The Design of Inclusive Digital Public Services with an Intersectional Gender Lens

A white paper describing tools, approaches and best practices

This white paper is based on the expert contributions of the first meeting of the GovStack Community of Practice on Gender Inclusion.

  • This is the first version (V 1.0) of the document (Release in Q4 2023)

  • Please comment on the content of this page, so we can include your feedback in the paper’s next version. We are looking for contributions that enrich the paper with examples, best practices and learnings from experience.

  • There will be regular rounds of feedback to update the paper.


In this whitepaper we provide insight into why it is imperative to consider a gender-responsive intersectional lens when conceiving, designing and deploying digital public services.  

We discuss how women in all their intersectionality - and for whom these services have not been designed historically - could be more active participants, add needed yet absent perspectives, derive greater benefit,  and make services more effective and empowering, robust, resilient and strong.

Using gender as a point of entry for a more responsive and intersectional design for public services, we assembled experts to identify good practices and solutions for digital public services designed for a better quality of life and opportunity for all.

We describe why the Gender Responsive Lens makes digital public services more inclusive, resilient and robust, what these digital public services look like, how to create enabling environments for these digital public services building on examples of intersectional solutions, ending with a glossary of terms and a list of further resources.  

I. Towards Inclusive Digital Government Public Services:  Why the Gender Responsive Lens Makes Digital Public Services More Inclusive, Robust and Resilient


“A gender-transformative approach to public services is underpinned by an understanding of public services as a cumulative, broad-based and diverse set of interventions that over time are able to change unjust social structures, including gender inequalities. This is a departure from the idea of public services as specific interventions in response to single needs - for instance, providing maternal health or delivering primary education. It considers public services as part of a broader reflection on the reallocation of power and resources, and a concerted effort to focus on comprehensive structural and community-based approaches to the reorganization of public services.”  

Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights  From gender-responsive to gender-transformative public services 2021 ( )


Technology Has Gender Embedded within It 

Technology design often has a gendered bias emanating from the legacy systems and data it is based on. We therefore need to be aware of what we are constructing, how we use the technology, and who is the intended user to benefit from the technology design.

Gender Representation in Technology Creation and Management Is Needed

There is a deficit of gender representation in technology spaces and in technology management in general often leading to the exclusion of a female and an intersectional perspective in the design. (i.e., Apple’s 2014 HealthKit which tracked blood alcohol level, sodium, even height if one was growing, but did not track the menstrual cycle.) 

Gender Is Cultural

Gender - the social differences between people throughout the life cycle 

  • are learned   

  • deeply rooted in every culture  

  • are changeable over time

  •  have wide variations both within and between cultures. 

This means that gender is a social construct, also embedded in the work environment. This embedding then influences how digital public services are adopted, used and understood.

Gender The social differences between people throughout the life cycle that are learned and – though deeply rooted in every culture – are changeable over time and have wide variations both within and between cultures.

Digital Services Designed for Women’s Needs 

Digital services are most often not designed with an intersectional approach or focused on women's needs. Historically, there has been a primary masculine perspective in the design and implementation of digital public services. This has determined how these services are finally used by women and has given a direction to the shape of the digital public services. 

Technology should be harnessed to improve citizen’s quality of life. Often, public services are focussed exclusively on efficiency rather than effectiveness for citizens - ignoring the chance to improve processes and empower citizens.  A focus on increased effectiveness for those who have no meaningful access and have been left out of decision-making, design and implementation processes is often lacking; women and girls sadly remain in this underrepresented group. 

As women and men have different levels of access to, and are impacted in different ways by digital technologies, the design of digital public services is not ‘gender neutral’. Governments around the world are invested in developing digital services for citizens, providing a huge opportunity to create a new more enabling digital ecosystem for women. At the same time, when gender is not sufficiently considered in the digital design process, the digital gender gap in addition to other aspects of the gender gap will be increased.

Structural Challenges to Deploying More Intersectional and Gender-Responsive Digital Public Services

  • Meaningful access and connectivity are not equally available for everyone.

  • Many countries, regions, or communities within countries have enduring connectivity challenges.

  • Good connectivity is essential to access digital public services. Low-income households have lower rates of in-home Internet connectivity compared with higher-income groups.   

  • In many countries women do not have their own mobile phones. When they do own or control a mobile phone they are less likely to own a smartphone (i.e., There remains a gender gap in mobile ownership; women are 10% less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 23% less likely to use the mobile internet. Even for women mobile owners, there is a significant gap in usage with a smaller range of mobile services being accessed with a 17% less use of services than men.  The mobile gender gap is widest in South Asia where women are  28% less likely than men to own a mobile and 57% less likely to use the mobile internet.) In other contexts women are only permitted to use household-level mobile devices, where their online activity is often monitored by male relatives. In some cultures / communities, mobile phones are also viewed as a risk to women’s reputation pre-marriage whereas post-marriage, phone-use is viewed as an interruption to caregiving responsibilities.)

  • The cost of data is critical to drive access to financial and digital public services online.

  • As gender inequality is replicated from the physical to the digital world, a final consideration is the digital literacy needed to use devices in a way that brings value so that citizens can optimize use of digital services.

All these factors combined together form some fundamental intersectional inequalities.

The evidence is that many people who are marginalized from government services simply do not have access to them. And as women are concentrated at the bottom of the pyramid it is women who primarily do not have access to these services. 

Therefore, it is critical to direct services not only to the public service as a stand alone but to the realities of connectivity, access, devices, data and digital literacy.


Intersectional Inclusion at All Levels

  • In order to create the enabling environment critical for strong and inclusive digital public services, it is necessary to have women at all levels of decision-making processes from the community through to the ultimate decision makers - from the user base to leadership. This is perhaps obvious and simple, however it is not yet accomplished: we need to apply intersectional gender parity in IN EVERYTHING WE DO from recruitment processes, team activities, events, and panels, to inclusive community co-design. 

  • Research has shown that having a diversity of decision makers improves outcomes. There are long standing gaps in dimensions of intersectional inequality to public services. Bringing an understanding of the heterogeneity around gender and women at the intersections of multiple other inequalities is critical to understanding who is excluded from these services and how often. This also means there are design and deployment opportunities for gender-responsive intersectional digital public services that can change or break down these barriers and deliver a better quality of service and of life for all citizens.

II. What Inclusive, Robust & Resilient Digital Public Services Look Like 

  1. Community Co-Creation

The most important driver of an effective intersectional gender-responsive digital public service, or any digital public service, is a focus on giving voice and agency to the users of the service, including women, girls, the LGBTQIA+ community, rural populations, urban youth - all historically and to this day marginalized groups. To accomplish this, it is necessary to change policy design and to go from listening to the user to acting on their insights.

  1. Gender Balance in Decision-Making

Gender balance in decision-making should be put on the official agenda of all involved with the funding, design, adoption, and evaluation of digital public services.

  1. Gender Balance in Digital Design Teams

Employment of an intersectional and robust range of women in the design of digital public services will assist greater innovation and creativity, as well help with detection and mitigation of bias and harmful effects on women, girls, and those traditionally excluded.

  1. A Paradigm Change

How do we create the shift to rethink and remodel what an actual service should be in order to adapt services to a 21st century environment and values, instead of what the environment was when the service was first conceived? How do we create gender-responsive digital public services focused on intersectionality and women's needs?

4.1 Framework

This framework[1] shows three areas where many root causes of gender equality lie. Holding your process against this framework can spark thinking about opportunities for shifts towards more gender transformative outcomes.

III. Levers of Change to Create Enabling Environments for Strong Digital Public Services    

Levers of change is a concept often employed in change management and systems thinking to describe the points within a system where intervention can help achieve desired changes. These levers can be tools, processes, policies, or even intangible elements like culture or beliefs.

In the context of being a “lever of change”, an objective, especially when it is clear and well-communicated, can galvanize action, align stakeholders, and serve as a touchstone for decision-making throughout the change, design and deployment process.


  1. Clear Objective for the Design of an Inclusive Robust Resilient Digital Public Service with an Intersectional Gender Lens

❖    Acknowledge what the problem is

❖    Define the problem you are trying to solve

❖    Understand the challenges involved

  1. Team Composition

❖    Strong Leadership Commitment is imperative to change the status quo, necessitating a leader focussed on recruitment to achieve gender parity on their teams, dedicated to the inclusion of different disciplinary and departmental perspectives and the provision of a warm and welcome environment that allows voice and agency to discussions with the users of the services.

❖ Human Resources Gender parity in (digital) teams is essential. Pathways include commitment to gender parity throughout the hiring process from internship programs, to recruitment panels, including all teams. Focus is also needed on equitable distribution of responsibilities within teams and across roles, reaching beyond the important quantitative parity of women on teams to the qualitative approach (i.e., reaching parity in both knowledge management, documentation, secretarial taks and managerial and decision-making jobs).

❖    Transdisciplinary Teams An intersectional approach is considered best practice, and so too is actively engaging and facilitating a transdisciplinary approach. This can be accomplished by including different ministries, departments and disciplines in one team; encouraging perspectives from different disciplines into the decision-making room and digital public service discussion.

 ❖    Co-Design, not just consultation is fundamental to the design of inclusive digital public service with an intersectional gender lens. It is necessary to commit not only to listening to the community - the end users - but to commit to action on what is being said and the embrace of community insights.  Real user engagement means that users are actually co-designing the application that offers the public service.      

❖    Human centric design and agile government principles are two methodologies that guide best practice for interaction with communities.

➢    Bring community members in early to the policy and design process, even before decisions have been made about the ultimate objectives of the service.

➢    Create safe public space(s) for co-creation where women feel encouraged and secure to actively participate in the design and implementation of digital public services.

➢    Spaces can be physical, such as schools or public libraries. Or they can be virtual spaces, with the acknowledgement that less women than men participate online, and with the caveat that women can and do feel safe in the environment to speak freely and creatively to public managers about their ideas and needs in the public services design.

➢    Design for the Margins Consider designing from the margins to the center[1], instead of designing from a perceived center and only then later solving the many use cases that do not fit the original smaller less flexible model. Research has shown that the service is at its most robust if the metric of success is based around how it protects the community’s most vulnerable and disenfranchised demographics.

➢    Continuously Consult & Iterate Make community insights actionable throughout the design and deployment process. Continue to check in and be iterative with community consultations; this will help ensure sustained uptake of your policy design and use of your digital public service past its initial launch phase.


  1. Data and Data Collection.

Data could and should be a digital public good. Focus on data and data collection that is inclusive and openly accessible.

❖    Open Gender Disaggregated Datasets Active production of open gender disaggregated datasets will ultimately improve the performance of digital public services.

➢    Data are not neutral or objective. They are the products of unequal social relations, and this context is essential for conducting both collection and analysis.

➢    Invest in inclusive quality datasets for specific data that is needed and clear use cases.

➢     Invest in controls to oversee data collection processes so that data is not collected at the expense of women and other traditionally excluded groups.

➢    Collective stewardship of data by communities may help accomplish creation of more quality datasets. 

❖    Open Data Many types of gender analysis could be done with the data that already exists and is being collected. Often data exists but is not shared in a way that is usable, or is not shared at all.

➢    Is it being collected by commercial entities? Or national statistics offices?

➢    Find ways to access, explore and annotate data that other institutions collect so that you actually know what more data needs to be collected.


  1. Gender Responsive Procurement[4] Guidelines: Procurement as a Strategic Lever

❖    Public procurement has great potential to promote gender equality by leveraging public spending to pursue a fairer allocation of economic resources and improve living standards for both women and men. 

❖    All levels of government should develop gender responsive procurement (GRP) guidelines with hard targets, an outline of roles and responsibilities of those organizations required to apply these principles, requirement of companies to proactively disclose and report on gender balance in research and design teams and actively incentivization of teams that are balanced and transdisciplinary.

❖    Critical pathways fundamental to achieve the GRP vision:

○      Build the capacity of buyers and suppliers to stay accountable to gender equality standards.    

○      Collect supplier data on women’s enterprises and gender-responsive enterprises.[5]

○      Work with partners to articulate both the business case and the human rights case for gender responsive procurement.


IV. A Selection of Intersectional Good Practices    

What specific lessons can be learned from other successful initiatives, research, or practice?

  1.  Life Cycle Approach[1]

❖    Services that public administrations can offer to a teenager who is going to college are going to be different from the services that the government can offer to a woman entrepreneur or a woman in need of social services due to gender-based violence.

❖    Specific services targeted to women with major life events, such as birth, education, unemployment, marriage, separation, migration, retirement, serious illness, and death, as well as gender-based violence and Financial inclusion require multiple interactions with a variety of government services, which currently makes working across organisations or sectors to integrate services difficult.    

V.        Glossary:

Sex is a biological construct that defines males and females according to physical characteristics and reproductive capabilities.

Gender The social differences between people throughout the life cycle that are learned and – though deeply rooted in every culture – are changeable over time and have wide variations both within and between cultures.




Oversimplified, and often biased, beliefs about an individual’s characteristics, preferences, and abilities on the basis of their perceived gender or assigned sex.

The informal rules and expectations held amongst social groups that determine how behaviours and interactions will be judged, accepted or sanctioned based on gender.

How individuals are expected to conduct themselves based on their gender or assigned sex, is determined by the norms in place. Gender roles can influence everything from the clothing we wear to the career choices we make.

i.e.: “only girls like pink”

i.e.: “men are strong and do not cry”

i.e.: “a woman's place is in the kitchen”

Social Inclusion The process of improving the terms on which all members of a community take part in society, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, language, (dis)ability, religion, sexual orientation, or other key characteristics. Source: Iris Group

Intersectionality* is a concept that links together social categorizations, such as gender, race, age, ability, class, sexual orientation. It is regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination and disadvantage.

The combination of these different factors, and how they show up in individuals, are called intersectional identities.

  • a term first coined in 1989 by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw



As we work toward gender transformative innovation and gender equality, taking an intersectional lens, considering an individual holistically by acknowledging all their intersectional identities, encourages us to consider all the ways that an individual might experience discrimination or oppression. It forces us to think about gender, not as a standalone identity category, but rather in combination with a multitude of additional factors, while recognizing that those with multiple minoritized identities are more likely to experience multiple forms of discrimination, often in a compounding way.

Studies have shown that cross-cultural teams are more creative and innovative, better at problem-solving, and they also make fewer mistakes. Focusing on intersectionality can be a catalyst for building a more diverse, skilled participant base and lead to increased inclusion and equity. Through consideration and application of an intersectional lens, we can prioritize uplifting those most marginalized and support their participation and inclusion in the solutions, products, and processes we create.

Looking to dive deeper into intersectionality?


We would like to thank everyone who generously contributed knowledge to this white paper:

Experts present at the initial Round Table were Mila Gasco-Hernandez, Alison Gillwald, Silvana Kostenbaum, Rachel Lawson, Yolanda Martinez, Araba Sey, Nora Hauptmann, Niharika Gujela, Caitlin Kraft-Buchman, Farina Owusu.

Contributors who enriched the whitepaper with their input throughout the proccess were Puja Raghavan and Aparajita Dubey.

About The GovStack Initiative

The GovStack Initiative was founded by Estonia, Germany, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL). It is a multi stakeholder initiative, focused on accelerating e-government transformation worldwide, and drawing on expertise from contributors across private sector, civil society, and governments. GovStack seeks to enable every citizen to exercise their right to government services by creating the global toolbox for e-government through sustainable, citizen-centric, and responsive digital government services.



●      From gender-responsive to gender-transformative public services

●      OECD:


●      GSMA | Gender Gap - Mobile for Development

●      Power on: How we can supercharge an equitable digital future | UN Women – Headquarters

●      Inclusive Ocean Data for Decision-Making Guidebook

●       Community Engagement Resource Center | Urban Institute

●       Gender Innovation Guide Action Coalition Tech & Innovation for Gender Equality x IDEO

●      User-Centered Policy: Organization Assessment  Beeck Center Georgetown University

●      Bureaucratic Decision-Making: Impediments to Citizen Participation | Polity: Vol 12, No 4

●      The Four Fundamental Principles ofHuman-Centered Design and Application – Don Norman's

●       Defining Agile Government - National Academy of Public Administration

●      Design From the Margins | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

●       Gender-disaggregated data - Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

●       Data Feminism D'Ignazio & Klein MIT Press 2020

●       What is open data Europa EU

●      Rethinking gender-responsive procurement: Enabling an ecosystem for women’s economic empowerment | Digital library: Publications

●      UN Women Power of Procurement

●       UN Global Marketplace Gender Responsive Procurement

●       The Scottish Approach to Service Design (SAtSD) -

●      Addressing Population Ageing in Asia and the Pacific Region: A Life-Cycle Approach UNFPA

●      Amplio | Talking Books

●      The Gendered Challenges of E-Governance in Kenya |

●      Community Toolbox: Chapter 40. Maintaining Quality Performance | Section 4. Establishing Oversight Mechanisms.

●      Explainable machine learning for public policy: Use cases, gaps, and research directions

●      Inclusive Ocean Data for Decision-Making Guidebook

●      Community Engagement Resource Center:

●      Rethinking Gender Responsive Procurement:

●      The Promise of Co-Design for Public Policy:

●      Bureaucratic Decision Making: Impediments to Citizen Participation:

●      The Power of Procurement: How to source from women-owned businesses:

●      Addressing Population Ageing in Asia and the Pacific Region: A Life Cycle Approach:

●      UN Women: Gender Responsive Procurement:

●      Levers of Change:,change%20beyond%20its%20immediate%20focus.

●      What is Open Data?:

●      Community Networks in Braul:

●      Advancing Learning and Innovation on Gender Norms (ALIGN):

●      Design from The Margins:

●      Digital Divide persists:

●      GSMA Connected Women Commitment Initiative 2020-2023