Women, work and ID

Ten overarching themes which emerged from this research

Savita Bailur
Aug 24 · 3 min read

Savita Bailur and Hélène Smertnik

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Cover page of our research report on Women, Work and ID

Digital identity — or as we prefer to call it at Caribou Digital, identification in a digital age — is often pursued from the supply side, in terms of increasing access to legal identification. We hear of SDG 16.9 (free and universal legal identity for all, including birth registration by 2030) and the commitment to serve the 1 billion people in the world without ID. Common use cases often mentioned for ID include access to education, healthcare and citizenship (e.g, voting). However, the demand-side or the reasons to obtain ID are less clear, particularly from women’s perspectives.

Supported by the Australian Government, through the Commonwealth Digital Identity Initiative, we set out to conduct qualitative research on women, work and ID in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in 2019. Our aim was to understand the extent to which ID played a role in obtaining work and being able to retain and protect income for lower income women. We produced a series of blogs and attach our overarching report here.

In each country we spoke to women in domestic work, garment work and online work (both physical work found online and fully digital work) as these are three broad areas in which low-income women are employed (and in the case of online work, increasingly employed), and that we could compare across the two countries.

In this report, we share ten overarching points which emerged from the research:

1. ID access needs to be as easy as possible for women.

2. The relevance of ID for women should be made more evident to end users, policymakers and male family and friends.

3. Employment and income are two key drivers for women to obtain ID and should be leveraged more as incentives.

4. An ID enables more choice and holds aspirational value.

5. Having an ID leads to more formal work and potentially greater protection for women.

6. Possession of an ID empowers women to seek fair and equal treatment.

7. While ID offers several protections, it does not reduce discrimination or underage employment — these need additional regulation.

8. Using one’s own ID is especially important for financial independence.

9. Awareness-raising campaigns and stronger regulation need to address risks of workarounds.

10. The future of work — especially digital — needs to recognise the underlying ID processes can be more challenging for women than men.

Note that while many of these apply to men as well as women, the distinction that emerged in our research was that women found it harder to justify obtaining an ID because they could not always see the value of their own ID. However, relying on others for identification entails risks which need to be communicated more strongly to women and those who have influence over their lives.

This report highlights the ways in which ID is critical for women in finding work and therefore could be used as a driver to incentivise women to obtain and have agency over their own IDs.

Read the full report here.

Caribou Digital would like to express thanks to:

  • all our respondents in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka;

Caribou Digital

Caribou Digital: building ethical inclusive digital…

Savita Bailur

Written by

Research Director at Caribou Digital; Adjunct Associate Prof at School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University http://www.savitabailur.com

Caribou Digital

Caribou Digital: building ethical inclusive digital economies

Savita Bailur

Written by

Research Director at Caribou Digital; Adjunct Associate Prof at School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University http://www.savitabailur.com

Caribou Digital

Caribou Digital: building ethical inclusive digital economies

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