One of the best things about working on M&E for mobile and ICT programmes is the way you get to work across many different sectors – while I am, like the rest of the wonderful Panoply Digital team, an mEducation specialist by training, I’ve been lucky enough to work across mHealth, mEducation, mAgri and mobile money, to name a few, getting to learn about these different areas and understand the mobile for development sector from a more holistic viewpoint. One of the sectors I’ve been working on recently is the energy sector; more specifically, using mobile technology to create access to energy, and it’s been fascinating.
Although I work specifically on the M&E, being a gender specialist as well means I always have one eye on issues affecting women – and what’s been really interesting in learning about mobile and energy is also learning about the ways access to affordable, clean, renewable energy (or lack of access) affect women compared to men, and how any mobile-enabled service can think about being gender-inclusive.
Why does this matter? Well, there’s a lot of evidence that women not only have less access to affordable, clean and renewable energy services than men (for example, because of social norms around financing and access to electrical connections) but also are disproportionately affected by low-quality energy.
There is also the question of safety: women and girls are much more likely to be attacked or raped while collecting firewood or energy sources: MSF reported that 500 women were raped in a refugee camp in Sudan over a 5 month period while out collecting fuel.
At the same time, evidence is building that having access to clean energy services can have empowering effects on women: through increased opportunities for income generation, through reduced time spent collecting fuels, or through having access to information through TVs, for example. A recent study in Peru found that access to electricity helped to reduce the gender wage gap.
There are a lot of innovative mobile-enabled solutions in the energy sector, that are aimed at promoting access to affordable, clean, renewable energy – for example, using mobile money to finance solar-powered units, or using mobile money to pay utility bills and help users budget better; the GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities team have some great case studies and examples of these types of innovations.
But how can these solutions be more gender-inclusive and ensure that women are being reached as well as men?
Some people may argue that because these types of mobile solutions are not aimed specifically at women, there doesn’t need to be a gender plan – it’s aimed at everyone. I would respectfully disagree: just because it’s not aimed specifically at women, it doesn’t mean that women are being reached in the same way as men; there are five simple things you can consider to ensure that women have equal access and that your solution is reaching them too.
- Include women’s voices and experiences
Women should never be an afterthought – they need to be planned for, and included from the beginning. If you’re doing consumer insights to understand your customer, or any qualitative work, ensure that you speak to women too. Men may be the paying users / subscribers, as the head of the household, or the key decision maker, but women may be the primary users of the service.
By ensuring you speak to women, and understanding gender dynamics within the household, you’ll get a much holistic understanding of customer needs and experience, and how your service is being used by both men and women.
- Make sure your KPIs are gender-disaggregated
As well as including women in any qualitative work (which may also involve separate focus group discussions, depending on the social norms and cultural context), collecting gender-disaggregated data as part of your KPIs is really important for understanding how men and women use the service.
For example, how many women are paying users compared to men? How do female subscribers use the mobile money repayment service compared to men? What changes are there in health outcomes for women compared to men? If you’re collecting these KPIs anyway, it is relatively simple to split into male and female, and it will pay dividends on understanding your customers.
- Think about the demand side: female mobile money users
A lot of these mobile-enabled energy services use mobile money. But often you’ll find that fewer women than men have used mobile money before (CGAP has some excellent data on the mobile money gender gap in particular countries) and are much less confident in using it and face more barriers to uptake; so there is often a need for female customer education around mobile money.
Swadahar, Accion and Airtel found that training their female customers on how to make loan repayments and other transactions was crucial to driving uptake of mobile money services. By considering the female mobile money user and factoring in gendered barriers to uptake and how to overcome them, you’re more likely to reach women.
- Consider the role of female (mobile money) agents
Along a similar vein, the Cherie Blair Foundation found that including women in the mobile money value chain as agents can have an effect on women’s uptake of mobile money services, building a female user’s trust and confidence. Similarly, if mobile-enabled energy solutions considered investing in creating a network of female sales agent, in addition to male agents, it is more likely to reach larger numbers of women who may not otherwise be reached.
- Design for a female customer journey as well as a male
Finally, a lot of the mobile-enabled energy solutions have a customer feedback service, or something similar. This is wonderful for allowing communication with your customers – but you need to think carefully about whether it reaches women too through your chosen platforms.
If it’s an SMS-only feedback service, or an app, for example, you could be excluding a large number of female users, who tend to be less literate, less technically confident, have less access to mobile Internet than men, and have more basic handsets. By considering using an IVR (voice) service, for example, you’re more likely to hear from your female customers as well.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree / disagree with these suggestions? Is there anything else that needs to be on the list? Let us know in the comments.