Information communication technology (ICT) empowering women in developing countries, even as gender gaps in access, missing data burdens advocacy and policy development.

TECHNOLOGY • CULTURE 03.20.19

Mobile phones are "most powerful" in the hands of the world's "poorest women."

"Connectivity is a solution to marginalization," helping the most marginalized find a "foothold." It's giving women a way to connect to training and other opportunities that "challenge the power structures that perpetuate gender inequality," according to Bill and Melinda Gates' 2019 letter.

Phumzile Mlambo-Nngcuka, head of the U.N. Women's agency said in a recent interview that affordable internet and mobile phones for water delivery and buying energy is changing the lives of women," PBS reports.

Gender gaps in women's access to mobile phones.

Progress is limited because there are "gaps in women's access" and "degree of control" over mobile phones and ICT, finds a U.N. Women's report Gender Equality and Big Data.

There are a variety of reasons for the gap, but "cost, literacy (both digital and otherwise), and social norms are the three big ones," said the Gates letter.

In low and middle-income countries the gender gap for mobile phone ownership is 10 percent and 23 percent for mobile internet use. South Asia has the "widest" gap: 28 percent for ownership and 58 percent for mobile internet use, according to a report from cell phone industry group GSMA.

Closing mobile gender gap provides significant economic and financial opportunity.

"Mobile money" to pay for water delivery or buy energy is a "game changer" that also impacts GDP for "the better," said Mlambo-Nngcuka. It could increase collective GDP in some countries by $700 billion over the next five years, the GSMA report finds. "Cell phone operators could add $140 billion in new revenue," wrote Axios.

Girls and women are being left behind in educational, training, employment and other socioeconomic activities because they are "time-poor," spending "half a day traveling to the city and waiting in line to pay for electricity," found Yale Insights.

In rural Africa, they spend "40 billion hours a year" procuring water from rivers to take home and boil, World Economic Forum , End Water Poverty.

"We take it for granted in America," but "women and girls are kept out of school collecting water and that puts them at risk," Halima Aden, who was born and lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for seven years, and is now a UN Embassador and fashion model, told CBS This Morning.

Women, girls "left out" of data used to make decisions.

The UN is "emphasizing the importance of innovation and technology" to promote equality for women in agriculture, education, finance and health.

Mlambo-Ngcuka: "If technological innovation is not used to promote equality," the 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' of rapid technological change will happen 'and the women will still be living in the previous industrial revolution, which also did not work for them very well,' " reported by AP News.

An "artificial divide" keeping "women's issues" from "in-depth study" is standing in the "way of progress, policies, advocacy and accountability" for the world's poorest people, said the Gates letter.

"Gaps in gender data and the lack of trend data" for women and girls make it "difficult to monitor progress." These gaps "will persist unless gender is mainstreamed into national statistical strategies and prioritized in data collection," said UN Women.

"We need to react to the growing evidence that women have been routinely left out of the data on which decisions are made, said Mlambo-Ngcuka in a statement for International Women's Day this month.

To make "women and girls visible" data needs to represent "the lived reality of women and girls in all their diversity by addressing deep-seated biases in concepts, definitions, classifications, and methodologies," UN Women.

Even though women and girls are "over-represented among the poor," living on "less than $1.90 per day," most countries measure poverty by household, which does "not permit accounting for inequality within" them, according to a World Bank report on poverty.

Data on women's earnings and property ownership in developing countries "doesn't exist." Only reproductive health data is available, making it "easy to undervalue women's economic activity" and "difficult to measure" improvement in women's economic conditions, said the Gates letter.

"Sex-disaggregation" and "additional disaggregations" for rural and urban settings, age, and income are needed to tell us about the lives of women and girls, according to a report on gender data gaps released this month by international data group, Open Data Watch.

Working toward "incusivity" and "gender-responsive data."

Big data analytics is helpful where traditional data is "scarce or non-existent" and is "more cost-effective than traditional data," UN Women's report.

In developing countries, poor resources and insufficient trained personnel contribute to data that is "messy, with many holes, mistakes and extreme disparities," wrote Sema Sgaier, co-founder of the Surgo Foundation, in devex.com.

Data has the "potential to illuminate societal trends and global patterns, or to shed light on more distal enablers of an event," according to the UN Women's report.

Call data records, social media trails, radio data, satellite imagery and other "digital exhaust" can "shed light."

We need to understand the "responsibilities, priorities, and concerns of women" at the "time of collecting information and analyzing data." Women in developing countries make "up to 43 percent" of the agricultural labor force. Much of the "farming tasks such as weeding are done by women,” reports entomologytoday.org. Although pesticide poisoning is a big concern because it's not regulated, women are "rarely asked for their input."

Challenges ahead but we know the solutions to many problems.

"Big data analytics hold huge potential." There will be challenges with regard to "disproportionate representation," failing to count those that don't have access or prefer not to engage; privacy; and the cost of technical and analytical expertise, said Mlambo-Ngcuka, but she is optimistic: "the good news is that for many of the problems we have today there are solutions that we know about," AP News.

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Elaine Sarduy is a freelance writer and content developer @Listing Debuts