Key Terms and Definitions

Big data: extremely large amounts of data that cannot be stored or processed using traditional database software.

Biometrics: biological or physiological characteristics which can be used for automatic regis­tration. Those characteristics include fingerprints, facial structure, iris or retinal patterns, DNA, voice, and signature.

Cybersecurity: the prevention of damage to, protection of, and restoration of computers, electronic communications systems, electronic communications services, wire communication, and electronic communication, including information contained therein, to ensure its availability, integrity, authentication, confidentiality, and nonrepudiation.1

Data privacy: the right of an individual or group to maintain control over, and the confidential­ity of, information about themselves, especially when that intrusion results from undue or illegal gathering and use of data about that individual or group.2

Digital dividends: broader development benefits from using digital technologies.

Digital economy: the use of digital and Internet infrastructure by individuals, businesses, and government to interact with each other, engage in economic activity, and access both digital and non-digital goods and services.3

Digital finance: digital technology that provides access to financial products such as payment platforms, savings, and credit.

Digital literacy: the ability to “access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate, and create information safely and appropriately through digital devices and networked technologies for participation in economic and social life. This may include competencies that are variously referred to as computer literacy, information and communication technology (ICT) literacy, infor­mation literacy, and media literacy.”4

Gender-based violence (GBV): an umbrella term for any harmful threat or act directed at an individual or group based on actual or perceived biological sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or lack of adherence to socially constructed norms around masculinity and femininity. It is rooted in structural gender inequalities, patriarchy, and power imbalances. GBV is typically characterized by the use (or threat) of physical, psychological, sexual, economic, legal, political, or social coercion, control, or abuse. GBV impacts individuals across the life course, and it has direct and indirect costs to families, communities, economies, global public health, and development.5

Information and communication technology (ICT): a set of technological tools and resourc­es used to communicate, create, disseminate, store, and manage information. These can include video, radio, television, the Internet, social media platforms, and mobile phones. Distinctions are emerging between “old” and “new” forms of media and technology — that is, between the use of television, radio, and other forms of traditional media that have been employed for decades, and newer forms of media, including social media and mobile phones.6

Interactive voice response (IVR): pre-recorded audio messages that allow a direct user response, and that collect metadata like date, time, and duration of call.7

Intersectionality: the complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) may combine, overlap, and intersect — especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups.8

Mobile Internet: this is the key statistic in measuring the gender digital divide. Mobile phone use includes all mobile phones, not just those that are Internet-capable. Many users may have Internet-enabled phones but do not use mobile Internet services, or only use a subset. The gender digital divide has been made syn­onymous with Internet access; thus, there is a significant distinction between mobile phone ownership and mobile Internet usage. For this document, we present it as a journey: the first step is mobile ownership; then, awareness of mobile Internet; then, adoption of mobile Internet; and finally, frequent usage of mobile Internet.

Mobile ownership, access, and use: women’s ownership, access, and use of ICT are different definitions: ownership necessitates that the mobile phone is registered in the woman’s name. Access and use imply a larger pool, where women can utilize others’ phones or community phones. Even if a mobile phone is registered to a woman, it does not mean that she is the primary user — as is the case when the govern­ment ties a mobile phone number to a person’s larger national ID number, and the person wants to get a second mobile. Both mobile phone use and ownership are important statistics as they can, at times, serve as proxies for family and gender dynamics in the household.

Mobile money: use of a mobile phone to transfer funds (between banks or accounts), deposit or with­draw funds, or pay bills.

Open application programming interface (API): a publicly available API that provides developers with access to a proprietary software application or web service.

Open source code: publicly available software (or code) that any programmer or developer can use or modify. These are usually stored in platforms such as GitHub.

Technology-facilitated GBV: action that harms others — either based on their sexual or gender identity, or by enforcing harmful gender norms — that is carried out (by one or more people) using the Internet and/or mobile technology. Actions include stalking, bullying, sexual harassment, defamation, hate speech, and exploitation.9

Women’s economic empowerment and gender equality (WEEGE) (working definition): women’s economic empowerment exists when women can equitably participate in, contribute to, and benefit from economic opportunities as workers, consumers, entrepreneurs, and investors. This requires access to and control over assets and resources, as well as the capability and agency to manage the terms of their own labor and the benefits accrued. Women’s economic equality exists when all women and girls have the same opportunities as men and boys for education, economic participation, decision-making, and freedom from violence. This requires collectively addressing barriers to commercial activity and labor market participa­tion, such as restrictive laws, policies, and cultural norms; infrastructure and technology challenges; unpaid care work; limits on collective action; and poorly enforced protections. Women’s economic equality is just one facet of gender equality more generally, which requires attention to the full range of gender gaps - economic, political, educational, social and otherwise.10

  • 1USAID Digital Strategy 2020:
  • 2Ibid.
  • 3Ibid.
  • 4Ibid.
  • 5United States strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally. U.S. Government, 2016. Available at
  • 6Harnessing technology to prevent, mitigate and respond to gender-based violence in emergencies. Social Development Direct, undated. Available at
  • 7SDD, undated.
  • 8Merriam Webster Dictionary Online:
  • 9Technology-facilitated gender-based violence: What is it, and how do we measure it? ICRW, 2018. Available at
  • 10This is not an official definition of USAID or any other organization but rather a practical working definition that provides sufficient clarity in pursuing USAID’s economic goals with regard to gender equality and female empowerment.