LACK of access to technology is holding back rural women from pursuing job opportunities, according to a study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).

“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,” PIDS said in a statement.

While digital platforms are intended to “democratize access to opportunities,” the study found that cultural barriers, including misconceptions about perceived innate strengths, skills, and appropriate jobs for women, led women to take on 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,” it added.

Women also earn 18.4% less than men in digital jobs, according to the study.

PIDs said online platforms allow 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,” it added.

According to the study, the demand for information technology and business process management related onsite jobs is also low in rural areas.

“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,” it added.

The study recommended policies such as the full implementation of the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act, the passage of the Freelance Workers Protection Act, and a review of policies on competitive pricing for contracting work.

“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 think tank said. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson