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Massive gender disparities in digital ID systems persist, ID4Africa panel says

8M more men than women have Nigeria’s NIN

Biometrics and digital ID

ID4Africa reconvened for the fourteenth edition of its livecast, this time with a special focus on Gender Matters in Identity Systems. The topic was specially chosen to commemorate International Women’s Day 2021 and to address ongoing global concerns within digital ID systems. The live-cast event was moderated by ID4Africa Executive Chairman Dr. Joseph Atick.

“An ID system that becomes the foundation for provisioning of services could deprive traditionally disadvantaged groups such as women from participating in society unless this identifier is realistically accessible to them without undue burden,” said Atick.

Global context

Jamie Zimmerman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation highlighted that 44 percent of women in developing nations lack adequate identification compared to just 28 percent of men. Zimmerman sees digital ID as a vital tool for ensuring that women have access to a social safety net, especially during the ongoing pandemic.

Cheryl Harrison of the World Food Programme (WFP) presenting her findings regarding cash transfer programs aimed at populations in need. Harrison illustrated how WFP in 2009, began transferring 10 million dollars per year to people in need so they could buy food. Now, the annual transfers have reached approximately $2 billion. However, WFP still struggles to reach enough women, the traditional leaders of most households and in charge of food, their main barrier being lack of recognized or traceable ID.

Gender inequity seems to be most prevalent on the African continent. Harrison noted, “Of the 600 million women worldwide that do not have ID’s, 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.” Women with the least access to ID are also the most disenfranchised. WFP believes that the tangible barriers to women getting IDs are trust, technology, services, and culture.

ID in the African context

Hadiza Dagabana from NIMC of Nigeria gave insights on her country’s current state of digital ID distribution and gender disparities. In Nigeria, 8 million fewer women than men have a National ID Number (NIN) as compared to men over the age of 16 years. NINs have been issued to 48,972,846 Nigerians to date. These numbers are growing by 100,000 new enrollments daily. The program has trained 4,224 agents from 230 licensed private sector partners. Of these, 2,544 are male and 1,680 are female.

Root causes

Lucia Hamner from the World Bank Group’s ID4D program presented her work on women and marginalized groups in Nigeria’s ID system: Findings and Solutions from an In-Depth Qualitative Study. The study focused on informing key groups such as women, persons with disabilities, internally displaced populations, and pastoralists about the benefits of ID as well as how to obtain it.

Barriers include transportation, capturing biometrics, and social norms. Women needed to get permission from husbands to enroll and were constrained by pregnancy and child care. They also often did not think they need a digital identity. Other universal barriers include informal fees and bribes, uncooperative staff, long waiting times, lack of documents, travel costs, and distance.

Solutions range from awareness campaigns that include multiple media such as print media, SMS, TV, radio, and even word-of-mouth. Additionally, registration centers were placed in bazaars, churches, and schools. Furthermore, local staff needs to be hired to address language and cultural barriers and encourage trust as well as more female staff to address social constraints.

Next, Anna Mushi from the Financial Sector Deepening Trust (FSDT) illustrated how these ID disparities manifest themselves in Tanzania. Tanzania’s financial system makes extensive use of mobile networks. Yet, this can complicate access to various financial services such as mobile money transfers, insurance, banking, and pension accounts as a national ID number (NIN) is required to obtain a SIM card.

Tanzania’s inclusion percentage has grown from 58 percent in 2009 to 65 percent in 2017. Nevertheless, there is still a large divide when it comes to gender equity in this inclusion. Tanzania’s next challenge is to close this gender gap by providing every Tanzanian with a national ID number.

Evelina Martelli of Sant’Egidio’s Bravo! worked with Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Malawi, and Guinea to intervene in key areas such as universal infant registration, free late registration campaigns to clear backlogs, and cooperation with national authorities to improve legal and administrative frameworks.

While these nations are not legally barring women from registering their children, other informal barriers still exist. Solutions to these issues include simplification of registration procedures to overcome any economic barriers, as well as localization of late registration centers to eliminate travel requirements for women.


Arshi Aadil of Microsave Consulting presented the GOOTCHA framework, a roadmap for providing identity to all. She illustrated how to apply this framework in the registration process, issuance procedures, digital ID use, and management.

First, communication campaigns can articulate the need, benefits, and incentives of having an ID to women. Second, customized onboarding procedures such as decentralized and mobile registration stations, women-only registration days and kiosks, user-friendly registration, accurate information collection, and gender-focused exception management for missing documents.

Next, GSMA Policy and Advocacy Manager Erdoo Yongo highlighted the importance of mobile access in gender matters. Her organization believes that mobile penetration holds the key to providing access to vital services, especially to women populations in rural areas. Yet, most of these populations will still not be able to access these services as they lack sufficient ID. GSMA believes that mobile operators must partner with governments to drive ID registration efforts on both demand and supply sides.

Nana Fatimah Mede from Nigeria’s Ministry of Budget and National Planning capped off the panel by providing unique insights from working on these issues at the governmental level. ID4Africa then concluded the event with a Q&A session between audience members and panelists.

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