Bridging the Gender Digital Divide: Creating Leaders to Sustain mHealth Solutions

mHealth

Jarret Cassaniti

CCP | Program Officer
Panelists at the mHealth Forum’s closing plenary discuss how to empower women through digital technology.

Panelists at the mHealth Forum’s closing plenary discuss how to empower women through digital technology.

It’s not every day that you hear about a way to grow the global economy by $13 to $18 billion. What’s the magic bullet? Building women’s digital skills. Alice Borrelli, Director of Global Health and Workforce Policy at Intel Corporation, shared statistics from Intel’s 2013 report, Women and the Web, showing that almost 25% fewer women are online than men in low- and middle-income countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, the gap is 43%.

At the Global mHealth Forum’s closing plenary, Beth Gertz, Managing Director of Mobile Hub UK, showed that women in low- and middle-income countries are 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than their male counterparts. Gertz was joined by Ann Mei Chang, Executive Director of USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab, Bih Janet Fofang from WeTech Africa Leadership Council, and Eric Osiakwan, Managing Partner of Chanzo Capital, in outlining the challenges facing gender inclusivity in health and technology.

Bih Janet Fofang from WeTech Africa Leadership Council asks why there are not more women developers.

Bih Janet Fofang from WeTech Africa Leadership Council asks why there are not more women developers.

Fofang, based in Cameroon, asked: “Why is there still an absence of women technology developers?” She discussed the limited opportunities for women to go to graduate school in Africa and engaged with audience members who spoke about the cultural expectations that keep women from pushing into the traditionally male sphere. An equally confounded Alain Labrique, Director of the Johns Hopkins Global mHealth Initiative, wondered why the vast majority of public health students he mentors are women, yet international technology and health organizations have great difficulty recruiting women to leadership positions.

Solutions to bridging these gaps came from Chang, who explained that women are a key focus of the U.S. Global Development Lab. The lab is a new entity within USAID that brings together diverse partners to discover, test, and scale breakthroughs that can help end poverty.

Another solution was offered by tech entrepreneur Osiakwan, who discussed the role that Chanzo Capital can play in mentoring in high-tech startups in the so-called KINGS countries: Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa. “Africa's mobile health sector will lead tech disruption,” he proclaimed, making way for women to play a greater role in health and technology.

Whether in Africa or other parts of the world, women’s roles in developing the health and technology sector can’t be understated. As Fofang said, women make up half of the population, and only when we include them can we bring about full social and economic change.