mHealth has varying impact on gender relations

Evidence regarding the effect of mHealth interventions on gender relations is weak and rigorous research is urgently needed, according to an article in the International Journal for Equity in Health.

The authors conducted a systematic literature review to examine the empirical evidence of changes in men and women's interactions as a result of mHealth interventions in developing countries. Most of the mHealth interventions in the literature review were SMS-based and conducted in sub-Saharan Africa on topics relating to HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, health-based microenterprise, and non-communicable diseases. 

"Research has shown that mHealth initiatives, or health programs enhanced by mobile phone technologies, can foster women's empowerment," states the article. "Yet, there is growing concern that mobile-based programs geared towards women may exacerbate gender inequalities."

Though the authors argue that current literature suggests that mHealth initiatives can influence gender relations in "meaningfully positive ways" such as increasing women's decision-making, social status, and access to health resources, these mobile healthcare programs may "inadvertently reinforce the digital divide and perpetuate existing gender-based power imbalances." In addition, the review found that domestic disputes and lack of spousal approval also hampered women's participation.

"While we identified positive and negative outcomes, to some extent the evidence remains inconclusive," conclude the authors. "Efforts to scale-up health interventions enhanced by mobile technologies should consider the implementation and evaluation imperative of ensuring that mHealth programs transform rather than reinforce gender inequalities." 

In May, the mHealth Alliance released a Gender Analytical Framework to help mobile healthcare implementers better understand the implications of gender issues for their mHealth projects. According to the mHealth Alliance, research shows that many women's health problems in low-income countries, such as maternal mortality and unintended pregnancies, are directly linked to gender inequity. In addition, while women are commonly the beneficiaries of mHealth projects, the organization argues that women are rarely equal participants in the development of mHealth interventions.

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