Transform Health’s reflections on International Women’s Day 2023
Today is International Women’s Day. Under this year’s theme, ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’, we reflect on the opportunities that innovation and technology offer to improve gender equity in health access and outcomes, while also recognising current barriers and challenges, that if not properly addressed will only perpetuate disparities and widen the gender divide.
Transform Health has been advocating for the digital transformation of health as a route to strengthening primary health care and accelerating progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Digital tools can improve the accessibility, affordability and quality of health services, presenting enormous opportunities for advancing UHC and improving health equity. This includes a huge opportunity to address gender inequalities in health access and outcomes and improve women’s and girls’ health and wellbeing. However, if gender is not prioritised as part of countries’ digital health transformation, including gender transformative policies and frameworks to protect the rights and privacy of citizens, with special considerations for the needs of different population groups, including women, girls and marginalised groups, we risk exacerbating inequalities and undermining human rights.
On International Women’s Day, we reflect on the opportunities that innovation and technology offer to improve gender equity in health access and outcomes, while also acknowledging that current barriers, if not properly addressed, will only perpetuate disparities and widen the gender divide.
Gender inequalities affect health access and outcomes, with women and girls disproportionately impacted due to biased gender norms, limited access to/control over resources, restricted decision-making power, restricted mobility and limited ability to engage with health programmes, among others. Technology innovation brings in additional barriers – including limited access to mobile phones and lower levels of digital literacy.
However, digital tools can also give women and girls more power to support their health-seeking behaviour and empower them to track their own health data. Technology and the internet can improve women’s understanding of their own health needs and issues, which are usually deprioritised. Where women’s access to health services is low, digital health can help improve access and affordability through services such as telemedicine.
To ensure this happens, the digital gender gap and digital literacy gap must be addressed to ensure meaningful participation in today’s digital age. Across low and middle-income countries (LMICs), women are 7% less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 15% less likely to own a smartphone. A global analysis of 133 systems across industries found that 44.2% demonstrate a gender bias and the data used to develop AI algorithms and other technologies is rarely representative of all ages, genders, ethnicities and regions. Therefore, when health planners are looking to allocate resources and implement programmes to address the health needs of the population, that may be skewed by an inaccurate picture of the situation with certain groups under-represented and thereby their health needs not being addressed. This will increase the gap between those who stand to benefit from digital health technologies, and those that are excluded and left behind.
A global analysis of 133 systems across industries found that 44.2% demonstrate a gender bias and the data used to develop AI algorithms and other technologies is rarely representative of all ages, genders, ethnicities and regions. (Source)
Closing the digital gender divide requires addressing the numerous barriers and challenges that exacerbate the digital gender divide, with concerted effort from various stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, civil society and individuals.
Transform Health calls for communities to be at the centre of digital transformation in order to achieve UHC and leave no one behind. Governments and technology developers must involve diverse communities, including women, in the planning, design, decision making, implementation and monitoring of digital health policies and programmes. Women must be given adequate opportunities and resources to shape digital health and data governance and hold those in power to account.
In 2023, Transform Health will be ramping up our work on gender and digital health. This will include:
- Co-creating positions to guide priority areas for action, working closely with coalition partners and wider stakeholders.
- Launching a new survey to hear from communities, organisations, health workers and other experts their perspectives on the key barriers, challenges and opportunities for the digital transformation of health systems to help close gender gaps in health outcomes and move us closer towards UHC and Health for All in the digital age.
- Developing our gender position as we continue to advocate for the equitable digital transformation of health systems – to achieve Universal Health Coverage for all by 2030.
Governments and technology developers must involve diverse communities, including women, in the planning, design, decision making, implementation and monitoring of digital health policies and programmes.
Transform Health is committed to doing work differently, to ensure that we operate in line with our core principles of equity, empowerment, rights, partnership and inclusion. When going against history and global systems, this takes concerted efforts. Check out our targets and how we track against them in our Equity and Inclusion Dashboard.
If you are working on gender and digital health or have ideas on this issue and would like to collaborate, please reach out to Ndifanji Namacha.