How digital, mobile literature can foster gender equality

Contributed by: Giulia Pelosi
Themes: whyreadingmatters
Categories: Article

Worldreader is a global nonprofit working to create a world where everyone can be a reader. Using low-cost technology (such as e-readers and mobile phones), a personalised digital library, smart reading programmes and a worldwide network of corporate and nonprofit partners, Worldreader helps millions of people reach their potential. Since 2010, over 7.6 million people across 55 countries have read from their digital library of over 40,000 local and international e-books. For more information, visit www.worldreader.org.

Digital Reading for Women’s Empowerment

The benefits of educated women are undeniable. Economies grow, child mortality rates drop and families prosper.[1] Technology, relevant content and supportive reading programmes have the potential to help educate even more women in the world. That’s our modus operandi at Worldreader.

Worldreader promotes reading through four key programmes — Pre-Reading, School Reading, Library Reading, and Lifelong Reading. The Lifelong Reading programme supports the development of reading habits amongst youth and adults, both female and male, and currently encompasses two projects — Open Library and Anasoma. While the Open Library project is broad, Anasoma is focused on understanding how to encourage more women to read using their mobile phones.

Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Anasoma or ‘She Reads, He Reads’ in Kiswahili, is Worldreader’s first gender focused project in Kenya.  A 2014 UNESCO report, Reading in the Mobile Era, showed that while girls and women make up only 23% of mobile readers on Worldreader’s app, they consume over 66% of content. These numbers demonstrated that if more women knew about the availability of books on their mobile phones and if barriers to their participation were properly addressed, they would be more likely to read. This is how Worldreader’s Anasoma project was born.

The project focuses on understanding and identifying the barriers to and drivers of female mobile reading. Anasoma also works to identify new books that are empowering and engaging to women and girls in Kenya and that match their interests and needs. The final aim of the project is to develop an outreach strategy to increase female mobile readership globally.

As part of the content curation process, Worldreader worked with its partners AMKA (a not for profit working on women’s creativity in Kenya) and WordAlive (a Kenyan publisher) to organise a writing contest under the theme ‘Women’s Empowerment’. The objective of the contest was to create five original books that could reflect the needs and interests of women and girls in Kenya and respond to their understanding of women’s empowerment. The five books created under the contest are now part of the new Anasoma Collection on Worldreader’s app, the first Worldreader Collection developed for women’s empowerment. The winning authors were a teacher, a psychologist, an editor, a TV camera operator and a journalist, women and men of different ages who come from different parts of Kenya. Many of them have not been published before. Worldreader hopes to make the Anasoma Writing Contest a yearly activity, with the long term vision of organising a Pan-African contest. By providing real time data of our registered users through our Worldreader app back end system, Anasoma is also contributing to the gender data revolution and the need for sex disaggregated data, as spelled out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The project’s final objective is the development of an outreach strategy within Kenya to increase female participation in mobile reading by 2018. By 2020, Worldreader would like to scale this project and drive female participation in digital reading globally. As more women and girls join the digital reading movement to access empowering content, we’ll be one step closer to fostering gender equality in the world.

[1] Source: http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/facts-and-figures).