Digital transformation of health is an important accelerator of progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and improved health equity. It also offers an important entry point to address gender inequalities in health access and outcomes and improve women’s and girls’ health and wellbeing. However, this requires an intentional focus to prioritise gender within plans, strategies and financing for the digital transformation of health systems.

Transform Health is a coalition of more than 150 organisations committed to harnessing the potential of digital tools and data to achieve UHC by 2030. With our focus on the individuals and communities who are most affected by the lack of access to affordable and high-quality healthcare, particularly young people, women and marginalised communities, we have been identifying priority areas for action around gender and digital health, with the aim of working with partners across the health, digital health and gender landscape to drive action.  

Our early research has revealed that women and girls face particular challenges in accessing digital solutions and benefiting from the digital transformation of health to improve their health and well-being. As part of this work, we conducted a survey to gather the inputs of communities, organisations, health workers and other experts on the key barriers, challenges and opportunities for women and girls to fully benefit from the digital transformation of health systems. These important perspectives will help inform a new policy brief that we will launch later this year. This blog highlights key issues that have emerged from the survey. 


Challenges preventing women and girls from accessing and benefiting from digital health solutions 

Many of the challenges and barriers are applicable across diverse contexts and geographies. A key access barrier is limited internet connectivity and gender-skewed smartphone ownership, particularly in low-resource settings and rural areas, which hinder the ability of women and girls to fully utilise digital health solutions, restricting their access to health information and care. Digital health solutions also often overlook the specific needs and preferences of women and girls, resulting in them inadequately addressing their specific healthcare concerns.

Cultural and social factors also play a significant role in hampering women’s access to digital health solutions. Gender norms and societal expectations often discourage women from independently engaging with digital health platforms, due to fear of social stigma or familial repercussions. Policy and governance issues also play a role. The absence of gender-sensitive legislation and policies can expose women to privacy breaches and misuse of their health data, eroding trust in digital health platforms. Without adequate safeguards and regulations, women may remain hesitant to utilise these services, further widening the gap in healthcare access and outcomes.


Opportunities to improve access to digital solutions for women and girls 

A key opportunity that can help improve access to and the use of digital solutions is increasing investment in education and awareness, through digital skills programs targeted at women and girls. Such programs can support  basic digital literacy, along with specific skills related to navigating digital health platforms. Additionally, allocating funding specifically towards research, innovation, and implementation of digital health solutions tailored to women’s unique healthcare needs and preferences  is important. 

Another area is fostering a more equitable healthcare landscape by ensuring that digital health solutions are unbiased, accessible, effective and respond to the needs of all individuals, regardless of gender. Similarly, gender considerations should be considered in the design and implementation of digital health governance systems, including the handling of health data, thus facilitating greater trust, participation and engagement in digital health platforms.


What next?

Transform Health will convene a workshop at the Geneva Digital Health Forum, around key issues, opportunities and priorities within gender and digital health, with the aim of building consensus, forging a joint vision, and strengthening collaboration around needed action. During the session we will launch a new policy brief outlining positions on the intersection of gender and digital health, while setting out key areas and opportunities where Transform Health and our partners aim to play a strategic role to drive progress in this area. 

We are committed towards advocating for equitable, sustainable and inclusive digital transformation of health systems to deliver UHC. Narrowing the digital gender divide and fostering more inclusive and equitable healthcare systems that meet the diverse needs of women and girls worldwide is a pivotal point of action in this direction.