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Yash Tiwari
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Gender is an important factor affecting the use of digital technology. This is not just a matter of fairness, but also social and economic development. In addition to policy initiatives, further research that gives a clearer picture of the situation is therefore essential. There are good reasons to expect policies in this area to make different demands on men and women. More generally, women’s access to information and communication technologies is shaped by a range of factors that are significant in influencing ICT use. Some constraints arise from the location of ICT outlets concerning home and employment, from transport costs, skills development, requirements for privacy and security around the use of phones and computers, as well as social norms and expectations around the appropriate role of women in society.

Gender inequality can be a barrier to women’s full and equal participation in all areas of life. The achievement gap is rooted in gender inequity, and the digital gender divide reflects this fact. There is great potential to further reduce inequity in access to and use of information and communications technology as innovations in the form, content, awareness-raising, and delivery of digital technologies improve. The digital gender gap is intertwined with the gender gap in education, livelihoods, and empowerment. In some countries, like Rwanda and Kenya, for example, mobile phone ownership has helped reduce inequality in access to information and opportunities between men and women.

While the digital gender divide looms as a significant barrier to full financial inclusion of women in emerging markets and developing countries, it is important for policymakers, regulators, banks, and other providers of DFS to understand how different factors – including trust in institutions – affect women’s and men’s use of digital services. It is therefore important that DFS providers not only recognize this reality and actively work to address it but that they also acknowledge their role in perpetuating gender inequality and its economic costs. The best way to do so is to promote a gender-aware approach. Adopting a gender-aware approach as a core component of service design and delivery, together with clear targets for increasing female access to and engagement in digital financial services, is key if providers are to make significant contributions towards closing the digital gender divide.

Women also pay the price of a poor environment for digital financial services. As consumers, excluding women from the digital space increases their cost of managing money and makes them more susceptible to fraud and exploitation. As entrepreneurs, excluding women from a key market – the DFS sector – reduces their potential for success in running lucrative businesses. This article offers recommendations to facilitate a more equal engagement in the digital economy among men and women, including specific steps for increasing the participation of women in DFS. What emerges from our analysis is not just a picture of the gap, but also a clearer understanding of some of its causes and how it is changing over time information that will be valuable as policymakers, regulators, and international development practitioners continue their efforts to expand access to finance for women in developing countries.