Closing the digital gender divide: What’s next for the digital economy?

A digital economy that does not include women adequately cannot scale to reach its full capacity.

Putu Monica Christy and Lenny N. Rosalin

Putu Monica Christy and Lenny N. Rosalin

The Jakarta Post


Minding my own business: Women package crackers made of betel leaf as part of their small business in Neglasari subdistrict, Tangerang, Banten, on May 16, 2022. (Antara/Fauzan)

October 6, 2022

JAKARTA – “Digital transformation” has become today’s buzzword and focus for most countries – and Indonesia is no exception. Although the digital revolution promises to improve social and economic outcomes for women, it also comes with the risk of perpetuating patterns of gender inequality.

The Indonesia Digital Literacy Index is at 3.49 or close to a moderate level. However, when we assessed a sample of 10,000 respondents, 55 percent of male respondents had a higher digital score above the national average. In contrast, the proportion of female respondents was at 45 percent.

The digital journey for women is not seamless. Several barriers keep women and girls offline, such as expensive mobile devices and data packages, lower digital skills and restrictive social norms.

A report from the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) in 32 lower to middle income countries states that countries have missed out on US$1 trillion in gross domestic products due to women’s exclusion from the digital world. Thus, closing the digital gender gap is not just a moral cause, it is a crucial opportunity for women to participate in the economy.

In Indonesia, women own 61 percent of MSMEs. Yet only 17 percent of them are present on the e-commerce platforms. The effects of the pandemic urged MSMEs to access markets using digital technology to help the nation’s economy revive and grow. MSMEs must therefore seek to integrate with the digital ecosystem to survive and thrive. However, connecting MSMEs to the digital ecosystem is notoriously complex. For women, the challenges intensify.

Women experience systemic gaps, while discriminatory practices prevent women-led MSMEs from social and economic participation and from financial and digital inclusion. Women cannot safely own or access essential digital services, skills or resources as a fundamental right, which discourages women-led MSMEs from competing digitally in the marketplace. Additionally, they struggle to enter the digital ecosystem due to factors, such as a lack of gender responsive digital infrastructure, inadequate market access and limited control and ownership of productive digital skills and assets.

What key actions can support the effort to close the digital gender gap in Indonesia?

First, the flagship National Strategy of Women’s Financial Inclusion, which targets around 83 million women, can serve as a strategic entry point. However, it must be implemented widely and be re-evaluated to target the right audience, connect women to digital financial services and create an enabling environment for women-led MSMEs.

Second, clearly stating the figures in the Gender Responsive Planning and Budgeting (GRPB) should be mainstreamed to all ministries and assessed regularly by the National Development Planning Ministry, the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Home Ministry to maintain implementation quality at national and regional levels.

Third, the government can provide support systems to empower more women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) through affordable access and consistent policies in partnership with stakeholders. A study by the International Labor Organization across the ASEAN region reveals women’s participation in computer programming, consultancy and related activities in Indonesia stands at 21 percent.

Fourth, enhancing easy and safe digital skills through gender responsive entrepreneurship training and programs can help women-led MSMEs compete in the fierce digital marketplace.

Most of the aforementioned recommendations were discussed in detail at the Group of 20 Ministerial Conference on Women’s Empowerment (MCWE) in Bali in August. The G20 country members highlighted the need for collaboration between economies to close the digital gender gap. Participants agreed that member countries should open more opportunities for women to participate in the STEM and digital sectors and build their digital resilience.

The conference agreed that women’s participation in the digital economy needs serious attention, considering the enormous cost of the exclusion of them. As the host of this year’s presidency, Indonesia must now urgently push for women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming agendas.

The Women20 and G20 Empower Initiative members also highlighted the urgency of enabling women and girls’ skills in digital technology and scaling up the foundation to support women-owned businesses through inclusive ICT and economic recovery policies and programs.

Yet, the output of the G20 MCWE 2022 to the G20 Leaders leaves stakeholders, such as the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry, think tanks, academia and the private sector, with much to advocate for. Only through such advocacy can gender issues be mainstreamed and women be empowered to enjoy unrestricted access to the digital economy.

A digital economy that does not include women adequately cannot scale to reach its full capacity.


Putu Monica Christy is a manager for women’s economic empowerment at Microsave. Lenny N. Rosalin is deputy to the Woman’s Empowerment and Child Protection minister for gender equality. The views expressed are their own.

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