Digital identity opportunities for women: Insights from Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Rwanda

More than 230 million women and girls in the Commonwealth, and nearly one billion people globally, have no official proof of identity (ID). Without ID, access to essential services and wider opportunities becomes difficult – or impossible. Definite barriers are imposed on personal and professional aspirations, and individual and national potential is constrained.

However, mobile has significant scope to tackle this ‘ID gap’ by enabling and delivering digital ID products and services. In order to understand this role, we conducted extensive end-user research in Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Rwanda. These countries are at different stages in the rollout of their respective national identity documents (NID) and have varying identity, mobile, and gender-related challenges and opportunities.

Through discussions with more than 300 people across the three countries – including experts from the mobile industry, international development community, and private sector – we identified and explored a range of opportunity areas for mobile. These are briefly summarised below, and you can read the full report – which explores these concepts in more detail, and the associated national identity and gender context – here.

  • Mobile agent NID enrolment: bringing enrolment closer to many, through enabling NID enrolment via mobile agents. Participants across all three countries were very supportive of this idea – particularly women, who often struggle to enrol due to household or childcare responsibilities. Mobile agents were seen as accessible and, due to undertaking Know Your Customer (KYC) verification, already familiar with identification processes.
  • Using mobile as an NID: increasing the convenience of NID. In all three countries, NIDs are important. However, this importance encourages many to keep them safely at home. All research participants, regardless of gender, noted that a digital NID – as a standalone solution, or as a back-up to a physical card – would be useful. It was a particularly popular concept in Bangladesh and Rwanda where NID is increasingly essential for everyday life.
  • Mobile financial ID: improving the financial inclusion of those without ID – especially women. This idea was seen as particularly useful by Nigerian participants, where lower NID and mobile money penetration has resulted in a clear need for financial products and services for individuals and SMEs. In fact, the extent of these discussions highlighted an opportunity for further research to explore this potential. This will be published shortly.
  • Mobile ‘Work ID’: both women and men working in the informal economy struggle to highlight their credibility or skills to employers, clients and customers, and service providers – but are using mobiles to market their products, skills, and services. In this context, digital ID solutions could allow these workers to access support, and grow their businesses. This concept resonated strongly in Nigeria and Bangladesh, where mobiles are key business tools.
  • Mobile ‘Health ID’: delivering a more streamlined healthcare experience. This concept was of particular interest to women across the three countries, who are often responsible for the welfare of their families. It also had particular relevance in Nigeria where participants noted challenges in navigating the healthcare system. However, the solution will likely require extensive wider digital transformation so is potentially more of a longer-term proposition.

In addition to the gender aspects mentioned above, the research also highlighted a number of other considerations with regard to developing and rolling-out digital ID products and services that meet the needs of women. These are explored in more detail in the report, and in a previous blog post.

The study also reaffirmed the intricacies of conducting research on identity – a complex, and often intangible and emotive, topic. Identity includes the definition and delineation of status or role in society, and how that is proven – including the necessary ID documentation or process. There was also formal and informal interplay between mobile phones and ID, across the three countries, which is explored further throughout the report.

Mobile is in a very strong position to transform the ID landscape, and to close the ID gap. This includes building on the above existing usage of mobile in the identity journey, utilising the mobile connectivity assets that can drive digital ID solutions at scale; and leveraging the scale, trust, and presence of mobile – and related actors and institutions. As KYC processes are further embedded, digital literacy increases, and as efforts to close the mobile gender gap continue to achieve success; mobile-delivered ID solutions could provide identity to millions – thereby allowing everyone to play a real and meaningful role in their society, and the economy.

Download the research report 

The Commonwealth Digital Identity Initiative is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Australian Government (DFAT), and is supported by the GSMA, its members, World Bank and Caribou Digital
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