Gender Matters in Identity Systems: How an ID4Africa Livecast Broke Important New Ground in Gender and Privacy 


Recently, ID4Africa held an extremely compelling and meticulously researched livecast on the issue of gender and identity systems, with good discussions that also touched on privacy in this context. The livecast boasted an excellent roster of experts, all of whom are actively working in the field. Each presented well-substantiated, groundtruthed research and insight about the myriad ways that how identity systems mediate gender matter a great deal. The cumulative effect was eye-opening. 

Anyone who is interested in either ID systems, privacy issues, or gender-related issues will find much to consider here. Several items stood out. First, in response to the question: “how would an identity system be different if women had been involved in the design?” Arshi Aadil of MicroSave presented extensive research regarding the sometimes significant obstacles in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) regarding ID systems and gender, specifically womens’ ability to get registered for ID systems. She noted that women face an additional layer of difficulties, and that even the cost of transportation can be a major challenge for women to be able to acquire official identification. Just a simple change, that of ensuring registration stations were held at markets and other places that women frequent, would make a world of difference and could mean the difference between a woman having the ability to acquire official, traceable identification, and not. 

And having traceable identification is a significant factor in receiving social benefit payments  — Cheryl Harrison of the UN World Food Program noted that the greatest obstacle to ensuring a portion of WFP’s $2 billion per-year cash transfer program gets to each person in need is a lack of identification. “Most of the people that we transfer cash to are women, because the main responsibility for taking care of children and others in the households falls on the mothers and grandmothers. A huge barrier to giving these women cash is that they don’t have IDs….. It is mostly women who lack IDs, especially rural women,” Harrison noted.  

Another panelist, Erdoo Yongo, Manager of policy and advocacy for GSMA, a mobile trade association, presented compelling data from the GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report regarding the link between mobile phone penetration in 7 LMIC countries and access to identity systems [webcast at 1:58]. The coverage is far from complete: 1 in 4 women do not have access to a SIM card in their own name or they do not have a mobile phone of their own. Yongo noted that this extrapolates to 190 million women across 7 countries who do not have a SIM card in their own name. (Algeria, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan.) 

Mobile access is important especially now, in the time of Covid-19. A general issue is that the “digital first” era that has been thrust upon the entire globe due to the pandemic response is having profound impacts at the country level all the way to the individual level. But the impact has been disproportionately experienced in LMICs, and by women in many of those countries. If only 54 percent of women in LMICs have access to the mobile internet, (GSMA, Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020), this can ultimately impact access to identity systems, access to information, connectivity with others, and reduce important avenues of help, including those relating to health notifications and vaccine-related sign-up systems among many other social benefit programs. 

As identity-related work moves forward rapidly in our pandemic-changed world, the lessons learned from this webcast are clear: 

  • Women must be involved in the design of identity systems from the beginning of the design stages all the way through implementation. This needs to include proposed vaccine credentialing systems and other identity-related systems. 
  • Reliance on mobile phone apps is not going to be a universal solution for identity systems due to the gender gap in mobile access and ownership. There will need to be some form of paper or token backup in order to facilitate equal access to systems until those gaps are closed. 
  • In follow-up work exploring the effectiveness of identity and other identity-dependent systems, gender-disaggregated data must be a priority. 
  • Privacy is a priority. There are excellent statistically-based privacy techniques today, and the various national and regional statistical best practice guidelines have been incorporating this knowledge for years now. These best practices will be an important complement to the collection, use, and protection of gender information. 

The webcast is recommended viewing; gender impacts is a neglected area of work in identity and privacy. You can see the ID4Africa Gender Matters in Identity Systems webcast at ID4Africa: 

Note: ID4Africa’s next webcast is on the topic of Vaccine Credentialing Systems and will take place 8 April 2021: 


WPF Work: 

  • Generation Equality Forum 2021, UN Women, Mexico, and France (WPF Moderator and Speaker, technology, gender, innovation, privacy)
  • Expert Group Meeting of the UN Joint Global Program on Essential Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence, Convened by UNFPA, UN Women, UNODC, UNDP, WHO, WPF was a workgroup participant and report contributor. Report: “Optimal Entry Points for Safe Technology in the Provision of Essential Services.”