Digital Literacy for Women - How to Increase Women’s Digital Literacy in Africa and Asia

31 May, 2021

Dear colleagues,

Here is a summary of the webinar on the above subject matter held today 27 may 2021. The webinar was one in a series that is aimed at fostering new partnerships and co-creating knowledge on the gendered dimensions of digital technologies for health, with a focus on the translation of evidence to policy and practice-based learning in low- and middle-income countries.

This particular event had five speakers and a discussant, and was focused on *how to increase women’s digital literacy in Africa and Asia.*

Derrick Muneene, WHO:

In his introductory remarks, talked about why his organisation thinks women’s digital literacy is important for health care. Reflecting on his career experiences in designing digital solutions for women, he noted that findings showed that it was harder to train health workers involved in maternal and child care services. He added that other findings have consistently shown the non-inclusion of women in the design and adaptability of digital tools and solutions both for health care workers and health care seekers.

Alex Tyres-Chowdhury, Panoply Digital:

Talked about “How to Increase Digital Literacy Among Women in India: What Works?”as she presented an overview of the results of her study. She noted several common descriptors used for digital literacy, but observed that there has been very limited reference to gender. According to her, the most inclusive definition of digital literacy is “the ability of all individuals and communities to understand and safely use digital technologies for meaningful actions within life situations and participation in society”.

After reviewing thirteen digital literacy initiatives in India and other low-income countries, five promising approaches were identified, viz (1) offer compelling use cases that are both appealing to women and justifiable to gatekeepers, (2) reduce negative perceptions of cost, (3) address fear of negative side of digital technologies, (4) address low-self-confidence, and (5) address women’s time constraints.

She also noted five common “blind spots”: (1) normative barriers, (2) little evidence of effectiveness, (3) unclear desired outcomes, (4) lack of clearly articulated theories of change, and (5) lack of examples of sustainable business models. Find details at

Osama Manzar, Digital Empowerment Foundation:

The Foundation has developed a Curriculum for digital skills training for low-income and low-literacy countries. The Curriculum is centred on media and information literacy for oral communities, and (interestingly) defines digital literacy as the ability to use icons, infographics and devices to effectively perform tasks.

Lani Jacobs, GSMA:

Presented key findings from research conducted in Ghana and India: (1) mobile internet fulfils important life needs (categorised into eleven spheres), and (2) people’s priority needs differ by demographic.

Amnesty Lefevre, University of Cape Town (SA):

Talked about metrics and methods for measuring digital access and skills. She noted that approaches vary in large and national surveys. Study reveals gender gap in the use of digital technologies among adolescents (aged 15-18) in eight African countries of Sierra Leone, Togo, DR Congo, Madagascar, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe. In all eight countries under study, male adolescents score higher than their female counterparts on ICT skills (defined as having the ability to reportedly perform 1 of 9 predefined ICT tasks in the preceding 3 months).

A similar case study involving four districts of Madhya Pradesh, India shows similar results. In a broader context, gender norms and attitudes towards women’s phone use are the major determinants. At the individual level, the determinants of women’s mobile phone use include time allocation, phone characteristics & functionality, digital skills, permitted & desired use, and accessibility to handset. Specifically, (i) illiteracy hindered women’s use of a range of phone features, (ii) women were discouraged from learning how to use newer phones, (iii) husbands and in-laws expected women to use the phone only for communication with their natal families and husbands, (iv) women themselves expressed a similarly narrow desire, (v) men’s permission reportedly needed to perform basic tasks on the phone, (vi) norms (domesticity, relationship maintenance, purity), (vii) women spent less time on the phone, and (viii) women’s types of use more limited.

The implications of the results of the India case study point to the fact that: (1) to bolster digital literacy, an understanding of the broader determinants is needed - not just about digital skills, (2) determinants of women’s access and use complex, multifaceted and likely to vary by context, (3) access and use constraints have implications for who programs (and benefits) are reaching - and missing, and (4) consensus is needed on metrics and approaches for assessing access and use of digital technologies.

OBSERVATIONS: (i) Economic factors and gender norms affect women access to digital technologies; (ii) Gender gap in the wider society is a general foundational gap in gender digital literacy; (iii) Normative environments are likely to increase the tendency to repress women’s access to and use of digital technologies; (iv) Transition from skills to *autonomy* of digital access and use is important for enhancing women’s digital literacy, and (v) Women’s digital literacy is a key factor for accelerating the drive toward health information for all.


ORFEGA, *Moses Kumaoron*

HIFA profile: Moses Kumaoron Orfega is a Service Improvement Desk Officer at the National Health Insurance Scheme, Nigeria. Professional interests: Social Protection and Financing; Social Health Protection and Universal Health Coverage; Service Quality Improvement; Information Technology. He is a HIFA catalyst for the WHO/HIFA project on Learning for Quality Health Services. Email: ofegamoses AT