March 8 is International Women’s Day, and this year there has been considerable discussion around how mobile technology and data can impact women in emerging markets. At GeoPoll, we utilize mobile phones to connect with communities across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America, and are regularly asked to reach women as part of our research – whether a government is looking to collect data on women’s education, a diaper brand is looking to survey mothers of young children, or a development organization is assessing family and childhood nutrition. We understand the importance of making sure women in emerging markets are represented in the data we collect, and over time have learned valuable lessons on the best way to reach women around the globe.

Without collecting data that is representative of an entire population, development progress can be skewed- biased data can lead to biased solutions. More often than not in emerging regions, women are underrepresented or completely ignored in official data collection.  As noted by Melinda Gates in the 2019 Gates Foundation annual letter, women are rarely asked about their individual incomes, with earnings instead lumped in with a husband’s salary, and the questions women are asked often have inherent biases based on their perceived roles in society.

So, how do we ensure that women are included in research so that they can be part of the global development conversation? While systematic change needs to involve governments, multilaterals, foundations, and corporations recognizing the need for and investing in more inclusive data, research companies such as GeoPoll can do our part by ensuring we deliver representative data ourselves and share our learnings around how to reach women with other organizations.

Conducting Research with Women in Emerging Markets

Mobile-based research platforms such as GeoPoll’s can be a valuable tool for sharing women’s voices, but they must be leveraged in an appropriate way. Factors including research mode, respondent privacy, and potential barriers to participation must be considered in survey design and implementation. Below are some findings from GeoPoll on how to best reach women:

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Reduce Educational and Technological Barriers to Entry

GeoPoll’s report on farmers in Kenya found men were more likely to own smartphones than women.

Literacy rates, technology usage, and education levels often differ by gender, and these factors need to be taken into consideration when surveying women via mobile phone. GeoPoll studies and reports from GSMA have found that women are less likely to own smartphones than men, and older women in particular can be difficult to reach via online modes such as mobile application.

To combat this, GeoPoll offers 7 unique modes that collect both qualitative and quantitative data and allow us to connect with any type of mobile phone, ensuring we are not only reaching populations with smartphones. This wide variety of survey modes, which include SMS, voice calls and even in-person interviews, mean we can adapt to reach any respondent, no matter their capacities and technology usage.

GeoPoll works with all of our clients to identify the best mode through which to reach your target population. For example, women often have lower literacy rates than men, so GeoPoll uses voice calls, or Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing, in local languages to ensure literacy rates are not a barrier to participation. GeoPoll recognizes that some individuals cannot be accessed directly through mobile phones so we offer an in-person service (Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing) in which enumerators use GeoPoll’s technology on tablets and mobile phones to undertake in-person interviews. This technology allows for GPS location tracking of enumerators, photo sharing, immediate upload of survey answers, and other features that ensure high-quality data.

One mode GeoPoll has found useful in reaching women of higher socioeconomic status is mobile-based chat forums – through this mode we were recently able to reach women Hausa speakers in specific areas of Northern Nigeria, who often have high levels of distrust of outside groups and are therefore difficult to reach. By connecting them to one another and to a research moderator via a chat group, they felt safe enough to share opinions through the mobile phone which would have been extremely difficult to gather via in-person modes.

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Reduce Financial Barriers to Entry

Because women often have less disposable income than men, they may be unlikely to respond to a message that will cost them valuable airtime credit. At GeoPoll, we remove any financial burden on the respondent – our surveys are free to take, even if the respondent has no credit on his/her phone. Providing a small incentive to respondents who complete a survey is also important as they encourage survey participation, and can show that it is beneficial for the whole family if women participate in our surveys. GeoPoll provides incentives directly through airtime credit and/or mobile money and PayPal.

Target Women Specifically

GeoPoll asks all of our respondents’ basic demographic information when they first take a GeoPoll survey, and this information is stored so that we can target specific population groups, such as adolescent girls or women living in a specific location. Pre-stratifying our database in this way allows us to reach the respondents organizations want to connect with quickly. However, we also recognize that women often share a phone with several members of a household, so GeoPoll regularly re-verifies the demographic info we have on file to ensure we are reaching the intended member of a household. Finally, to reach an even more specific group of women, such as mothers of young children or those working in a particular profession, GeoPoll can include screening questions for surveys and save that information for future targeting.

Adapt to Women’s Availability

Women often have less free time than men, which should be considered in the survey design process. Surveys should be able to be completed in 15 minutes or less, and women should be given the option to take a survey at a time that suits them– this is possible via SMS, where surveys can be completed for 1-2 days following the initial invitation message, and interviewer-administered voice calls, where interviewers can call back at a more convenient time.

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Prioritize Women’s Safety

Mobile phones provide a safe and secure way for women to privately share their thoughts, opinions, and observations. GeoPoll prioritizes our respondent safety by ensuring that all of our surveys have explicit opt-in and opt-out messages, in-person or voice call interviewers are appropriately trained, data collected is kept securely, and that personally identifiable information is never shared. We adhere to all ESOMAR market research ethics guidelines and take steps to build trust with our respondents.

While there is still much progress to be made in terms of gender equity and data equity, we hope that by sharing some of our experience and best practices for reaching women, GeoPoll can help move the global conversation forward. If you are looking to conduct research with a female audience in emerging markets, conflict zones, or hard-to-reach areas, please contact us today.