Digital innovation and technology can play a critical role in promoting gender equality anywhere in the world including Bangladesh by increasing access to education, financial services, healthcare, entrepreneurship opportunities, agricultural resources, legal services, workplace equality, governance, safety and security, media and communication, social services, and disaster management. While challenges and barriers persist, digital innovation offers promising prospects for empowering women and promoting gender equality in Bangladesh and beyond.
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The theme for International Women’s Day 2023
The theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2023 (IWD 2023) is, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. This theme is aligned with the priority theme for the upcoming 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. The United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day 2023 under this theme highlights the need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education.
The United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, 2023, will recognize and celebrate women and girls championing transformative technology and digital education. The event will focus on the impact of the digital gender gap on economic and social inequalities and the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces. Women’s exclusion from the digital world has resulted in a $1 trillion loss to the gross domestic product of low- and middle-income countries in the last decade. Inclusive and transformative technology and digital education are crucial for a sustainable future. Digital technology advancements offer immense opportunities to address development and humanitarian challenges and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. However, growing inequalities in digital skills and access to technologies are leaving women behind, perpetuating existing gender inequality. The United Nations Observance of IWD will bring together technologists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and gender equality activists to highlight the role of all stakeholders in improving access to digital tools.
How can technology help gender equality?
Innovation and technology have the potential to play a critical role in promoting gender equality, but it’s important to ensure that these technologies are designed and implemented with a gender lens to ensure that they benefit all members of society equally.
Innovation and technology can play a significant role in advancing gender equality by creating new opportunities and breaking down traditional barriers. Here are some ways in which innovation and technology can promote gender equality:
Present status: Bangladesh has made progress in increasing girls’ access to education, but gender disparities still exist. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the primary school net enrolment rate for girls was 98.16% in 2018, while the female dropout rate is higher.
Example: EdTech platforms like 10 Minute School, Shikho and Esho Shikhi are providing online and mobile-based learning resources to improve access to education for girls in Bangladesh.
Prospects: Digital innovation can help to increase access to education through online learning platforms, virtual classrooms, and mobile learning apps, while also providing resources and support to girls and women in remote areas. Continued investment in EdTech can help to reduce gender disparities in education by providing more opportunities for girls to learn and acquire skills.
Present status: In Bangladesh, women face barriers to accessing credit and financial services, and are often excluded from formal employment opportunities. According to the World Bank, the labour force participation rate for women in Bangladesh was 36.5% in 2020, compared to 82.2% for men.
Example: The Grameen Bank, founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, provides microcredit and other financial services to women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh.
Prospects: Fintech innovations like mobile banking and digital payment platforms can help to increase financial inclusion for women in Bangladesh, enabling them to access credit, savings, other financial products and build their businesses. Digital financial services, such as mobile money and online banking, can help to increase financial inclusion for women, providing access to credit, savings, and other financial products.
Present status: Women make up a significant portion of the agricultural workforce in Bangladesh, but often have limited access to resources markets, and technology and face gender-based discrimination.
Example: The iFarmer platform connects smallholder farmers with investors and provides access to modern agricultural technologies, including drip irrigation and soil testing.
Prospects: Continued investment in agricultural technology can help to improve productivity and increase incomes for women farmers, while also reducing their workload and improving their health and safety. Digital innovation can help to improve access to agricultural information, markets, and technology, while also providing resources and support to women farmers in Bangladesh.
Present status: Bangladesh has made progress in improving maternal and child health, but women still face significant health challenges, including high rates of maternal mortality and limited access to reproductive health services. Women in Bangladesh face health disparities and limited access to healthcare services, including reproductive and maternal healthcare.
Example: The Maya Apa app provides women with access to health information and counselling services, including on reproductive health and family planning.
Prospects: Telemedicine and remote monitoring technologies can help to improve access to healthcare for women in Bangladesh, especially in rural areas where healthcare infrastructure is limited.
Safety and Security
Present status: Women and girls in Bangladesh face significant safety risks, including sexual harassment, domestic violence, and trafficking. Example: The Amra Odbhuth app provides women with real-time safety alerts and information on legal rights and resources. The Bangladesh Women’s Foundation provides shelter and support services to women and girls who have experienced violence and abuse.
Prospects: Wearable technology and AI-powered safety apps can help to improve women’s safety in public and private spaces, reducing the risk of violence and harassment. Digital innovation can help to improve safety and security for women through mobile apps for reporting and responding to violence, online support services, and technology-based tools for preventing violence and harassment.
Water and Sanitation
Present status: Women in Bangladesh are often responsible for collecting water and managing household sanitation, which can be time-consuming and dangerous.
Example: The Solar-Powered Water ATM project provides communities with access to clean water through a self-service kiosk, reducing the burden on women and girls.
Prospects: Innovations in water and sanitation technology can help to reduce the workload and improve the health and safety of women in Bangladesh, while also increasing access to clean water and sanitation.
Present status: Women in Bangladesh are often responsible for cooking and household energy management, which can be time-consuming and harmful to health.
Example: The Grameen Shakti program provides solar home systems to rural households, reducing reliance on traditional cooking fuels and improving indoor air quality.
Prospects: Renewable energy technologies like solar and biogas can help to improve women’s health and reduce their workload, while also increasing access to clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Present status: Women in Bangladesh are underrepresented in political leadership and decision-making roles. According to the World Bank, women hold only 21.3% of parliamentary seats in Bangladesh.
Example: The Nari Uddog Kendra organization works to empower women and promote their participation in local governance and decision-making.
Prospects: Innovations in digital governance, such as e-voting and online citizen engagement platforms, can help to increase women’s participation in decision-making and promote their representation in political leadership.
Media and Communication
Present status: Women in Bangladesh are often underrepresented in media and face gender-based discrimination and harassment online.
Example: The Women in Digital organization works to promote women’s participation and leadership in the technology and digital media sectors. Organizations like The Naripokkho provides training and resources to women journalists and advocates for their representation in media.
Prospects: Innovations in digital media and communication can help to promote women’s voices and perspectives, while also providing tools and resources to combat online harassment and discrimination. Digital innovation can help to increase women’s representation and visibility in media and communication through online platforms and tools for content creation, distribution, and engagement.
Present status: Women in Bangladesh face disproportionate impacts from natural disasters, including displacement, loss of livelihoods, and increased risk of violence and exploitation.
Example: The Takaful project provides disaster insurance and financial support to women in Bangladesh, helping them to recover from natural disasters and build resilience. The ActionAid organization works to promote women’s participation and leadership in disaster management and response efforts in Bangladesh.
Prospects: Technology can be used to improve early warning systems, disaster response, and climate resilience, while also providing support and resources to women and vulnerable communities. Digital innovation can help to improve disaster management and response efforts through online platforms and tools for early warning, preparedness, and communication, while also providing resources and support to women and communities affected by disasters.
Sports and Fitness
Present status: Women in Bangladesh face barriers to participating in sports and physical activity, including limited access to facilities and cultural norms that discourage female participation.
Example: The Bangladesh Women’s Sports Foundation provides training and support to female athletes and advocates for their representation in sports.
Prospects: Innovations in sports technology and fitness can help to increase access and participation for women and girls, promoting health and well-being while also challenging gender norms and stereotypes.
STEM Education and Careers
Present status: Women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and careers in Bangladesh.
Example: The Bangladesh Women in Technology organization provides training and resources to women in STEM fields and advocates for their representation in the industry.
Prospects: Continued investment in STEM education and career opportunities can help to increase representation and gender diversity in these fields, providing new opportunities for women and driving innovation and growth in the tech sector.
Present status: Women in Bangladesh face barriers to workplace equality, including gender-based discrimination, limited access to education and training, and cultural norms.
Example: The Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry advocates for women’s participation in the business sector and provides training and resources to women entrepreneurs.
Prospects: Digital innovation can help to increase workplace equality through online training and resources, mentorship and networking platforms, and tools for combating gender-based discrimination and harassment. Technology can also help to promote gender equality in the workplace by reducing bias and increasing representation. AI-powered hiring tools can help to reduce bias in the recruitment process, and virtual reality training can help to promote gender diversity and inclusion.
Present status: Women in Bangladesh face discrimination and limited access to justice, including barriers to accessing legal services and enforcing their rights.
Example: The Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust provides legal aid and services to women in Bangladesh, helping them to access justice and protect their rights.
Prospects: Digital innovation can help to increase access to legal information and services through online platforms and mobile apps, while also providing tools and resources for women to protect their rights and advocate for justice.
Present status: Women in Bangladesh face barriers to entrepreneurship, including limited access to capital, networks, and markets.
Example: The Sheba.xyz platform provides a digital marketplace for women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, helping them to connect with customers and build their businesses.
Prospects: Digital innovation can help to increase entrepreneurship opportunities for women through online marketplaces, e-commerce platforms, and crowdfunding.
Blind Spots: Gender in Digital Financial Services
Many national, international, and business organizations have started working on the aspects of gender inequality in the digital space. One such endeavor by the Digital Frontiers Institute is a course named “Blind Spots: Gender in Digital Financial Services”
The online course is aimed at managers and aspiring leaders of banks, microfinance institutions, fintech, NGOs, policy and regulatory bodies, think tanks, donors, and academic institutions. The course aims to highlight overlooked populations, their financial needs, and their potential as viable customers in promoting digital financial services. The course will equip students with analytical frameworks for discussing issues pertaining to market gaps and concepts of power, gender, and customer experiences.
The course will help students detect and remove supply-side blind spots, uncover new market opportunities, and imagine a future where new groups, especially women, use and enjoy high-quality financial services. Students will learn how to apply analytical tools such as gender analysis, diffusion analysis, and change theory to address key omissions and overcome barriers that hamper digital financial services’ efforts to reach women. By the end of the course, students should have an understanding of how blind spots occur, the downsides of these blind spots, and how to detect and address them.
In conclusion, we may understand that digital innovation and technology offer enormous potential to promote gender equality and empower women in Bangladesh and around the world. Through increased access to education, financial services, healthcare, entrepreneurship opportunities, agricultural resources, legal services, workplace equality, governance, safety and security, media and communication, social services, and disaster management, women can take greater control of their lives and overcome barriers to achieving their full potential. While challenges and inequalities persist, the transformative power of digital innovation provides promising prospects for promoting gender equality and advancing the global development agenda. As we continue to advance in the digital age, it is imperative that we prioritize the use of digital innovation and technology to advance gender equality and ensure that women can fully participate in and benefit from the opportunities of the 21st century.