Article 5 min

The role of digital identity in reducing gender inequality


March 5, 2020  

Reducing gender inequality

Poverty typically plays a role in digital exclusion, and in the 21st century, poverty and inequality still affect women more severely than men. Women are paid less than men, they receive less education, and they have fewer economic opportunities. This isn’t just a problem for emerging economies, although the effects are often more keenly felt in developing nations.

With the expansion of digital services into even the most impoverished parts of the world, being able to prove who you are is rapidly becoming an essential part of exercising your day-to-day human rights. While this assertion may seem somewhat of an exaggeration, bear in mind that in many countries it’s illegal to go out in public without any identification. Add to this the range of government and private services that are an essential part of daily life that are only accessible with ID. Even the least developed countries now have mobile internet in more populated areas, public and private sectors keen to adopt new technology, and a populace eager not to miss the world-wide technology boom.

However, for many people around the world there are a range of roadblocks that hamper both the identification process and the benefits that proving your identity can bring.

Roadblocks to identity verification

Many developing countries have large populations of people without anD or a bank account. The poorest 40 percent of women in low-income countries are 30 percent less likely to have ID and 40 percent less likely to have a bank account than men in the same wealth quintiles, according to the Global Findex Survey 2017.

These two statistics on their own can mean a life without access to an independent, safe place to store earnings, build up credit or even out cash flows. The reasons behind this lack of ID and low bank account access tell the familiar story of female poverty. Low literacy rates, early childbirth, family pressure, and lack of knowledge or the opportunity to travel all serve to keep women in developing countries from financial and social freedom.

Frequently these factors combine to leave women vulnerable to fraud, coercion and worse. Without change, the next generation of daughters will also face the same poverty trap. There is, however, a way out for women. Digital identity verification combined with a mobile account has proven to be an effective verification method in the developed world for several years. This method can be used either as a way to securely access mobile money platforms, or to prove identity in order to receive payments such as government benefits, business microloans, money transfers and more.

The financial independence brought about through access to banking and other fintech services offers women the opportunity to build a business, receive an inheritance, save for a rainy day and take charge of their future. Having access to their own money helps women get more respect in their communities and helps them set a good example for their children. The only way to solve the gender gap in the long term is to bring children up in an environment that has positive, empowered female role models — something that financial independence supports.

Progress in developing countries

Africa hosts a huge number of mobile money platforms. According to a recent Findex report, 21 percent of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa currently have a mobile money account, with 2018 showing a 20 percent increase over 2017. Across the region, women are 20 percent less likely to hold a mobile money account. This is slightly better than being 30 percent less likely to own a bank account

However, if you look at the area more closely, these figures vary widely by country (as high as 52 percent less likely in some countries). In Lesotho and Mauritania women are 23 percent more likely to hold a mobile money account, proving that with access to the right technology women and girls will leap at the chance to improve their financial independence.

In Pakistan, government benefits and other money can’t be transferred without a biometric ID, making it easier to ensure that government payments go straight to the women they’re intended for. Previously these payments were diverted to accounts held by male family members. The change hasn’t just reduced fraud — it has also increased women’s social standing and self-respect.

Impacts on women and girls everywhere

With all this talk of developing countries, you might be wondering why the gender gap hasn’t been resolved in richer parts of the world. The answer? Gender-boosted poverty and lack of access to services, including financial services, affect low-income women and girls in every nation.

Many poorer Western women also live with low literacy, patriarchal house rules, excessive housework loads, and lack of access financial services or personal freedom. While in richer countries the services are often better funded and better quality than in poorer nations, the security that prevents unauthorized use of these services is much stricter. The cost of buying a passport or learning to drive to get photo ID can easily preclude poorer women from owning these essential “gateway” documents.

Digital identity supports gender equity

Luckily, mobile internet coverage and access to cheap smartphones in the developed world makes it easier than ever for these women to create a digital ID they can use for a range of purposes. As smartphone and mobile internet penetration in the developing world continues to improve, we’re gradually getting to the point where everyone who wants to will have access to the hardware and infrastructure necessary for portable biometric ID verification, everywhere in the world.

One of the aims of International Women’s Day is to support women entrepreneurs and help them earn and learn on their own terms. Supporting digital identification and thus projects like the rollout of mobile money is just one way we can help make women more financially independent and able to compete. Join Trulioo on March 8 to support #IWD2020 #EachforEqual to help make a more equal and enabled world.