Mekong Women in Data: Understanding barriers to women’s access to open data in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam
Gender inequality underscores the lives of women all over the world. At the Open Development Initiative, we wanted to understand how this impacted women in the Mekong countries of Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, and Vietnam (CLMV) in their access to open data. In 2019, we conducted and completed a study on this topic, the results of which have now been published on the Open Development Mekong platform. The Vietnam executive report is available in Vietnamese. Read here.
Even though each of the CLMV countries is unique, women across the region experienced similar barriers. These were:
- Poor institutional support for increasing access to information;
- Deeply entrenched and as-yet unaddressed gendered cultural norms; and
- Lack of true leadership and inclusivity
You can read the regional report and national executive summaries below.
“If computer use is available, men and sons are given first priority to have access to the internet” — Myanmar
The realities of the women we spoke to were shaped by gendered expectations about who they should be, how they should act, and what they should do. This was the undercurrent to almost all access issues, whether in regard to data and digital literacy, physical technology, and more. Cultural norms are the magnifying glass for any other institutional, socioeconomic, or societal barriers.
The women we spoke to were mostly urban and educated – and they were also more likely to understand how to access data and information, and its importance. A lack of physical information and communications technology infrastructure in rural areas adds to the difficulty. Even so, this is no match for an institutional culture that limits the channels of access to data, and a data ecosystem that is not very inclusive. When data just isn’t being made available, there’s no way to access it. And for the data that is being made available, it’s not that accessible for people in CLMV. A gap in language is just one example.
“If you know English then a whole world is open for you, but if you’re only speaking Khmer then you’re very limited.” — Cambodia
These systemic issues are not easily changed. Open data principles are not the cure-all. True change toward gender equality will require intersectional thinking beyond the business-as-usual scenario, and a true commitment to inclusivity. Government support is necessary, and addressing the need for truly universal infrastructure is a high priority. Women and the open data sector would benefit from systemic change in regard to information sharing and gender, alongside supporting broad access to digital tools, skills, and information. Meaningful inclusivity, through the provision of information in relevant languages and a broad range of formats, alongside the prioritization of marginalized communities such as through data sovereignty, is necessary.
Mekong women want trustworthy, reliable data and information sources to use to push for gender equality. The Open Development Initiative’s Mekong Women in Gender research is intended to support those pushing for an equitable data landscape in the Mekong.