Cultural barriers and disparities in access to technology, job opportunities, and wages limit rural women from engaging in digital platform work.

This was according to a recent study published by state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).  Authored by research consultants Paul John M. Peña and Vince Eisen C. Yao, the study titled “DigitALL for Her: Futurecasting Platform Work for Women in Rural Philippines” probed the digital platform work phenomenon in rural areas and the underlying conditions that make inclusive and decent work possible for both women and men.

Peña and Yao observed that limited access to devices, erratic power supply, connectivity issues, and digital anxiety among users hound efforts to make rural areas and their residents digitally ready for online jobs. Some respondents admitted being hesitant about learning and using computers even if they knew how to use a smartphone. In some areas like island barangays, digitaljobsPH trainees needed to cross the sea to reach the town proper where they can access internet-ready devices in shared facilities.

DigitaljobsPH is a program of the Department of Information and Communications Technology that trains and enables individuals to get digital work through freelancing. Other government initiatives aimed at expanding the information and communications technology (ICT) labor market to the rural areas include Tech4ED, a self-sustaining and shared facility that offers training and access to computers and the internet, and turning areas outside of the National Capital Region into information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) hubs.  

While the digital platform is touted to democratize access to opportunities, the authors found that cultural barriers—including misconceptions about perceived innate strengths, skills, and appropriate jobs for women, even among decisionmakers—limit women to less complex and lower-paying jobs. They were more likely to perform tasks related to business services, sales, and marketing, not technology and data analytics tasks.

The gender wage gap also persists in digital jobs. The study highlighted that women earn 18.4 percent less than men.

The online platform work allows more women to enter the labor force, especially mothers who prefer online work’s “flexibility in terms of time management” over full-time employment. However, women have less time spent on platform work and their careers because of the unequal gender division of labor: working women are still expected to perform house chores and care work, and “many women have given up on their jobs because they cannot do both.” Even among male and female entrepreneurs with the same responsibilities, women still face more care work.

The study also noted that the demand for IT-BPM-related onsite jobs remains low in rural areas and local talents had to move to another province to find jobs. Those who found online freelance projects start as general virtual assistants, some of whom work for below-market rates to undercut competitors. Freelance workers from rural areas may be tempted to set even lower rates just to secure a project. Others are subjected to dubious offers or fraudulent jobs that leave them unpaid for completed work.

Peña and Yao enumerated policy measures to address the challenges, such as the full implementation of the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act (Republic Act 10929), the passage of the Freelance Workers Protection Act, and a review of policies on competitive pricing for contracting work.

They emphasized that policy actions must be supported by efforts to digitize essential public services, especially in rural areas, which will boost confidence in digital technologies, develop local government-led plans for ICT infrastructure development and upskilling that prioritize women from low-income households, and ensure that the supply meets the demand for internet connectivity.

The study identified current trends and developments in platform work that can propel digital expansion and adoption in rural areas. These include offering incentives to digitaljobPH graduates to establish homegrown agencies that will match local talents with platform jobs overseas and securing talent via women-focused grassroots organizations and cooperatives that can provide skills training and support.  

Peña and Yao also commended initiatives by cooperatives and associations like FHMoms and Connected Women that help bridge the device and connectivity gap. FHMoms offer flexible options such as “WiFi para kay Nanay” that “enable enterprising mothers who stay at home to participate in online freelance projects”. Meanwhile, Connected Women facilitates the donation of devices from private organizations and individuals to freelance women living in remote areas and conflict zones.

This press release is based on the PIDS discussion paper titled “DigitALL for Her: Futurecasting Platform Work for Women in Rural Philippines”. ###

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