Cultivating Democracy

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Digital Inclusion

Powerful web-based data management and communication tools can introduce new potential for political groups to more effectively organize and advocate, but they can also perpetuate existing barriers and create new challenges. For example, when taking political engagement online, the digital space is often occupied by the same individuals and groups who have the best access to content offline, effectively mirroring the exclusions present in general society. The ability to use and access technology is often limited within the existing social, economic, and political context, including gender- and class-based exclusion. Traditionally marginalized groups can face additional risk from using technology. When designing programs empowered by DemTools, NDI strives to keep these critical challenges in mind.

“Accessible design is a process which ensures that everyone—including those with visual, auditory, physical, speech, neurological and cognitive disabilities—can use technology.”

Man in wheelchair

For example, some considerations that may affect whether certain marginalized groups are able to access, use or deploy DemTools effectively can include:

  • Low internet penetration in communities far outside the capital
  • Lack of education
  • Scarcity of systems in minority languages

Importantly, some individuals, such as women, can face multiple layers of exclusion as members of several communities with disproportionate access to digital technologies.

The digital gender divide has been well-documented. Women are less likely to own mobile phones or have access to the internet across nearly all regions. This gap is even further compounded in low-income countries, where the cost of accessing technology is a major barrier to women’s access. In addition to material barriers, there are social and cultural, psychological, and political and institutional barriers that limit women and girls’ access to and use of technology, as identified by the Overseas Development Institute. Women who experience “time poverty” resulting from work, domestic, and care demands are less likely to pursue a range of opportunities, including the chance to engage with technology. Other social barriers include preference for boys, restrictions on mobility, illiteracy, and access to education and opportunities to learn tech skills. Women and girls are also more likely to doubt their ability to learn how to use technology, and may feel that technologies are reserved for men or elites, which presents psychological barriers to utilizing communication technologies. Lastly, political and institutional barriers across many societies and governments limit opportunities for citizens—both women and men—to use tech for civic and political engagement.

Further, women are vulnerable to character attacks and trolling, and are more likely than men to be scrutinized on social media. Women who use online public forums can be targeted for challenging a norm or policy, taking a position, or for the mere act of engaging in a public forum alone. Emerging research indicates that tech is being used to incite electoral and political violence and discourage women from participating in politics.