Ladies – We can’t hear y’all! Addressing Gender Issues in Mobile Data Collection in West Africa

WFP's response to Ebola emergency

Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud

Guestblog from our colleagues at the WFP Regional Bureau for West Africa in Dakar.

Generating data and analysis on gender dynamics using mobile data collection tools is admittedly a challenge, but one which we know is worth the extra effort. To date, we’ve noticed two major challenges in capturing gender dynamics in our mobile surveys. Firstly, women are not participating in very high numbers. Secondly, we need to keep our questionnaires short to be effective, but this means that we cannot ask all the questions on gender issues that we would like.

Women make up less than 25% of mVAM survey respondents in West Africa 

It’s been hard to get as many women to participate in mobile surveys as in face-to-face surveys. In Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, women make up between 16-24% of total mVAM respondents. However, in Liberia in a face-to-face Emergency Food Security Assessment conducted in May 2015 (EFSA), women made up 50% of the respondents.  We are of course worried about bias in our mobile data from the underrepresentation of women and what it means for the accuracy of our results. To design the best interventions, we need to hear from women as well as men.

Graph_RespondentGender_ExcelIn West Africa, the mVAM team is planning on testing ways to increase female engagement in our surveys.  We are not sure what will work best, but we want to explore using radio ads to target women, employing female operators to make female respondents more comfortable participating, and recruiting men to encourage their female household members to participate. We’ll let you know what works, and if you have ideas for us, leave them in the comments!

It’s not just who you ask but what you ask.

For mobile data collection to work well, we need to keep it brief. If we call or text people too many questions, they’ll get tired and hang up on us or stop texting back. With remote data collection, we also cannot ask very complicated questions. This means that we cannot ask everything we would want to better understand gender dynamics in the communities where we work.

Currently, we do however ask respondents about the sex of head of household.  During the ebola epidemic, our mVAM data showed that female-headed households were generally more food insecure than male-headed households. However, we can sometimes face a double problem- if fewer women are answering our calls or texts, not only are we missing their perspective but we are also likely missing many female headed households.

Our team in Dakar, Senegal, is also looking at ways to redesign questions in West Africa that better represent women as well as men. For example, a current mVAM survey question to gauge employment reads: “Currently, how much are people paid per day for manual labor in your community?” It’s a simple measure that has been shown to be a good predictor of community food security trends in Sub-Saharan Africa. But it also disproportionately reflects men’s lives, as manual labor tends to be a male-dominated sector. So our colleagues in Dakar are thinking about tweaking existing questions or creating new ones that are good socioeconomic indicators for both women and men.

We also are looking at designing new surveys to better capture the realities of women, men, girls, and boys. In West Africa, we plan to conduct several country pilots in 2016 using mobile technologies to collect gender-sensitive information on market dynamics that can affect food security. For example, women traders are the primary suppliers of certain commodities; in some contexts, they are the sellers of palm oil, green leafy vegetables, and local rice. If an emergency occurs and suddenly women traders stop traveling to markets, there may be shortages of these products. Our team in West Africa is also looking at developing a Women’s Empowerment in Markets Index (WEMI).

These efforts are part of WFP’s larger effort to expand available information on gender roles and disparities in food markets, and apply appropriate gender analysis to inform market-based humanitarian interventions and beyond. Stay tuned for further blog entries on our progress in West Africa and also on gender and mVAM in other regions.


One thought on “Ladies – We can’t hear y’all! Addressing Gender Issues in Mobile Data Collection in West Africa

  1. First of all, let me just say that this blog is great.

    When I was in Northern Ghana doing a site visit with a mobile health program which helped promote safe and healthy pregnancies, we found that one of the problems was that women did not always own or control the mobile phone. Sometimes, their husbands own the phone and so they could only use it if they were allowed and at certain times. Sometimes, the phone was owned by the family (sometimes husband’s family), so again, limitations.

    Even aside from phone ownership, sometimes there was just no place to charge the phone in the village.

    I’m sure you must have run across these issues as well. How did you find that the MVAM team was helping to address these challenges?

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