Empowering Communities Through Gender-Inclusive Policies

In the dynamic realm of digital connectivity, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is making significant strides through its Better Access and Connectivity (BEACON) Activity to fuel economic growth in the Philippines. We sat down with Gichelle Cruz, USAID BEACON Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Specialist, to delve into the intricacies of their initiatives, the importance of gender-inclusive policies, and the lessons learned along the way.

TFGI: Could you share your role at USAID BEACON and provide a brief overview of the project’s focus on enhancing the Philippines’ digital ecosystem?

As the USAID’s BEACON Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GSI) Specialist, my work revolves around collaborating with key public and private partners to integrate gender-responsive practices in various aspects of digital infrastructure, policy development, and cybersecurity. BEACON aims to promote economic growth in the Philippines by improving secure and transparent access to information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure. Through a multi-stakeholder approach, the project addresses institutional capacity, policy enhancements, and infrastructure improvements. Our focus includes integrating gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) activities to accelerate internet connectivity for underserved communities.

TFGI: Why is it crucial to review policies with a gender lens, especially in the context of ICT, and how does BEACON approach this?

In the absence of policy, practices persist. Policy, when present, can institutionalise good practices, while the lack of policies allows ill/bad practices to endure over time and across cultures. The assumption that gender neutrality, especially in ICT, is inclusive is flawed. This is why sex-disaggegated and gender data plays a crucial role in identifying gender-specific barriers or opportunities for improving ICT accessibility. This identifies local and regional concentration in ICT project deployments and sectoral area needs.

As a USAID Project, we acknowledged that spaces are gendered, and practices can be exclusionary. Collaborating with our local partners, we ensure a gender-transformative viewpoint, recognising how open social processes are influenced by structural inequities and imbalances of power, leading to exclusion of particular groups from digital technologies. Through undergoing key processes of participatory consultation, situation analysis and third party review, barriers are unpacked and broken down to bring out the issues and encourage dialogue.  Keeping this in mind, we capacitate our key implementing partners on tools, policies and processes to incorporate Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) perspectives in ICT-related ordinances, serving as a vital entry point for gender mainstreaming. Gender-responsive ICT policies will tangibly impact the lives of diverse citizens, ensuring inclusive and equitable access, particularly for last-mile vulnerable communities in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA).

TFGI: Can you provide an example of BEACON’s Gender and Development (GAD) initiatives, and how have these initiatives impacted gender-related policies and plans?

At the core of our project, contributing to enhanced connectivity in the country is our GESI integration work. In the Philippines, we are fortunate to have an enabling policy that allocates a minimum of 5% of the government’s total annual budgets for gender programs, projects, and activities. Over the years, USAID BEACON’s work consistently yields outcomes through continuous programmatic technical assistance with our key implementing partner, the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT), and demand-driven technical assistance to support community network initiatives. Through our collaboration with DICT and other partners, we create spaces to amplify the voices of marginalised groups and support initiatives aiming for equal and inclusive representation in platforms such as ICT development councils, conferences, and roundtable discussions.

Regarding gender-related policies and plans, BEACON facilitated participatory writeshop and hybrid learning sessions for the revision  of the 2022 Butuan City GAD Code gender-responsive policies in collaboration with the Committee on Women under the office of Coun. Cherry May G. Busa, Chair of Women and ICT Committees who is the principal author and sponsor of the bill. The workshop involved diverse participants, ensuring multi-sectoral representation. The output harmonised the previous  Butuan City GAD Code into a Smart Eco GAD Code based on recommendations from USAID BEACON’s review, focusing on gender responsive, inclusive, digital resilience and safe (GRID RS) strategies. Through the workshop, participants analysed GESI considerations, emphasising the importance of gender-responsive data collection. This approach ensures social impact and prevents the negative consequences of programs, fostering public accountability.

Gender Initiatives by BEACON

Participants during BEACON’s participatory workshop

TFGI: How do the developed guidelines / code specifically address gender-specific challenges or concerns?

The Smart Eco GAD Code aligns with Butuan City’s development imperatives, addressing key barriers affecting women’s mobile internet access. Recommendations include articulating ICT rights as women’s rights, encouraging women-led community networks, tracking responses to unpaid care work, replicating successful initiatives, and incentivising gender and ICT initiatives. Coun. Cherry May G. Busa indicated that the City Government will craft annual gender and development plans aligned with the Smart Eco GAD Code.

TFGI: Is there a plan for adapting the guidelines to evolving technologies and in the digital space?

The Smart Eco GAD Code, approved on October 17, 2023, marked a milestone for Butuan City. It was launched with strong support, and Coun. Cherry May G. Busa emphasised its positive impact on overall policy development. The City Government plans to craft annual gender and development plans aligned with the Smart Eco GAD Code, ensuring continuous adaptation to evolving technologies. The guidelines prioritise inclusivity, cybersecurity, and equitable digital opportunities, reinforcing the commitment to gender-responsive digital governance.

TFGI: What valuable lessons has BEACON learned throughout this process that could benefit similar initiatives?

BEACON’s experience highlights the critical role of internet connectivity in enhancing Filipinos’ quality of life, particularly in last-mile vulnerable communities. The pandemic has accentuated gender gaps in digital inclusion, emphasising the need for measures addressing affordability, knowledge, safety, and access to networks. Key recommendations include revisiting existing legislation, accelerating the National Broadband Plan, promoting open access for last mile connectivity, equitable spectrum management policy and utilising technology for diverse economic opportunities. Collective action is essential, focusing on gender-responsive legislation, availability of gender-disaggregated data, and collaboration among stakeholders for comprehensive digital inclusion.

TFGI: Are there any ongoing or upcoming projects or initiatives related to gender empowerment that BEACON is planning to undertake?

BEACON recently explored collaboration with the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) to enhance connectivity and provide barrier-free access for persons with disabilities. Recognising the challenges faced by this sector, BEACON aims to foster a non-discriminatory climate and promote intentional ICT programs and support services. Key areas of collaboration include immediate digital services for the disability sector and establishing accessibility standards in government programs, ensuring gender-responsive, equitable, inclusive, safe, and accessible digital transformation benefits for persons with disabilities.


The views and recommendations expressed in this article are solely of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views and position of the Tech for Good Institute  and USAID BEACON.

Download Report

Download Report

Latest Updates

Latest Updates​


Keep pace with the digital pulse of Southeast Asia!

Never miss an update or event!

Mouna Aouri

Programme Fellow

Mouna Aouri is an Institute Fellow at the Tech For Good Institute. As a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and engineer, her experience spans over two decades in the MENA region, South East Asia, and Japan. She is founder of Woomentum, a Singapore-based platform dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in APAC through skill development and access to growth capital through strategic collaborations with corporate entities, investors and government partners.

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute, a non-profit founded to catalyse research and collaboration on social, economic and policy trends accelerated by the digital economy in Southeast Asia. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore and Advisor to the Founder of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 15 countries worldwide.  Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.


Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management. Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group and the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, a grantmaker focused on gender equity that has served over 47 million women and girls since 2003.


As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to several companies within the COMO Group. Ming also serves as a Council Member of the Council for Board Diversity, on the boards of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), and on the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.


In the non-profit, educational and government spheres, Ming is a director of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) and chairs the Asia Advisory board for Swiss hospitality business and management school EHL. She also serves on  the Council for Board Diversity and the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.


Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.