- This policy brief outlines the importance of integrating gender into existing, and future, mHealth* research and interventions.
- It calls for additional funding and further research on the intersections between mHealth, gender and health systems.
- It also highlights the need for gender-sensitive policy and implementation for better, more effective, mobile health.
*Note: mHealth refers to mobile health (the ways in which medical and public health practices are supported by mobile technology and devices).
Gender dynamics influence the adoption of mHealth interventions and vary from country to country, and context to context, with generalisations tending to be made that do not support the complex experiences of individuals. Additionally, gender intersects with other axes of identity and inequality, such as age, poverty, literacy, geography, (dis)ability, and sexuality. In order to use mHealth to its full potential, we must ensure approaches are intersectional and aimed at all levels of health systems including the individual, community, program and policy levels.
The South African Constitution recognises SRH and rights; however, certain SRH rights – including abortion, contraception, and adolescent sexual health – are politically contentious due to conservative religious influences. As such, there is a lack of policy guidance on issues at the intersection of SRH and mHealth with the exception of maternal health. Though initiatives are currently focused on motherhood and childhood, research demonstrates the positive impacts of mobile phone use to provide information and support during medical abortion, such as increased knowledge, reduced anxiety, and decreased need for follow-up clinical visits.
Not only do women often face structural and social barriers that inhibit their equal participation in mHealth interventions, they are also frequently positioned only as beneficiaries of mHealth projects, without opportunities to actively engage in and shape such projects to better fit their needs.
This includes increasing access to services and broadening the distribution of information. As such, it can play an important role in transforming approaches to gender in health in nuanced, context-specific ways.
In many societies, women have lower literacy, less access to technology and other resources, and are not encouraged to be inquisitive about health information and/or technology. Women also form the foundation of human resources for health yet tend to work with fewer resources or support than those at higher levels.
When adopting a gendered lens, mHealth can increase women’s decision-making, social status, and access to health resources.
For example, interventions can lead to increased rates of domestic violence, the undermining of women’s privacy, and increased monitoring of their movements.
There are significant gaps in research on gender and mHealth. More funding is needed and more effective research undertaken to understand the risk factors and gendered impacts of mHealth interventions and how these can be effectively mitigated.
It’s vital that women are involved in the design and implementation of mHealth interventions and not simply treated as beneficiaries – women must be at the forefront of participating in programmes, policies and interventions that affect their lives