Monday, October 30, 2017

Advancing gender equality with mobile money - conferencing in Tanzania

By IMTFI Fellow Milcah Mulu-Mutuku (Egerton University, Kenya)

Fig 1: Gender Inequality Source:
Gender inequality continues to be a defining feature in contemporary societies, especially in emerging economies. Despite great transformations in gender dynamics, there still exist glaring disparities between men and women in various aspects of life, ranging from students’ enrollment in institutions of higher learning to leadership positions in these institutions; from accessing job opportunities to power relations in the office space; and from interactions at household and community levels to participation in decision making arenas. On average, men are better positioned in this pecking order than women (UNDP, 2013).

Fig 2: Conference banner at DUCE Gate
The Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE), a constituent college of the University of Dar es Salaam, organised the 1st International Conference on Gender Issues in Higher Learning Institutions on April 27-28, 2017 (view book of abstracts here), culminating with a visit to Mikumi National Park on April 29, in order to “explore and reflect on gender issues and on how best to redress them in the context of higher learning institutions with the aim of realizing human rights and gender equality as speculated in various national and international instruments.” Framed by the theme ‘Equity and Equality for All,’ the conference brought together over 100 attendees from over 20 countries. The inauguration speech was delivered by the Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Hon. Ummy Mwalimu (Fig. 3-Front row, center seated) on behalf of the Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Hon. Samia Suluhu Hassan. This is an indication of the importance attached to this event by the Tanzanian government. The Ministry headed by Hon. U. Mwalimu has a directorate that is in charge of all gender equality related matters in Tanzania, making her the appropriate representative of the Vice President at this conference.

Fig. 3: Hon. Ummy Mwalimu (center seated) with other dignitaries,
keynote speakers, and a section of paper presenters (courtesy of DUCE)

Six keynote speeches were delivered, and 45 oral and four poster presentations were made. Presentations covered a wide range of topics, all touching upon gender issues. I had the opportunity of presenting a paper co-authored with Castro Gichuki* entitled, “Mobile money and financial inclusion in emerging economies: a strategy of addressing gender disparities in control of financial resources.” The paper advocated for use of technology in addressing gender disparities, and was based on a larger project funded by the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI) of the University of California at Irvine that aimed to explore the influence of mobile money on women micro-entrepreneurs’ control of productive resources. Data were collected in 2016 using mixed methods, including questionnaires, object-centered focus group discussions, and in-depth interviews.

Control over productive resources and especially finances is culturally a gendered issue in favour of men in many emerging economies.

Fig. 4: Making a presentation (courtesy of DUC)
This has a negative impact on women’s economic activities, thus necessitating a search for strategies with the potential to remedy the situation. Difficulties associated with fighting gender disparities stem from the reality that these disparities are reinforced by some deeply held cultural practices and beliefs. Culture defines ‘codes of conduct’ among those who share cultural ties. Since it is socially transmitted, people who interact regularly share unwritten rules that govern life (Daher, 2012). These are not issues taught in school or through any education system; people inherently know and understand them through socialisation, shaping their way of thinking, behaving and expectations of others. Needless to say then, strategies that have the potential of eliminating or minimising gender disparities are those that are responsive to the culture of the people, and that can be easily integrated into existing social arrangements rather than conflicting openly with deep held beliefs and practices.

Considering technological progression and what it has achieved historically, it may hold the key to unlocking the dilemma of culturally reinforced gender biases and the mindsets that perpetuate them. The term ‘technology’ elicits thoughts of tools and instruments for enhancing human performance, shaping nature, and meeting human needs, and the accompanying knowledge about their use. A third component of technology that is not talked about as much is culture. As Vergragt puts it, “Use of technology is learnt, interpreted, and given meaning in everyday life” (2006:2). If found acceptable, technology is adopted and assimilated into the lives of people, slowly becoming part of their culture. Ask Kenyans today, and they wonder how they ever survived without M-Pesa! Why? Because the technology has become so entrenched in their lives that it has become part of their culture.

Once a particular technology has been accepted as a way of life, the oppressed or the disadvantaged in society can then use it to their advantage. A case in point is the ingenuity of women micro-entrepreneurs in the use of mobile money to gain control over business finances without conflicting with their husbands. We found in our study that women micro-entrepreneurs whose husbands had a tendency of interfering with business finances transacted secretly using mobile money services. These women paid for services and goods using M-Pesa and deposited money into their savings accounts secretly. Messages from the mobile money service providers were deleted immediately after the transaction to erase any evidence. This way husbands did not know, and could not keep track of, how much money the business was transacting. This was done to safeguard business money against misuse, a mission impossible for those transacting with cash. This then makes technology progression a crucial tool in breaking the gender disparity cycle.

Conference attendees were fascinated with the use of object-centered focus group discussions as a technique of data collection and were interested in understanding it better. This is a technique we used to stimulate conversations around the difficult topics of personal financial practices and culture. We used charts to prompt participants to think through their financial practices and to discuss their level of control over productive resources and the influence mobile money services had on their control and decision-making processes regarding the resources (for more information on this subject, please see our IMTFI blog: Object-Centered Focus Group Discussions: Stimulating Conversations on Mobile Money Practices and Culture.

Dr. Susan Murphy, one of the keynote speakers, led the conference participants in exploring the role of education in creating gender awareness and transformation. The unparalleled capacity of institutions of higher learning to act as spaces for transformation through a focus on excellence, critical thinking, and constructive engagement was acknowledged. These institutions have the opportunity to lead transformative thinking on gender identities and the social constructions of masculinities and femininities, a point affirmed by Dr. Su-mung Khoo, another keynote speaker. Nonetheless these institutions hold dominant biases and discriminatory perspectives specific to their communities that tilt the scales toward exclusivity.

As observed by Prof. Anne Looney, Prof. Anne Ferguson, and Dr. Amy Jamison (other keynote speakers), gender inequality in institutions of higher learning is an internationally observed phenomenon, with key leadership and academic positions being held by proportionately more men than women. Prof. Looney called it ‘a crisis of justice and a crisis of quality perpetuated by societal cultures and systems.’ We noted that nations have good intentions to create equal opportunities for both men and women, and even legislation is in place to that effect. However, in most cases these intentions are not translated into practice due to deep rooted biases and stereotypes. Therefore, Prof. Ruth Meena implored participants to change the narrative from barriers, challenges, and limitations to promoting enablers of gender equality. Some enablers that were identified included commitments by governments, roles played by gender and human rights activists, and technology.

Fig. 5: Paper presentation session in breakaway room TPC 106
 (courtesy of DUCE)

On the use of technology as a tool for addressing gender disparities, Dr. Conor Buggy pointed to the ‘blindness to gender’ in anonymized online teaching and assessment which allows all students to achieve their learning outcome without unconscious bias or prejudice from fellow students and teachers. This concurred with our assertion that mobile money technology progression is an asset, especially for women micro-entrepreneurs, for gaining control over financial resources and, to some extent, equalizing the playing field between men and women. Mobile money enhances privacy and autonomy of financial transactions due to its invisibility compared to cash, meaning women are able to transact without conflicting with male relatives who may hold the belief that control over financial resources is a preserve for men (Donovan, 2012). As society ‘drags its feet’ in addressing gender biases, women can continue providing decent meals for their families in an environment of peace afforded by mobile money technology.


Daher, M (2012). Cultural beliefs and values in cancer patients. Annals of Oncology, vol. 23(3). Pp. 66-69.

Donovan, K. (2012). Mobile money for financial inclusion. In T. Kelly and C. Rossotto (Eds.), Information and Communication for Development, pp. 61–73. Washington, DC: World Bank.

UNDP (2013). Humanity Divided: Confronting Inequality in Developing Countries, available at: [accessed 18 July 2017].

Vergragt, P. J. (2006). How Technology Could Contribute to a Sustainable World. GTI Paper Series Frontiers of a Great Transition No. 8, Tellus Institute, Boston MA.

Read about her experience presenting at the Making Markets Matter Executive Training Program (May 2017).

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