This think piece was written by Karishma Banga and Becky Faith, of the Digital and Technology Cluster, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton as part of our Centering Women in India's Digitalizing Economy project, supported by the European Union and FES.
The digitalization of production and digital restructuring of global value chains (GVCs), compounded with development effects of proposed global digital trade rules, are going to have important implications for economic and social futures of women in the Global South. The gendered digital adoption divide is roughly 6 percent in high-income countries but as high as 82.5 percent in low-income countries. Moreover, internet penetration is associated with higher productivity gains for female workers in upper-middle and high-income countries as compared to low- and lower-middle-income countries. Case-studies of the BPO and apparel manufacturing sector reveal how digital technologies are affecting women workers through both national and international pathways. National pathways include automation of tasks, including automation of low-end routine intensive tasks, which have traditionally been performed by female workers. New jobs are being created but women workers in the Global South are not the ones gaining, in part due to lack of key skills, but also due to national factors such as high labor mobility costs and labor market frictions which restrict labor shifts. International pathways include a) digitalization of the lead firms in GVCs, which can in turn lead to automation along the value-chain, reshoring or limited offshoring, as well as b) labor market impacts of proposed global digital trade rules through their effects on tech transfer and digital trade between lead and supplier firms. E-commerce and gig work have emerged as important opportunities, but women workers in the Global South are less likely to make meaningful contributions via digital platforms due to lower digital connectivity and lack of ownership of digital devices. Overall, persistent gaps in digital access and models of use affect women in the Global South differently; retaining policy space to navigate issues on e-commerce can therefore be an important way of safeguarding futures for labor futures of workers in the Global South.