3.8 Focus on least developed countries

This sub-section is based on a practice put in place in three LDCs, in the context of a joint project of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) and ITU. Instead of offering “Key highlights” about this practice, this sub-section provides a synthesis of what has been done and its impact and proposes policy actions and do’s and don’ts for the design and implementation of gender mainstreaming practices.

The project “Tech as a Driver of Women’s Economic Opportunity”, worked with policy-makers to mainstream a gender perspective in domestic policies and regulations to ensure women participate fully in the digital economy. A second component of the project provided skills and opportunities to drive women’s economic opportunities in the textile and apparel industries, coffee and tea sector and ICT sector in Burundi, Ethiopia, and Haiti.57

Assessment of gender references in digital policies, strategies and regulations in Burundi, Ethiopia, and Haiti

The first project objective was to assess gender mainstreaming in national digital policies, strategies and regulations to ensure women participate fully in the digital economy in Burundi, Ethiopia and Haiti. The methodology for the assessment covered the following policy areas: access to digital technology, access to digital skills, financial inclusion, entrepreneurship and leadership, and access to infrastructure and digital services.

A methodology was developed by the ITU Digital Inclusion team to assess gender references in digital policies, strategies and regulations. The methodology was conceived to help policy-makers assess and re-design digital policies that are gender neutral, ensuring that both men and women have the same opportunities when they participate in the digital economy. In close cooperation with the EQUALS Global Partnership, the project worked work with key public and private stakeholders including representatives of ICT ministries, gender focal points in other ministries or government agencies, etc. A short survey questionnaire was circulated among representatives of the private sector and of women associations in order to collect firs-hand perceptions about women in the digital economy.

The three Country Reports had the same structure. The first chapter provided main (available) statistics on gender and ICT; the second chapter presented the gender references in digital policies, strategies, regulations, and identified programmes supporting women and girls in ICT; the third chapter mapped the main actions of the business ecosystem promoting gender equality in ICT as well as governance mechanisms for the development of digital policies; the fourth chapter identified areas in which there was room for improvement in terms of women’s access to digital technology, digital skills, financial inclusion, entrepreneurship and leadership, and infrastructure and digital services; and the last chapter included conclusions and preliminary policy actions.

The presentation and validation of preliminary Country Reports on “Gender Mainstreaming in the Digital Economy” and the launch of the “National Consortium of Women in Tech” in Burundi and Ethiopia, were organized on 29 November and 02 December 2021. The presentation of the Country Report on Haiti was held on 19 May 2022. These events were organized in collaboration with the respective governments of Burundi, Ethiopia and Haiti, the International Telecommunication Union, the Enhanced Integrated Framework and the EQUALS Global Partnership to close the gender digital divide. Target audience was representatives of private sector, non-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies, ICT professionals, policy-makers, academicians, youth organizations and civil society organizations, with particular interest in topics related to digital inclusion, digital divide, gender equality, women economic empowerment and digital economy.

Findings of the assessment of gender references suggest that over 50 per cent of policy frameworks in Burundi include such references, as do over 80 per cent in Ethiopia and 70 per cent in Haiti.

Project output: Policy actions for bridging the digital gender divide in LDCs

Among the outputs of the joint EIF-ITU project, policy actions were identified for bridging the digital gender divide in the three LDCs where the project was implemented. Identification of these policy actions was based on the (limited) data publicly available on websites from international and regional organizations and national statistical offices. The logic for the analysis was based on identification of gaps between women and men access to digital technology, skills, finance, entrepreneurship and leadership, and infrastructure and digital services. These policy actions may also be considered for other LDCs as the issues they address are common to all the three LDCs covered by the joint EIF-ITU project and hence are likely to exist in other LDCs.

Access to digital technology: Collect sex-disaggregated data on mobile phone and computer ownership; Increase the number of women owning computers, mobile phones and tablets; Increase awareness and training for women entrepreneurs on the importance of digital technology.

Box 6: Partnership to facilitate access to technology for LDCs

UN Technology Bank signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) to support the international efforts to facilitate access to technology and to improve the science, technology, and innovation capacity development for the least developed countries (LDCs). University and Industry Collaborations Centre Platform (USIMP) will also be a signatory to the MoU.

The MoU provides a framework for the cooperation between the UN Technology Bank, TUBITAK and USIMP in supporting the development projects and activities to promote access to technologies, including the first initiative of developing and implementing applicable models for the establishment of technology transfer offices (TTO) in the selected LDCs.

The three organizations plan to cooperate on developing awareness and educational tools to promote global technology access and explore methods to utilize the experience and expertise related to the technology assessment, deployment, adaptation and implementation, and related capacity building activities.

Source: UN Technology Bank

Access to digital skills: Increase women’s enrolment and completion of secondary and tertiary education; Increase graduation rate of women attending STEM programmes; Identify basic, standard and advanced digital skills and update existing national education strategies accordingly; Develop programmes aiming at putting in place role models to deal with stereotypes and promoting the participation of women in studies in the ICT area; Promote the use of technology in schools; Make available scholarships for women and girls in studies in related to ICTs; Continue to organize regular workshops and meetings on the digital economy with the private sector.
Financial inclusion: Collect sex-disaggregated data; Facilitate access to a bank account, particularly for women; Facilitate access to credit cards, particularly for women; Work with the private sector for the provision of collateral for women; Train women on how to make digital payments and on its benefits. Put in place a financial inclusion strategy and a digital payments strategy (with a gender focus); Facilitate the reception of remittances using technology.
Entrepreneurship and leadership: Collect sex-disaggregated data (e.g. on the number of female and male sole proprietors; on the female share of employment in senior and middle management); Involve private sector in digital policy making; Advocate about the benefits of founding a company, especially to lift cultural barriers; Facilitate women’s engagement in entrepreneurial activities (areas such as mobility; workplace; marriage; and parenthood); Promote partnerships between women-owned companies; Facilitate women’s access to networks, including those related to technology (at all levels, local, national and international).
Access to digital infrastructure and services: Expand the electricity coverage, particularly in rural areas; Reduce the price of electricity to improve in affordability; Continue promoting the use of non-conventional installations such as solar panels, batteries, etc.
External support to women and girls in ICT: Conduct a stocktaking exercise of existing projects and programmes supporting women and girls. Identify synergies and avoid duplication of efforts.
Collection of gender-disaggregated data: Given its limited availability and coverage for developing and LDCs, collection of gender-disaggregated data is a transversal policy action to be performed across all policy areas. If data available is not disaggregated by gender, gaps and imbalances in terms of access and use are not visible, and corrective actions cannot be put in place. Examples of indicators used in the context of the joint EIF-ITU project are provided in Table 9.

Table 9: Government policy indicators (by gender)

Policy area Examples of indicators disaggregated by gender
Access to digital technology Individuals who own a mobile telephone
Individuals who own a smartphone Mobile cellular networks coverage
Householders who own a computer
Individuals who use the Internet
Access to digital skills Youth literacy rate of population between 15- and 24-year-olds
Literacy rate of population between 25- and 64-year-olds
Expected number of years of schooling
Enrolment and completion rates across the three levels of education
Graduates from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes
Basic, standard and advanced digital skills
Financial inclusion Adults who have a bank account
Adults with (and without) an account owning a mobile phone
Adults owning an account at a financial institution or a mobile-Money service provider
Individuals using the Internet to pay bills or to buy something online in the past year
Individuals owning a credit card
Entrepreneurship and leadership Female share of employment in senior and middle management
Number of start-up procedures to register a business
Individuals’ access to formal and informal business networks
individuals working in the ICT sector
Access to infrastructure and digital services Individuals with access to electricity
Fixed telephone subscriptions
Mobile cellular subscriptions
Fixed-broadband subscriptions
Mobile-broadband subscriptions

Recent efforts to improve the availability of gender statistics in LDCs include a Gender Statistics Indicators Handbook and booklet produced by Ethiopia’s National Statistics Office, on how to produce, analyse and communicate gender statistics.58 The document will be shared with sector ministries and other national specialists to support further documentation of gender statistics indicators and to support strategies for filling gaps.

Design and implementation of gender mainstreaming practices in LDCs: Do’s and don’ts

What follows are lessons learned based on the experience implementing the first component of the joint ITU-EIF project: An assessment of gender references in digital policies, strategies and regulations.

These do’s and don’ts are based on the project team experience implementing the project in Burundi, Ethiopia and Haiti, particularly, throughout the process of producing the three country reports assessing gender in digital policies, strategies and regulations.


Practice design

Trained and involve women in the design of practices focused on bridging the digital gender divide. Women are well positioned to provide potential solutions to the challenges they face with regards to access to digital technology, skills, finance, entrepreneurship and leadership, and infrastructure and digital services.

Consultation and stakeholder engagement

Government institutions: When designing a gender mainstreaming practice (i.e., a project, programme, etc.), consult with different government institutions involved in the policy-making process of digital policies. In addition to institutions specifically dealing with the digital economy (e.g., Ministry in charge of ICT, ICT regulator, etc.), consult with institutions dealing with other dossiers that go beyond the digital economy (e.g., ministry in charge of gender, ministry in charge of infrastructure, ministry in charge of finance, ministry in charge of trade, etc.). Consultation with a broad set of actors contributes to take on board different perspectives, contributing ultimately to the overall effectiveness of the practice.
Other stakeholders: Understand the situation of a given policy area by consulting with a wide range of stakeholders such as women associations, business associations, universities and training institutes, private sector, non-governmental organizations, etc.
When identifying problems and solutions for bridging the digital gender divide, views from these non-government actors complement the views of government institutions.

Communication and planning

When possible, try to speak the same language as your interlocutor. This facilitates the rapport between the two parties and builds a stronger relation.
Plan activities well in advance and consider adding days to the initial planning. In LDCs, sometimes getting a list of stakeholders can take much longer than expected.
When drafting recommendations keep in mind the “cultural” / “social” factor (e.g. stereotypes) as well as the low information context in which people operates.
When doing desk research, do expect to find national laws, regulations and policies available from other websites than those of the government.


Practice design and implementation

Do not only use online tools to collect information. Internet penetration could be very low, particularly in rural areas.
Do not assume that information available online is reliable or up to date. Often, official websites are outdated or simply not operational but, when discussing with government officials, it turns out that data is indeed available (but not through online means).
Do not provide deadlines on a very short notice. Do expect late responses and changes in the agenda of events.