“All technology has potential when modeled in the vacuum of our whiteboards and proposals,” remarks Revi Sterling, Director of the USAID WomenConnect Challenge (WCC). Shrewdly cutting to the chase, Sterling adds: “[But] rural smallholder farmer women do not live in vacuums.” In other words: for digital technologies to be part of any development solution, practitioners must first address the myriad of real-life barriers and inequities surrounding technology use.

In her recent blog on the low uptake of digital agriculture applications by women, Sterling explains how digital development programming often fails to grapple with the inherent gender biases imbued in many software platforms and services. Many digital interventions also fail to interrogate what unique social and cultural circumstances may bar women from participation in the digital sphere. Social norms surrounding intersectional identities such as class, disability, caste, indigenous identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, language minority, and other factors can further intensify these barriers to technology access and use. These oversights in program or software design can end up unintentionally exacerbating poverty and inequality, deepening the gender digital divide and undermining the development effort’s good intentions.