We must co-create with girls for safer mobile access: Highlights from the experts at our roundtable discussion

Creating girl mobile champions within communities, using celebrities and politicians to address stereotypes around girls using mobile phones and designing interventions that start from a completely different premise could all help overcome the barriers girls currently face to accessing mobile phones.

That’s the view of hand-picked experts from the development, mobile, media, academic and research sectors that attended a roundtable discussion last month on Girl Effect and Vodafone Foundation’s groundbreaking research report into adolescent girls and mobile phones. 

The research report Real Girls, Real Lives, Connected, published on International Day of the Girl, was used as the starting point for the session, held at innovation foundation Nesta in London last week.

Kecia Bertermann, Girl Effect’s technical director of digital research and learning, outlined the findings of the report (available in full and in executive summary form here) and four recommendations for the next steps: rewriting literacy for the digital age; designing with safety in mind; involving gatekeepers including men and boys; and supporting girls to expand their own horizons.

The next challenge was for the room to identify opportunities for and barriers to putting the report’s recommendations into action.

‘The bringing together of academia, research and traditional development with rapidly evolving technology allows both the old world and the new to mentally overhaul previous approaches and begin to build something better, together’ Jo Hemmings, senior director for impact at Girl Effect.

Quick wins included a mobile for every girl, drawing from HIV apps to design ways to keep information private and secure regardless of who owns the phone, and panic buttons on mobiles to keep girls safe. 

Longer term measures discussed included bringing tech and mobile companies on board to run advertising and marketing campaigns showing the benefits of girls being connected through mobile, and using online influencers to bring boys and girls together to overcome gendered barriers to access. 

The most important approach however, and one to continue to work towards, is creating services around what users actually need, rather what we want them to need. This would involve truly listening to girls and co-creating with them, and forging new partnerships with funders and organisations on the ground based upon far greater levels of trust.

Lee Wells, head of health programmes at Vodafone Foundation, also pointed out that parents’ concern for how their children access technology is not confined to developing countries, irrespective of the differing cultural norms that might exist. What we know is that girls are accessing mobile in any number of ways and so it can be a critical tool to reach and empower girls. The key responsibility is to ensure we do so appropriately in different contexts around the globe so that we are working with parents rather than against them.

‘There’s scope here to reframe how we think about girls, how we think about mobile, and even how we think about outcomes themselves’ Jo Hemmings, senior director for impact at Girl Effect.

‘The challenge ahead for the development and mobile sectors is to introduce an effective approach to behaviour change into our existing reality’. It’s an exciting time and the pace of change is rapid. The bringing together of academia, research and traditional development with rapidly evolving technology allows both the old world and the new to mentally overhaul previous approaches and begin to build something better, together. 

Learn more and download the full Girls and Mobile report.