Biometrics and biotechnology are very well researched fields, but their appeal and vast potential for development purposes is still in embryonic and probationary stages.
Biometrics refers to identifying individuals based on distinguishing physical or behavioral characteristics. This includes fingerprints, irises, face and hand geometry, gait, voice, signatures, DNA, and other traits.
There are many yet unexplored benefits that will apply specifically for the developing world. The conventional uses of biometric technology in the West are largely in two fields - law enforcement and access control. However there are many uses for identification and authentication and verification of a person’s identity.
In the context of elections biometrics can prevent people from registering to vote multiple times. In rich countries, almost everyone has a reliable form of official identification, and biometric technology has traditionally been employed mainly for security and forensics. Conversely, many developing countries suffer from an identity gap. Millions of people lack the official forms of identification—birth certificates, national ID cards, voter cards, etc.—that would allow them to access basic rights and services. Closing this gap has been increasingly recognised as both an instrument and a goal of development. In the way that mobile phones have allowed poorer countries to access many new services, biometrics has the potential to bypass the paper-based systems. Biometric identification will provide secure and inclusive identification to residents.
Are unique to every individual
Cannot be misplaced or forgotten, and are very difficult to fake or steal
Do not require literacy
Increase anonymity when used in place of personal details (names, addresses, etc.)
Source: Biometrics Institute 1
A growing number of developing countries are using biometric technologies to create national identification programmes, but many programmes are serving more specific needs including cash transfers, voter registration, and disaster relief. Senior researchers from a number of respected and leading institutions and enterprises, such as Professor Alan Gelb - Senior Fellow and Director of Studies in the Centre for Global Development, have argued the case for the huge potential for new technologies and have showcased evidence for this. (Centre for Global Development) 2
Biometric technologies can ensure universal access to an official identity and, especially in cash transfer programmes. biometrics can provide huge cost savings. The development community is only now beginning to understand the potential of this technology.
The intersection of identification and gender equality
Identification is important for empowering women and girls. Identification and gender equality is a two-way street. Looked more closely identification exhibits many aspects relating to discrimination and obstacles to achieving a more equitable system. Addressing underlying gender discrimination is essential for making it easy to obtain a legal identification women and girls and the benefits that come along with it. The World Bank and its experts have developed a whole programme, focused specifically on the importance of identification for empowering women and girls, called World Bank ID. Currently women without IDs can not open a bank account, access credit, vote, claim entitlements, or inherit property. Without ID, women cannot take advantage of economic opportunities and exercise their rights as citizens.
Researchers and experts are calling it – the data gender revolution 3. A recent report by Data 24 demonstrated, having proper identification (birth, death, marriage and divorce registration, as well as a national ID card) is also a fundamental part of making sure that women and girls are counted in data collection efforts and that resulting policies take them into account (Report ' Mapping Gender Data Gaps'). Incorporating a gender lens is critical to meeting the World Bank birth registration target by 2030. Countries in Asia and the Pacific with low birth registration rates (13 countries) witness little or no gender differentials in these rates. Possession of a birth certificate does not guarantee possession of an ID card. In Pakistan for example the study found no gender differences in birth registration but a significant differential in possession of ID cards in favour of males, aged 18 to 40. In terms of gender differences in education and marital status, females are 6 percent less likely to have an ID cards. In most African countries there are no significant gender differences in under-registration of births, but in a few, being a girl significantly lowered the chances of having a birth certificate. The culture is the biggest determinant of these differences with the most prevalent under-registration of girls occurring in polygamous households.
These data reveals that gender inequalities manifested in various ways – from child marriage and religious or the stigma of unmarried women in many countries s – play a role in determining who is likely to lack birth registration, with consequences for both girls and boys.
Understanding identification from a gender perspective will enable development agencies and institutions to identify and prioritise particularly vulnerable areas and populations - those least likely to have a proper ID, among them the children of women who have not been educated, have been married at young ages, live in polygamous households, or are single or unmarried mothers.
How do we target these populations?
Eliminate fees associated with obtaining ID, which are among the prime reasons for the lack of registration ( Jim Knowles).
Provide incentives. A significant gender gap in birth registration favouring boys is evident (Jim Knowles ).
Target women and use women’s organizations to spread the message of the importance of having ID cards. (This has been done in Indonesia.)
Take into account local customs and constraints restricting women’s mobility and social interactions with men, through establishing female-only enrolment units. (This has been done in Pakistan.)
Make use of mobile technology and/or mobile registration services. The distance to civil registry offices has also been cited as an impediment to obtaining ID.
Integrate registration into schools/maternal and child health (MCH) services.
Exploring the potential solutions, as well as the intersection with gender is the new frontier in global development efforts as well as reducing the gender gap that is incorporated with them.
2 Centre for Global Development (http://www.cgdev.org/page/biometrics-faqs)