Designed for development practitioners, this online course is intended to introduce participants to key issues relating to gender and ICTs in order to help them integrate gender into the design and implementation of projects with digital components. The course is comprised of three modules: Why women’s access to ICTs matters; Why does the gender digital divide exist; and, What can we do to address it?

Agency and empowerment

‘Paving the pathway for women’s empowerment? A review of information and communication technology development in Bangladesh’
(2012) Sarah Hossain and Melanie Beresford, Contemporary South Asia 20(4): 455–69

With the diffusion of ICTs, particularly mobile phones, playing a major part in economic and social development programmes, this paper questions claims for their efficacy in increasing women’s empowerment. The authors argue that social, religious, and cultural norms, including the tradition of purdah (the confinement of women to the home), place Bangladeshi women in an inferior and dependent position to men throughout their lives. Using the social network analysis concept of ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ ties, the authors contrast the potential of ICTs to spread new knowledge and ideas (bridging networks) with the reality of most Bangladeshi women’s lives, dominated by tightly knit kinship networks (bonding ties). This means for many women, their connections to more beneficial networks are only indirect, through their relationships to men, who are generally more able to utilise these bridging ties. Discussing examples of women-focused ICT programmes in Bangladesh, the authors argue that unless real attention is paid to the causes of gender inequality, ICT programmes are likely to increase rather than reduce gender

‘Negotiating women’s agency through ICTs: a comparative study of Uganda and India’ (2015) Rachel Masika and Savita Bailur, Gender, Technology and Development 19(1): 43–69

In this fascinating article, the authors consider the role of ICTs in women’s empowerment. They argue that an early wave of optimism around ICTs and development and their potential for empowering marginalised women has been replaced by a degree of scepticism following mixed, and even negative results. Their research – on mobile phone use by female street traders in Uganda, and with female workers of an IT centre and radio station in rural India – demonstrates what they call a third point. This is women’s strategic use of a particular technology ‘on the basis of how they think it will affect the gender equilibrium’. Applying two concepts of agency for considering women’s decisions regarding their use of technology – that of ‘adaptive preference’ and the ‘patriarchal bargain’ – the research reveals how women assess the positives and negatives associated with use of new technologies within particular contexts and sets of constraints. This, therefore, must be taken into account in any evaluation of empowerment.

‘She called, she Googled, she knew: girls’ secondary education, interrupted school attendance, and educational use of mobile phones in Nairobi’ (2014) Ronda Zelezny-Green, Gender & Development 22(1): 63–74

With girls in Kenya facing a number of barriers to regular school attendance, and in a context of rapid growth in mobile phone use in the country, especially in urban areas, this article looks at mobile phone use by pupils at a Nairobi girls’ secondary school in a non-affluent area. It focuses on the ways in which the girls attempt to make use of mobile technology to support their learning when they miss school. With the research finding that the girls used mobile phones enthusiastically in efforts not to fall too far behind with their studies during absences, and for accessing the internet for both formal and informal information-gathering, the author argues for the potential of mobile technology to supplement, but not supplant, girls’ physical school attendance.

Digital Empowerment of Girls, Briefing Paper (2018) Plan International, Woking: Plan International, 24 pp.

Plan International is an international NGO that works to promote the rights of children, globally, and which has a strong focus on girls’ rights and gender equality (see their Because I am A Girl campaign). The third section of this report – ‘Empowering Girls to Learn, Lead, Decide, and Thrive in a Digital World’ – provides some examples of Plan-sponsored education initiatives, including their Digital Learning Centres for Girls in Delhi; computer technology training for young women in Brazil, to encourage them to consider employment in the digital sector; a sexual and reproductive rights information app for girls in Timor Leste, and more.

ICTs for Feminist Movement Building: Activist Toolkit (2015) APC, Just Associates (JASS), and Women’sNet, 158 pp.

Aimed at those who wish to use ICTs as part of their feminist activism, this toolkit seeks to help activists think through choices regarding ICTs as part of communications, campaigning, and advocacy work, rather than being simply a ‘how to’ guide. Some of the many areas discussed include: principles for feminist communications – with women telling their own stories at the centre of this – in a media context where women are often either absent or only appear as stereotypes; guidance on developing a communications strategy; and the pros and cons of using different ICT tools in communications. Of particular interest here is the example of the 2009 Pink Chaddhi (underwear) campaign in India, which used Facebook to mobilise around violence against women. Within a week, the Facebook group had 40,000 members, with women sending underwear to the founder of a right-wing Hindu group that had attacked women in a bar, who they claimed were ‘disrespecting Indian culture’. The campaign garnered global media attention, and the right-wing group called off further violence. This success, however, was tempered by challenges that included hacking of the group, and threatening and harassing messages being posted on their site. The organisers found Facebook staff to be of little help in responding to this.

‘Globalization, ICTs, and economic empowerment: a feminist critique’ (2004) Swasti Mitter, Gender, Technology and Development 8(1): 5–29

Written by the late Swasti Mitter, a pioneering scholar in the field of gender and the global economy, this article looks at ICT-led globalisation from the perspective of women in the global South. In considering the opportunities and challenges presented by ICTs for women working in places such as call centres, the article highlights concerns over the dominance of the global North in terms of technology and trade, and over the language of economic empowerment often attached to ICTs in contexts where communities often lack electricity and clean water. The article ends with a call for the inclusion of women’s groups in policy forums for assessing the value of ICT-led globalisation in countries of the global South.

‘Women’s income generation through mobile Internet: a study of focus group data from Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda’ (2017) Savita Bailur and Silvia Masiero, Gender, Technology and Development 21(1/2): 77–98

In theory, according to the authors of this article, the possibilities offered by the properties of (smart) mobile phones (termed ‘affordances’) means it is possible to view this form of technology as a viable, and potentially empowering source of income generation for women. To test this, the authors examined the experiences of 30 focus groups conducted with 18–25-year-old females and males earning under $2 a day in peri-urban areas of Nairobi, Accra, and Jinja in Uganda. Their experiences were filtered using a conceptualisation of empowerment that involves not just resource ownership on the part of women, but changes to formal laws and policies, social norms, and women’s and men’s consciousness. While the focus groups found some scope for the mobile internet to generate employment, this was less evident amongst females, and older cultural stereotypes seemed to be playing into the adoption and use of the new technology. At the same time, policies underlying economic activities were hardly being challenged by digitalisation. For the authors, this problematises the extent to which the mobile internet can be
universally conceived of as a tool for income generation, and by extension as a long-term, secure means for the empowerment of many women.

‘The long-run poverty and gender impacts of mobile money’ (2016) Tavneet Suri and William Jack, Science 354(6317): 1288–92

This article examines the impact access to the mobile money system M-PESA has had on households in Kenya. M-PESA operates in Kenya and Tanzania (and is used in the majority of Kenyan households), and allows monetary value to be stored on a mobile phone and sent to other users via SMS, allowing bills to be paid, and money deposited, transferred, and withdrawn. The authors of the article, which may be rather heavy going for non-economists, estimate that M-PESA has had a major effect, increasing per capita consumption levels, and lifting 194,000 (or 2 per cent) of households out of poverty, with the impacts being more pronounced for female-headed households. The authors believe that the impacts are explained by changes in financial behaviour, particularly increased financial resilience and saving, and the movement of 185,000 women switching from agriculture to business or retail as their main occupation. These positive findings echo a few previous studies on M-PESA and its impact on women, outlined in the resource Gender Equality in the Information Society: A Review of Current Literature and Recommendations for Policy and Practice, discussed above.

Her Farm Radio in Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda: Final Report (2017) Farm Radio International, Ottawa: Farm Radio International,  42 pp.

This report communicates the findings from a two-year project that combined the use of community radio and mobile phones in order to address women’s lesser access to radios and mobile phones, the lack of rural female farmers’ voices in rural radio programmes, and the lack of discussion of gender-related issues on rural radio stations. ‘Listening groups’ of women farmers were equipped with mobile phones (with some recipients never having used them before) and radios, using the phones to contribute content – on agricultural issues and improving agricultural practice, plus wider gender concerns – to local radio stations. Farm Radio International, the Canadian NGO which ran the project, found the results to be extremely positive, with high levels of engagement, increased knowledge on topics women farmers had sought information about, to the extent that some began planting new crops, and increased levels of confidence amongst participants. In the case of Tanzania, participants reported a change in gendered roles in farming, with men taking part in activities on the farm normally regarded as women’s work. See also the news story (7 March 2018), Radio and mobile phones bring life-changing solutions to rural women, on the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s website.

Gender and ICTs: Mainstreaming Gender in the Use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Agriculture and Rural Development (2018) Sophie Treinen and Alice Van der Elstraeten, Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 88 pp.

This report follows the FAO’s 2015 e-Agriculture 10 Year Review Report, which assessed the impact of ICTs in agriculture and rural development. The 10 Year Review Report identified challenges in relation to women’s access and participation. This new report argues that women face a triple divide: digital (in relation to developed and developing countries), rural, and gender (in relation to access to, use of, and control over ICTs). The report sets out the FAO’s seven critical factors for success of ICTs in agriculture (factor four relates to gender and diversity); outlines existing gender barriers to women’s access, control, and use of ICTs for agriculture; and provides recommendations for better integration of gender into initiatives for ICT in agriculture, illustrated with concrete examples. Finally, the report highlights mobile finance, and mobile and e-learning as areas where ICTs may be offering genuine opportunities for improving gender equality in rural areas.

Pink Telephones: Using Technology to Empower Women in Cambodia (2012) Chaliya Sophasawatsakal, Oxfam Policy & Practice

This is a short, online account of a project that provided mobile phones to women commune councillors as part of a women’s economic empowerment project. The phones were intended primarily to help councillors in their co-ordination and communicating with members of women’s groups and community members, in the absence of other means of communication. Pink was chosen as the colour for the phones as it was believed men woul d not want to be seen using phones meant for women. While the phones did indeed cut down time councillors had to spend travelling to talk to people, there were also unanticipated livelihoods benefits. With the phones being shared amongst women, they were able to be used, for example, to call for doctors, and notably, to help in women’s agricultural work, such as getting information on market prices and weather, and arranging produce collection. For more on this see, Pink phones project for Cambodian women: in pictures (2013), The Guardian, 8 March.

‘Gender digital equality in ICT interventions in health: evidence from IDRC supported projects in developing countries’ (2010) Kathleen Flynn-Dapaah and Ahmed Tareq Rashid, The Journal of Community Informatics 5(3) & 6(1): 1–11

ICTs are being increasingly used in different aspects of health care – particularly dissemination of public health information – with developing countries often making significant investments in these systems, which are known as eHealth (the ‘e’ standing for electronic). In this paper, Canadian international NGO, IDRC, evaluates from a gender perspective three of the e-Health projects (a WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) project, an education and public health information programme aimed at women, and an online information system for health workers) it has funded in low-income countries, in order to help with design of future programmes. The paper’s central finding is the importance of situating the project within the larger context of power relations and gender and social inequalities. A recognition of these gendered inequalities must be built into the design of eHealth programmes if women are to benefit from them.

‘Health at her fingertips: development, gender and empowering mobile technologies’ (2017) Marine Al Dahdah, Gender, Technology and Development 21(1/2): 135–51

Mobile health or ‘mHealth’ programmes are an increasingly popular means of improving maternal health in low- and middle-income countries. Arguing that implementers present mHealth as a neutral, universal, accessible, and ‘smart’ empowering technology for women in the global South, this paper looks at a maternal mHealth project operating in rural parts of Ghana and India, in order to test these assumptions. The Mobile Midwife programme aimed to provide women with easy access to health information through educational SMS messages designed to debunk myths around behaviours during pregnancy and to give reminders for appointments, etc. The research revealed a gender gap and male domination in accessing mobile phones in both locations, a degree of resistance on the part of women to the content of the messages, problems with the cost of receiving the messages, and their automated, depersonalised nature, and the overall failure of the programme to address the financial and geographical barriers to health care faced by women in rural areas.

ICTs and violence against women and girls

From Impunity to Justice: Exploring Corporate and Legal Remedies for Technology-related Violence Against Women. 2012–2015 Association for Progressive Communications’ Research

This excellent and informative minisite features the results of a three-year, seven-country research project (the countries being Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mexico, Pakistan, and the Philippines) looking at technology-related violence against women and girls (VAWG). Defining technology-related violence as including online harassment and misogynist speech, cyber stalking, privacy invasions with the threat of blackmail, ‘revenge porn’, and viral ‘rape videos’ and ‘sex videos’, researchers found a lack of access to justice for those who experience this form of VAWG. For example, 60 per cent of reported cases were not investigated by authorities, and action was taken by the internet service provider in only one-third of cases. The researchers also identify available legal remedies, and assess their strengths and limitations.

Internet Governance Forum: Best Practice Forum on Online Abuse and Gender-based Violence Against Women (2015) Internet Governance Forum (IGF), Geneva: IGF, 184 pp.

Set up by the UN in 2006, the IGF brings together organisations and individuals with an interest in internet governance and policy. Their Best Practice Forum on Gender in 2015 focused on online abuse and gender-based violence against women, and this report sets out the results of their inquiry into the issue. It outlines the nature and impact of online abuse and violence against women, including discussion of the underlying social/cultural factors, considers tensions between multiple rights (e.g. around issues of censorship and freedom of expression), and provides examples of responses from the public sector and community-led initiatives, along with the private sector, where there is recognition of a lack of robust engagement with the issue from internet intermediaries (i.e. internet service providers, search engines, and social media platforms).

#ToxicTwitter: Violence and Abuse Against Women (2018) Amnesty International, London: Amnesty International,  77 pp.

This report from Amnesty International presents findings from its research into online abuse faced by women using the social media platform, Twitter – which is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world. It focuses on the experiences of female public figures (including politicians, journalists, and activists) in the UK and the USA, but is of wider relevance. The research highlights the misogynistic abuse and threats faced, in particular, by women of colour, those from ethnic or religious minorities, those with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, or women with disabilities, detailing the effects of such abuse, and its silencing effect on women’s voices – through self-censorship or withdrawal from Twitter. The report also examines the failings in Twitter’s handling of cases of online abuse, and outlines the ways in which this represents a failure to respect the human rights of women who use Twitter. (See also Amnesty’s Troll Patrol initiative, which is calling for volunteers to help monitor levels of abuse faced by women on Twitter.)

(Anti) Social Media: The Benefits and Pitfalls of Digital for Female Politicians (2018) Eva Barboni, London: Atalanta, 62 pp.

Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, are becoming an increasingly important means of communication between politicians and voters, and as a way people get their news. Through analysis of social media conversations relating to three pairs of prominent politicians (one female, one male in each pair) in the UK, South Africa, and Chile, and through interviews with politicians and campaign strategists, this report examines the gendered nature of online political discourse, the impact of online sexism, harassment, and threats on female politicians themselves, and on wider democratic debate, offers potential responses for mitigating the abuse, and outlines some of the benefits of digital campaigning for female politicians.

A Framework to Understand Women’s Mobile-related Safety Concerns in Low- and Middle-income Countries (2018) Helen Croxon and Amber Wilson, GSMA Connected Women, London: GSMA, 42 pp.

Another report from the development arm of GSMA, the mobile industry’s membership body, this report looks at issues around safety that deter women from using mobile phones. GSMA argues that addressing these issues would help close the gender gap in mobile ownership and use, and presents an opportunity for the mobile industry to substantially increase revenue. Mobile phones, paradoxically, can make women and girls feel safer, but at the same time can generate safety concerns in what the report categorises as three areas: the physical world, for example, harassment at point of sale or top up, or domestic violence triggered by a spouse’s suspicions of ‘inappropriate’ contact with other men; voice and SMS, such as unwanted calls or messages, often resulting from women’s numbers being misused by agents or customers at top-up points; and online, via mobile internet, for example, harassment via social media. The report outlines initiatives that respond to these safety concerns, and offers experiences from two case studies, one in Egypt and one in India.


Harassmap is a notable example of feminist activists employing ICTs to challenge violence against women, and girls, and to effect long-term social change. Launched at the end of 2010, the Cairo-based initiative uses reporting and mapping software to enable women to report, via mobile phone, incidents of sexual harassment in the street – a major problem in Egypt –and also incidents where people have intervened in order to help the person being harassed. These are then recorded on an online map, which is permanently available on the website. This has helped build up a picture of the level of harassment experienced by women in the city, and other locations across Egypt. Harassmap has helped bring the issue of harassment into the realm of public debate in Egypt, and continues to work to challenge its social acceptance, through continued advocacy, and programmes in the education sector and beyond. Harassmap has inspired similar initiatives in other countries, and provides support and guidance to those wishing to set up their own versions of the project.


Safetipin is a mobile, map-based app that uses large-scale data collection from its users to help evaluate the safety of a location from the perspective of those who feel vulnerable. Information is used to engage with city planners, NGOs, the police, and others in making the urban environment safer for women, and others. Operational in eight cities in India, plus four other cities globally, the app uses the methodology of safety audits to enable users to rate an area’s safety through a set of criteria such as lighting and gender balance, and report information about harassment, assault, or feeling in a place. This results in a safety score. Two further Safetipin apps are also available. Safetipin Track allows a user to have details of her journey made available to selected recipients and Safetipin Night captures night-time images. (For more on the development of Safetipin, see the 2015 article written by its creators, Kalpana Viswanath and Ashish Basu, published in Gender & Development’s Working on Gender Equality in Urban Areas issue, 23(1),


In November 2014 in Nairobi, a woman was attacked and stripped naked by men who accused her of being ‘indecently’ dressed. The attack was filmed and went viral on social media. Further assaults on women followed. The attacks prompted outrage and thousands of women protested on social media, using the hashtag #MyDressMyChoice. A demonstration in Nairobi city centre on 17 November, organised via social media, and which attracted several hundred marchers, followed. As with other online mobilising over women’s rights issues (see below), #MyDressMyChoice attracted significant media coverage, for example, My dress is my business: Nai women fight back, SDE (n.d.) Kenya: my dress my choice, New African (21 January 2015), and continues to be referenced in public debate in Kenya, for example, Are days of “my dress, my choice” sliding behind us? (27 October 2017).


An example of feminist online organising and activism, the #IWillGoOut campaign in India was a response to a series of sexual assaults against women on New Year’s Eve 2016 in the city of Bengaluru. In the face of comments from politicians blaming the women for the attacks, activists used social media, and the hashtag #IWillGoOut, to mobilise and co-ordinate demonstrations on 21 January 2017 across cities to demand the right of women to safety in public space. The campaign generated much media interest both nationally and internationally, see for example, “I will go out” marchers demand safety in public places (2018) Times of India (22 January), and “The day is ours and so is the night”: furious Indian women fight back (2017) CNN (27 January). For a full discussion on #IWillGoOut, see Divya Titus’ article in this issue of Gender & Development.


At the time of writing, the #MeToo movement continues to be prominent in public discourse, in the global North at least, and translated versions of #MeToo are being used in different regions. From the autumn of 2017, #MeToo has appeared on social media platforms, with the hashtag being used by women to disclose their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. Initially attracting much media attention because Hollywood celebrities came forward with their stories, many ‘ordinary’ women have shared their own accounts, helping to reveal the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. A reflection of the media interest in the global North in #MeToo can be seen in continuing references, for example, Pakistan’s long #MeToo moment, Al Jazeera (22 April 2018), and #MeToo meets China’s censors and students learn a hard lesson, The Wall Street Journal (27 April 2018). Whether #MeToo, the media focus, and the conversations subsequently generated in many countries represent a real turning point in changing attitudes towards sexual assault and harassment is uncertain. (For coverage on #MeToo in locations other than the global North, see The #MeToo reflections in the Global South, Sexuality Policy Watch (5 March 2018).

ICTS, development, and humanitarian

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Specific reference to ICTs, in the form of targets and indicators, appear across several SDGs. Target C of SDG 9, which focuses on industry, innovation, and infrastructure, calls for a significant increase in access to information and communications technology and to strive to provide universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries by 2020. Perhaps of most interest to readers of this issue of Gender & Development is the reference to ICTs within the gender equality goal, SDG 5. Here, target 5B is to ‘enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women’, with the indicator (5B1) for measuring this being the proportion of individuals who own a mobile telephone, by sex. (For a discussion on progress towards this target, see pp. 101–3 of the 2018 UN Women report, Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development. Elsewhere, indicator 4.4.1 for SDG 4 (inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning) will measure achievement of this goal by the proportion of youth and adults with ICT skills. In SDG 17 (government, private sector, and civil society partnerships for sustainable development), indicators of success relating to the three technology targets are the number with broadband access and proportion of individuals using the internet.

Fast-forward Progress: Leveraging Tech to Achieve the Global Goals #ICT4SDG (2017) International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Geneva: ITU,  156 pp.

This report from the ITU – the United Nation’s (UN) specialised agency for ICTs – aims to demonstrate the importance of ICTs in realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Contributors come from across the UN system, with heads of UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) providing short essays on the relevance, opportunities, and risks of ICTs in relation to achieving a particular SDG. In her discussion on SDG 5 (the gender equality goal) and ICTs, UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka highlights gender differences in access to jobs and education, along with the digital divide between men and women, as areas of concern.

World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends (2016) World Bank, Washington, DC: World Bank, 359 pp.

Opening with the line ‘We find ourselves in the midst of the greatest information and communications revolution in history’ (p. v), 2016’s World Development Report focuses on the disparity between the growth in digital technologies globally, and the ‘digital dividends’, i.e. the broader developmental benefits, arising from this growth. Using an analytical model that sees digital technologies promoting development through three mechanisms – inclusion, efficiency, and innovation – in relation to businesses, people, and governments, the report provides facts and analysis on the developmental benefits, categorised as growth, jobs, and service delivery. Recognising that the internet remains inaccessible to the majority of the world’s population, with persistent digital divides across gender, geography, age, and income levels, the report argues that for the development benefits to be realised, what it calls the ‘analog foundation’ needs to be strengthened; namely the economic, social, and political environment in which technological development is taking place. Note: while references to gender are made throughout, no one section of the report focuses specifically on the issue.

ICT4D and the Human Development and Capability Approach: The Potentials of Information and Communication Technology, Human Development Research Paper 2010/37 (2010) Jean-Yves Hamel, New York: UNDP,  77 pp.

Included in this report is a helpful, brief description of the evolution of the multi-disciplinary field of ICT4D (information and communication technology for development). This began in earnest around around the time of the 2003 UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which was the first major UN-sponsored event convened to discuss the implications of ICTs for development. The report’s author considers ICT4D to have a ‘profoundly moral agenda’ (p. 6) which, when combined with a human development approach, relates to the empowerment of people and communities, and what and how development should be practised. The emphasis here is not simply on closing the digital divide between the global North and South, and populations within them. The report reviews research (none with a specific gender focus) on the application of ICTs in the key human development areas of health, education, income, and participation and empowerment, with a major finding being that ICTs alone cannot improve people’s lives, nor can delivery of ICTs to people living in poverty be left to the market alone. Governments and NGOs need to ensure ‘people-centred’ strategies.

Disaster Response: Mobile Money for the Displaced (2014) GSMA, London: GSMA, 31 pp.

Direct cash payments to affected populations in emergencies are becoming increasingly common. This report discusses the move by mobile network operators (GSMA represents the interests of the global mobile industry) and humanitarian organisations into partnerships to provide cash payments via mobile technology to displaced people, for example, in camps for internally displaced people (IDP). Arguing that there are significant research gaps in the use of mobile money in refugee and IDP contexts, the paper nevertheless reports some interesting findings from recent projects, which includes some gendered analysis. This includes the high levels of women’s use of mobile money services relative to men in displaced populations in Uganda (possibly related to women’s care responsibilities and general responsibility for managing remittances). However, somewhat contradictorily, women’s ownership of mobile phones fell far short of men’s – 18.4 per cent to 69.2 per cent in Kyangwali camp, in western Uganda. In another project in the Philippines, following Typhoon Haiyan, IDPs, particularly women, felt much safer receiving payments via phone, instead of having to carry cash around.

MANTRA: Increasing Maternal and Child Health Resilience Before, During and After Disasters Using Mobile Technology in Nepal, University College, London (UCL) Institute for Disaster and Risk Reduction

With research on this project still ongoing at the time this issue of Gender & Development went to press, the information given on this website nevertheless provides a good overview of a project that aims to integrate ICT into a gender-responsive Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and public health programme in a rural context. The project is trialling a mobile phone app for women in two areas badly affected by the 2015 Nepal earthquake. Taking the form of a game, the app provides educational content around earthquakes and health for pregnant and newly delivered mothers. The app is designed for a target audience with low or no education, who are unfamiliar with smartphones, and who have not played games online. Note: ‘transformative technologies’ will be one of the central research pillars at the recently launched Centre for Gender & Disaster, at UCL’s Institute for Disaster and Risk Reduction.

Organisations and initiatives

Alliance for Progressive Communications (APC)

APC is a global membership organisation that seeks to support individuals, organisations, and social movements in their use of ICTs to promote social justice. Their work has two focus areas: communications and information policy analysis and advocacy at international, regional, and national levels, and a women’s rights programme. The APC Women’s Rights Programme works on knowledge, capacity, and movement building, and policy advocacy. This is to ensure women’s movements benefit from the potential that ICTs and the internet present for advancing work on gender justice, and that barriers are addressed. The Women’s Right’s programme is also responsible for several other sister projects, including and Take Back the Tech!, for more on which, see below.


Launched in 2016, EQUALS is an international partnership that brings together UN agencies, commercial companies, NGOs and others with the aim of closing the global gender digital divide by 2030. To this end, work focuses on three areas: improving access, connectivity, and security for women and girls in relation to digital technology; advancing science, technology, engineering, and maths skills for women and girls; and promoting women’s leadership in the ICT field. This work is informed by data generated or collected by the EQUALS research group, and from 2018, EQUALS will be publishing an annual report on the state of digital equality.

GSMA Connected Women Programme

GSMA is the mobile phone industry’s global membership organisation. As part of its Mobile for Development initiative, which brings together mobile operators and the development sector to work on mobile technologies in low- and middle-income countries, GSMA runs the Connected Women Programme. Currently funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Programme has awarded innovation grants to mobile operators and NGOs in Africa and Asia to develop economically viable mobile products (e.g. financial services, mobile health, and education and training) aimed at women. The Connected Women Programme has also produced two major reports on the mobile gender access and usage gap in low- and middle-income countries – the first in 2015 and the second in 2018., a project of the Women’s Rights Programme at APC (see above) was launched in 2006 as a platform for monitoring policy on ICTs from a gender perspective. continues with this work and has also become a lively forum for activists working in the intersecting areas of women’s rights, sexual rights, and the internet to share news and thinking on internet policy and culture, with a particular emphasis on the voices and experiences of those in the global South.

Take Back the Tech!

Take Back the Tech! is another project of the Women’s Rights Programme at APC, and has been running since 2006. It is a global campaign network promoting the use of ICTs to challenge online violence against women and girls, and brings together activists working on women’s rights, the digital environment, freedom of expression and more, in many countries across the world. While much work – such as training, solidarity actions, media monitoring, etc. – is done by members at a local level, Take Back the Tech!’s biggest annual campaign happens globally, during the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. For more on Take Back the Tech!, see the article by Sara Baker in this issue of Gender & Development.

Whose Knowledge?

Launched in 2016, Whose Knowledge? is a campaign working to rebalance content on the internet. Arguing that most public knowledge on the internet has so far been generated by white males from North America and Europe, the campaign aims to centre the perspectives of women and those from the global South – who make up the majority of those online.

Women’s Rights Online

A project of the World Wide Web Foundation (see below), WRO is a network of women’s rights and digital rights organisations in low- and middle-income countries who have come together with the aim of closing the digital gender divide in technology, data, and policymaking. The network conducts research and advocacy in order to influence policy on ICTs. This includes WRO’s REACT strategy, which calls on governments to focus on rights, education, access, content, and targets to ensure equitable gender access.

Women’s Net

Women’sNet is a South African network that works to promote gender equality in the country via the use of ICTs. Work includes capacity development with women’s organisations through ICT training, and the Girls’Net project, which aims to encourage girls in the use of ICTs around issues that are important to them and to support their engagement in social activism.

World Wide Web Foundation

Founded in 2009 by the inventor of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web Foundation’s mission statement is ‘to advance the open web as a public good and a basic right’. It conducts research and advocacy to advance government policies and commercial strategies that will improve equitable access to the internet, and realise ‘digital equality’ across the globe. Some of this work is done through the Web Foundation’s Alliance for Affordable Internet, where the technology sector, the public sector, and civil society work to develop affordable access to the internet in low- and middle-income countries.