Bridging the Gender Divide: How Technology Can Advance Women Economically

Published: December 2009

This paper looks at ways technology has facilitated the economic advancement of poorer women in developing countries and explores what needs to happen to trigger wider economic advancement. The paper begins by introducing a conceptual framework that shows how integrating the needs of women to the technology development lifecycle can trigger a chain of events that leads to economic advancement and, eventually, to wider social and economic benefits. Next, it uses data from a literature review, in-depth case studies, and interviews with experts in the field to examine the lessons of technologies introduced in the past and discusses the common characteristics and effective strategies of successful initiatives. It closes with specific recommendations on better ways to develop, introduce, and disseminate technologies?both new and already existing?that could help low- and middle-income women
worldwide, particularly in developing countries, to advance economically. While the paper and the recommendations focus on the level of technology initiatives, the conclusion also includes an overview of complementary policy-level recommendations.

Key Findings

  • Nine technologies captured the attention of the authors. The process to develop and deploy each integrated women in ways that recognized them as more than end users. Applying the technology enabled female users to increase productivity, pursue new entrepreneurial opportunities or skills, or otherwise improve their economic opportunities. Each involved women in at least one phase in the technology lifecycle which increased the likelihood that women would have greater access to the technology and actually use it. These technologies were: Improved fuel-efficient cookstoves, motorized scooters, alternative household power (aka multifunctional platforms), information and communication technologies (ICT) educational academies, treadle water pumps, solar dryers to process fruits and vegetables, village mobile phones, outsourced information and communication technologies (ICT) services, ICT telecenters and kiosks. All of these technologies:
  • Promoted women's economic advancement through one or more pathways, meaning that they may have helped to both increase productivity and provide a new employment opportunity, rather than one or the other.
  • Were introduced in a way that addressed the barriers to women's involvement -- working around social norms, providing access to capital, accommodating time constraints, or including women in the technology development or deployment process.
  • Reached women through effective distribution channels, such as grassroots women's cooperatives, where women were prepared to receive new information and could often apply it immediately.
  • The more successful technologies could also be scaled up to reach large numbers of women through affordable and feasible channels to facilitate broad distribution.
  • Developing and distributing technologies that meet women's needs must focus on key steps of the process that carry the technology from conception through use and widespread adoption in the field. Particular attention should also be paid to existing technologies that haven't been adapted or distributed to the full benefit of women.

Populations Adolescent Girls, Poor, Rural, Women

Industries Technology

Publishers International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)

Funded by ExxonMobil Foundation, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)