(PNA file photo)

MANILA – Speakers and reactors from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Philippine Commission on Women, Global Systems of Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), and the public and private sectors recently engaged more than 300 participants at an online dialogue on the prevailing gender mobile usage gap worldwide and in the Philippines.

In commemoration of National Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Month, the United States government, through the USAID led the dialogue to promote increased access to digital technology in the Philippines, particularly among women.

More than 300 participants attended the dialogue on June 27 to discuss issues related to digital inclusion, such as the gender mobile internet adoption and usage gap and key ICT policy challenges and opportunities to increase women’s mobile internet use.

“We are at the cusp of a rapid digital transformation where digital devices and the internet have become an integral part of our day-to-day lives,” USAID Philippines Regional Office of Acquisition and Assistance Director Jennifer Crow said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

“USAID remains committed to supporting the Philippine government in building a future where digital technology promotes inclusive growth, fosters resilient and democratic societies, and empowers all, including the most vulnerable,” she added.

According to the Global Systems of Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), 52 million Filipinos living in areas already covered by mobile broadband do not use mobile internet. A significant number of them are women who face barriers such as handset and data cost, limited access to networks and electricity, and safety and security concerns that include online harassment and fraud.

“We continue to work together with various partners to ensure that internet connectivity is widely available to every Filipino. Through our efforts, we can surely accelerate progress in advancing ICT and deliver on the promise of digital inclusion,” DICT Undersecretary Maria Victoria Castro said.

Speakers shared policy examples and innovations from other countries, such as lowering consumer taxes and import duties on handsets, offering flexible payment terms for underserved customer segments, providing targeted internet service and smartphone subsidies for women entrepreneurs and female-headed households, and increasing digital literacy.

The dialogue also highlighted existing policies and programs that support digital inclusion in the Philippines which include the Updated Philippine Development Plan, the Updated Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Plan, the National Broadband Plan, the Free Wi-Fi for All Program, and the Tech4ED Project.

Through its Better Access and Connectivity (BEACON) project, USAID helps improve the Philippines’ ICT and logistics infrastructure; strengthen the regulatory, business, and innovation environment; and bolster cybersecurity.

To help bridge the digital divide, USAID also assists the government in automation and digitization efforts and supports community networks to expand low-cost internet access for underserved communities. (PR)