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Digital Ghana Agenda leaves women out – GSMA

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Digital Women
Digital Women

A study by GSMA on digital inclusion in Ghana indicates that whereas the Digital Ghana Agenda seeks to promote an inclusive digital society, women are still being left behind and that poses a grave challenge for Ghana’s digital inclusion goals.

Per the study, in spite of strides made so far in Ghana’s digital transformation journey, “Ghanaian women are still less likely than men to own internet-enabled devices, use the internet, access government e-services, or make digital payments.”

The 56-page report titled “Inclusive E-Government Services in Ghana: Enhancing Women’s Access and Usage”, assesses the extent to which women as economic agents or lead contributors to household incomes in Ghana access and use digital government services via mobile platforms for business, family and personal needs. It also explores the opportunities available to foster inclusive delivery of public services for women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment.

The study was conducted over a six-month period, adopting a mixed method approach that incorporated an extensive literature review and field surveys in the Greater-Accra, Ashanti and Northern regions of Ghana, as well as focus group consultations with women in various roles and contexts and semi-structured interviews with actors involved in Ghana’s digital ecosystem.

According to the report, while the government of Ghana has been working to enhance public service delivery by deploying a range of e-government platforms and services, low awareness, affordability of internet-enabled devices, and inadequate digital literacy prevent widespread adoption, particularly among women.

It noted, for instance, that as part of investments to advance Ghana government’s digital inclusion goals, the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC), has been expanding broadband connectivity to reach 2,000 rural communities, and increase national mobile coverage of the population to 95% by the end of 2023, with a target of ensuring that at least 40% of beneficiaries are women.

However, due to the challenges listed above, 2023 is here, and that target is still at a risk.

The study found that, although the digital gender gap is shrinking in Ghana, it is less significant than in most low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs).

It attributed the gap to affordability barriers, low awareness and inadequate digital skills, which are the three key barriers to closing the divide.

Affordability

With regards to affordability the report said “The average earned income of women in Ghana is less than a third of their male counterparts, making it more difficult for women to afford smartphones and digital services.”

As a result of women’s inability to afford smartphones and digital services, the report said they largely access government’s e-services on feature (yam) phones and use USSD channels, which denies them of other services that require smart devices and digital skills.

“Subsidies and innovative financing schemes are therefore required to help disadvantaged women in Ghana, especially those in the Northern region to access smartphones and digital services,” the report proposed.

E-levy and Industry-specific taxes

It also noted that industry-specific taxes and levies imposed on mobile operators and users further contribute to the high cost of mobile transactions, adding that a review of the cost-benefits of these taxes is important, particularly if the government wants to close the gender digital divide faster.

The researchers argued, for instance, that the steady growth of mobile money presents a big opportunity to broaden access and make e-government services more inclusive, adding that taxing the usage of mobile money (electronic transfer levy) poses a threat to inclusiveness.

Speaking of mobile money, the report noted that Ghana has a mature mobile money industry, with the potential for adoption of e-government services and payments.

It said two-thirds of the female population are financially included through non-bank financial access points, with mobile money being the primary channel. However, women’s mobile money accounts are less frequently used than men’s due to perceived high transaction costs (e-levy include), safety and security concerns, and insufficient knowledge on how to use mobile money without assistance from family or agents.

Per the report, majority of women surveyed in the steady do not use digital channels for person-to-government (P2G) and business-to-government (B2G) payments.

In the Northern region, for instance, less than one in five women (16%) have made a digital P2G payment, compared to an average usage rate of 42% for male respondents in the country.

“The 1% e-levy on mobile transactions is a major indirect impediment to furthering the use of mobile money for P2G and B2G payments by the overall population, and especially by women,” the report said.

Digital Literacy

 

In term of digital skills, it observed that digital literacy initiatives targeting women, especially informal business owners, are largely inadequate.

It therefore suggested that the the draft Gender in Education Policy, which is currently underway, should be used as a vehicle for faster results in creating innovative digital training content and programmes for women.

“To make e-government services more accessible and encourage usage, initiatives must take into account the diverse realities and demands of women and other digitally excluded groups, and adopt extensive awareness campaigns showcasing the availability, benefits and guide to using e-government services,” the report said.

Low Awareness

The report also notes that government has done great with rolling out the Ghana.GOV as the main online platform for accessing government services, and granted mobile access to renewing members of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

It stated however that although the mobile NHIS service is popular among women, other e-government services, particularly on the Ghana.GOV platform suffer from low awareness and use.

“For instance, less than 7% of women surveyed by GSMA know about the Ghana.GOV platform or business license e-registration, and less than 1% use both regularly,” it said.

The report therefore suggested that to boost adoption, “it is paramount that the government and development partners prioritise awareness campaigns of e-government services. The use of popular characters from radio and TV shows to promote e-government services has proven to be successful at promoting specifically the time and cost-saving benefits of digital services.”

In summary, the report also identified the key challenges on both the demand and supply sides of things, which need to be addressed in order for the existing gender-based digital divide to be bridge.

Demand Side

On the part of the women, it noted the following:

  • Insufficient knowledge and skills among women to access and use digital solutions
  • Inadequate step-by-step guides and real-time support for women on how to use e-government services
  • Limited access to or lack of ownership of smart devices by women
  • Scepticism among women over the benefits of e-services
  • Distrust and concern by women for online safety against scammers

Supply Side

In terms of what is lacking in the government’s efforts and offerings, it pointed out the following:

  • Lack of end-to-end solutions, thereby requiring manual or physical interventions
  • Not all e-government platforms are mobile-friendly
  • Remote locations experience slow broadband network connection and poor
    coverage
  • Frequent downtime of e-government platforms

Recommendations

The report therefore suggested that e-government modules should be embedded in digital literacy programmes, including mobile phone-based training, to increase knowledge on how to use e-government services.

“These programmes can also include extensive information in local languages on the measures users can take to reduce the risks of online fraud,” it said.

Additionally, the report said e-government service platforms should be designed with a human-centred approach and should have real-time support mechanisms for users, such as visual flow charts and live chat support.

E-government service providers, it said, must make digital processes more appealing by providing user-friendly, reliable and interactive end-to-end e-services, and incentivising users with faster processing times and reduced fees where possible.

The researchers expressed the hope that the study will provide guidance to inform future interventions for gender-sensitive digital transformation in Ghana.

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