Jan 8, 2020

Digital Assets for Women’s Economic Empowerment- 6th December 2019

UN Women and SEWA Bharat Joint Initiative – Digital Assets for Women’s Economic Empowerment- Addressing Barriers and Enhancing Opportunities for Women in the Informal Economy and Agriculture

UN Women hosted a consultation on Digital Assets for Women’s Economic Empowerment- Addressing Barriers and Enhancing Opportunities for Women in the Informal Economy and Agriculture on 6th December 2019. A UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment identified women’s access to digital assets as one of the key drivers to improve women’s economic empowerment. An Expert Working Group was established to implement the recommendations of the high-level panel in India. This consultation brought together a range of participants working on issues related to women’s livelihoods and digital assets.

The morning kicked off with a panel discussion moderated by Sairee Chahal of Sheroes. On the panel were Osama Manzar, founder of Digital Empowerment Foundation, Archana Kapoor of Radio Mewat, Kalpana Vishwanathan, CEO of Safetipin, and Abhishek Shah of Intellecap. The panellists spoke of their experiences and efforts to introduce and integrate technologies into women’s lives. Osama Manzar pointed out the crucial role women play in Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and the systemic ways in which their work is made invisible. He suggested leveraging the changing nature of communication and the growing primacy of visual and video content and symbols over literacy on mobile devices to empower women. Archana Kapoor warned of the prudency of linking all services to the internet, when internet shutdowns, prevalent in the country, risk shutting out large swathes of the citizenry from accessing basic services. Kalpana Vishwanathan emphasised the absence of women from the process of building technology. As a result, the men who design technology take the male as norm, thereby designing products and experiences that are exclusionary of women. Abhishek Shah related his experience of introducing and enabling access to fintech solutions to women in low income groups. His organisation found that conventional banking systems refer to financial statements and bank balances to determine credit worthiness and most times, women in low income groups are rejected for loans since they didn’t have sufficient savings. Fintech solutions and micro financing enabled women’s access to banking solutions. Additionally, the time saved from not having to visit physical bank branches could be converted to an opportunity to earn more wages.

We then broke into two groups for a more in-depth discussion. The first group discussed the role of technology in increasing access to employment while the second group discussed the role of digital assets in increasing access to finance and direct benefit transfers. The conversation during the discussion on the role of digital technologies on employment focussed largely on entrepreneurship and the way in which digital technologies offer new opportunities for access. Participants spoke of the role social networking sites and messaging platforms in enabling micro entrepreneurship within a hyper local set up. On the other hand, platforms like Amazon Saheli and Alibaba have models for self- employment targeted specifically at women. These examples were used to demonstrate the importance of enabling access to digital assets. However, they also point to the need for skills upgradation as the nature of work and employment conditions change. Recommendations included the need for procurement policies to be more inclusive of women and address the barriers women may face; the importance of keeping women at the centre of design processes so that women’s inclusion is not an afterthought; the need for educational resources on the importance of identity markers like phone numbers which are linked to most services be it banking, accessing public services, and employment benefits.



Authors

Zothan Mawii

Zothan Mawii is a Research Fellow at Tandem Research. Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, work, and gender in the global south. She is currently working on a project exploring Indian women’s experiences of working in the digital economy. She has also been working closely with civil society organisations and gig workers’ unions to advocate for better labour protections and working standards. Her past work examines the impact of digital labour platforms in emerging economies and involved extensive fieldwork in India, South Africa, and Myanmar. She holds a MA in Digital Culture and Society from King's College London and a BA (Hons) in English from St. Stephen's College, DU.