Women, work and ID
Ten overarching themes which emerged from this research
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.
Caribou Digital would like to express thanks to:
- all our respondents in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka;
- our partners in the Commonwealth Digital Identity initiative — GSMA and the World Bank — for feedback;
- the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade innovationXchange, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka country offices;
- our external advisory team of Dr. Sanchita Banerjee Saxena, Helani Galpaya and Lani Jacobs;
- our final draft reviewers Victoria Esquivel-Korsiak and Lani Jacobs;
- our internal advisory team of Niamh Barry, Dr. Jonathan Donner and Nicki McGoh;
- Alina Kaiser for social media support;
- Sharon Rhodes for editing;
- the field research teams BizInsights and Nowshin Noor in Bangladesh and Mithula Guganeshan in Sri Lanka;
- the Awaj Foundation in Bangladesh and Stand Up in Sri Lanka as well as their founders, respectively Nazma Akter and Ashila Niroshi, both former garment factory workers who set up their organisations to support workers’ rights;
- and finally to Big Blue Communications for video production.