Girls in ICT Day: An Interview with Kristy Crabtree

Publication date: Apr 25, 2024
We talked to Kristy Crabtree, Technology for Programs Strategy Lead at IRC, to discuss women’s and girls’ access to ICTs in humanitarian settings and more!

On International Girls in ICT Day, we share with you our interview with Kristy Crabtree, Technology for Programs Strategy Lead at the International Rescue Committee, to discuss women’s and girls’ access to the internet and technology in humanitarian settings, gendered barriers and the importance of digital literacy to bridge the gender divide. 

Why is it important to focus on women’s and girls’ ICT needs in Humanitarian settings?

Kristy: In humanitarian settings, women and girls face greater barriers to accessing and using technology as compared to men and boys. 

When thinking about humanitarian settings, we need to focus on women and girls for any kind of digital training because we want to build toward an equitable world. We know women and girls in low and middle-income countries have reduced access, and in humanitarian settings, we see the same, if not worse, trends. So, keeping women and girls at the center of planning and being proactive to give them opportunities for digital upscaling is essential; otherwise, we’re going to see this gender digital divide expand.

How can we create safe online spaces for women and girls in humanitarian settings? 

Kristy: In terms of how to stay safe online, there are several practical actions that we can take:

The first one is conducting an ICT assessment to determine levels of access and barriers. Understand what the starting point is in your setting and the unique risks experienced by women and girls, and ask them what they need to stay safe online. That seems obvious, but it’s often skipped.  

One way to help is with digital literacy training, and that could take place in a safe space. We want to listen to what women and girls want; ask them what do they want and what do they need. Let’s not just come up with a solution upfront. Women and girls in any particular setting know what is safe for them and what isn’t, so start with them.  

How can humanitarian practitioners do a better job to cater to women’s and girls’ needs? 

Kristy: Many of us might be making assumptions based on our own lived experiences, but that doesn’t mean that everybody has that base of knowledge. So sharing with them [humanitarian actors] the global trends around gender-based violence, how widespread it is, especially in conflict settings where natural protection supports are weakened and where violence often intensifies. Women are facing increased physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence, including intimate partner violence. This is important to flag because stigma and fear may prevent people from seeking any kind of help. That’s really important for people to know as a base because considering the harmful social norms around technology, many think that ICTs are unacceptable for women. 

We have to consider this when planning digital interventions: ask about risks and prioritize safety before introducing technology that could potentially increase harm. 

Of course, there’s the talking to women and girls. But first, we have to figure out when and where it’s safe to do that, and that’s where partnering with existing providers of gender-based violence or women’s empowerment programs can be a great thing so you’re not just going around a community and knocking on doors, but you can reach women where they already feel safe.  

If there’s a takeaway from this, it’s not only to assess but to have an assumption about what levels of safety are needed because phones are shared or borrowed, so that impacts a lot of the services offered and a lot of what we’d consider safe communication methods. And even if phones aren’t shared, there is a trend in both of those settings of phone monitoring. 

What are the key takeaways from this interview? 

Kristy: The takeaways that I would love for anyone who’s thinking about this is not to make assumptions about anything or if you’re making an assumption fault on the side of what is safe for women and girls. Don’t make assumptions about access; what we know is that that is not true in a majority of low and middle-income countries and humanitarian settings. Then, learn more information about your environment and talk to women and girls when and where it’s safe for them.

“When women and girls get connected online, they can access information and make better decisions for them and their entire household.” 

If we want to have equity, we have to make sure that we’re doing something to get women and girls to the same starting line as men and boys. We can think about this as an investment because digital literacy is a leverage point to everything else. So, when women and girls get connected online, they can access information and make better decisions for them and their entire household. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To watch Kristy’s full interview, click on the link below: