Across the world, women face online stalking, threats to their reputation and surveillance or monitoring of their online activities.
In many countries, threats to safety and privacy limit women’s access to information and communication technologies.
I’m a scholar of gender and development, and my forthcoming Ph.D. research with women in Jordan reveals a more complicated relationship between surveillance and freedom, as surveillance activities there often allow greater autonomy for women to work.
Sharing economy platforms grow
In Jordan, only 15% of women are engaged in the formal economy.
Jordan is near the bottom of global rankings for economic participation and opportunity for women, ranking 145 out of 153 countries.
There are many reasons women don’t work, including cultural and societal norms, the time and expense of transportation to job sites, concerns about safety on public transit, the cost and availability of child care and the length of time away from home required for most jobs.
Because of these constraints, many women prefer working in a flexible manner through their own home-based businesses.
In the last few years, sharing economy platforms – also called the gig or collaborative economy – have been built up around the activities that Jordanian women are involved in from home.
Sharing economy platforms include many of the companies that are described as the “Uber of” whatever their business is. They act as intermediaries between service providers and service seekers through a website or mobile application.
In Jordan, there are currently sharing economy platforms for finding babysitters, tutors, at-home salon services, home maintenance and more.
Safety and privacy
New technologies can improve the lives of women by giving them new opportunities, but what does women’s involvement in the sharing economy mean for their privacy and safety?
In Jordan, women also face threats to their reputation from online activities and policing and monitoring of digital activities, though it is unclear how significant this problem is because it is difficult to find available gender-segregated data regarding the topic in Jordan.
I spent more than 10 months researching women’s work and technology in Jordan last year. The over 100 women I spoke with in Jordan suggest that sharing economy platforms address some family concerns about a woman’s safety with location settings. When a family member can track the woman’s movements and know where she is, they feel more comfortable allowing her to go to work.
Many of the sharing economy platform jobs are time-specific roles, such as a service seeker requesting a babysitter for a set three-hour block or providing tutoring services for a set one-hour session. In focus groups, many women expressed that their families supported their work because they knew where they were going and for how long.
A co-founder and CEO of a sharing economy platform explained to me that they face “some challenges because we don’t employ women from home and not all families allow daughters to work outside the home,” but that because families know where their daughters are going and there are high salaries for low amounts of time, they often let their daughters complete the requests.
Brand reputation and supportive solutions
Additionally, sophisticated user experience and user interface with advanced features help families feel that a brand is legitimate and help them to trust the company more.
This brand reputation helps support women working because there are fewer concerns about reputational risk. A different founder and CEO of a sharing economy platform told me that “technology on its own can’t solve social issues that prevent women from working, but a sophisticated UX can change behaviors and allow women to work because families are more comfortable with female family members working for legitimate and trusted brands.”
Finally, sharing economy platforms in Jordan often create nontechnological solutions to support women to work on their platforms. For example, the founder and CEO of the salon services platform Mrayti visits women’s families at home to build trust in the company before the woman might decide to join.
Other examples include a home maintenance platform that provides transportation for women to the job site and a platform for caregivers that makes visits to approve the families requesting babysitting or nursing care before they send people to work in their homes.
These solutions are effective because they are built on an understanding of the local culture and the importance of relationships and reputation in Jordan.
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This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.
Allison J. Anderson received funding from the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board to conduct fieldwork on women’s economic participation in Jordan in 2018-2019.