The World Bank Group affirms that no country, community, or economy can achieve its potential nor meet the challenges of the 21st century without the full and equal participation of women, men girls and boys.
Yet, currently women are both under-represented in the labour force (in developing countries, women account for a third or less of human capital wealth) and earn far less than their male counterparts (globally, human capital wealth could increase by 21.7% in earnings with gender equality).
Opportunities and risks for women in the digital economy
One area that is potentially promising for women’s economic inclusion and empowerment is the global megatrend towards digital platform work and the ‘gig economy’. Labour markets in low- and middle-income countries have long been characterised by high rates of informal labour. Platform work represents an opportunity to formalise informal labour, lowering barriers to entry, and benefiting workers.
It promises to efficiently match labour supply with demand for services, and to provide greater access to finance and other enabling conditions for entrepreneurial success. Above and beyond the matching of drivers and passengers via global platforms like Uber, local online platforms, such as Indonesia’s GoJek, are connecting buyers and sellers of all types of services. The trend towards platform work is gaining momentum in developing countries along with smartphone adoption and the rise of middle-class consumption.
Women in particular stand to benefit from platform work. Traditionally they have been more excluded than men from the formal economy; and as digital work is often conducive to working from home and with part-time or flexible working hours, it can be easier for women to balance work with domestic responsibilities.
Although digital platforms offer potential benefits to women in low- and middle-income countries, there is a real risk that they may be left even further behind if these platforms are not accompanied by gender-specific and gender-sensitive policies, business models and platform design.
Women face many of the same barriers in the digital world as they do in the formal economy. These barriers include gender discriminatory laws, harmful social norms and societal expectations to take on a larger share of unpaid household work, lower access to finance, weaker peer networks, and a general lack of self-confidence.
Women also face additional technological barriers in accessing the digital economy. Globally, women are 26% less likely than men to have a smartphone, they have lower access to the internet, and feel less confident using the internet. The mobile gender gap is largest in South Asia where in 2019, women were 23% less likely to own a mobile phone, and 51% less likely to access the internet on a mobile phone.
Case study: closing the gender gap in Sri Lanka through the ride-hailing industry
Our recent study on women and ride-hailing in Sri Lanka clearly demonstrates the potential gains of gender-inclusive strategies to both businesses and women in the digital economy.
This research – conducted by Kantar Public in partnership with the International Finance Corporation and the ride-hailing company PickMe – aimed to identify barriers and opportunities for women as drivers as well as riders, and to explore how the country’s ride-hailing industry could contribute to closing the gender gap in both mobility and labour force participation.1
The findings highlight the importance of ride-hailing to women’s access to work and overall mobility, helping them overcome transportation barriers. While women account for only 38% of riders, those using ride-hailing services are at least 40% more likely than men to use it as their primary mode of transport. They also outnumber men in rides taken during day-time hours, particularly valuing the safety and price transparency of ride-hailing.
In terms of drivers, the research captures the many challenges women face in becoming drivers and in being able to earn as much as men. For example, women are constrained by their limited hours available to drive and by lack of access to vehicles and finance. Yet, the number of women drivers and their wage-earning potential are steadily growing, and women drivers are rated highly, especially by women riders.
The study sets out that product and service innovations aimed at attracting more women drivers and riders could increase overall revenues from ride-hailing by as much as 27%.