When cruising my usual tech news outlets, I came across what I thought was going to be an article packed full of innovations that help women, wherever they are, change their lives for the better, spurring real progress on the gender equality front. Alluringly titled 10 simple gadgets that empower women around the world, I clicked the link hoping for the best but unfortunately got a list straight out of the 1950s.
The items deemed top 10 “must haves” included an oven, a washing machine, water filters and breast milk warmers. To be sure, the issues these gadgets help address are completely worthwhile: creating safer cooking methods, decreasing the number of hours spent washing clothes by hand, helping to provide clean water and properly warmed nutrition for infants, respectively. However, these tech tools only empower women superficially – the chores they are expected to do on a nearly daily basis remain their responsibility.
This top 10 list is a string of band-aid solutions that will help women have more time to do more gender roles-based work, adding only a marginal life improvement. Furthermore, this “improvement” may still be out of the reach of the women intended to benefit due to the relative high costs of the tech offerings, even if they are thousands of dollars cheaper than what can be had for an equivalent gadget in the West. Real empowerment would be the creation of gadgets that not only help women “lighten their load” but also challenge the structures that force women to carry that load to begin with.
To that end, I think that we should all help the author of the article, Lyndsey Gilpin, by tweeting her with suggestions of tech that helps empowers women on a level deeper than innovative chore execution. One of the gadgets that would make my top 10 list is the mobile phone camera.
The heART of A Woman Project is a creative and meaningful tech-based approach to women’s empowerment that goes beyond solidifying women’s traditional forms of participation in society. Their mission is to “…provide education to women impacted by poverty, in photography, mobile technology, social media and computer skills. It aims to empower women to have a voice, creative outlet and sustainable income through the sales of photographic art products.”
What I love about this particular appropriation of a tech gadget is that because the price of mobile phones with good quality cameras continues to fall below $100, the use of mobile phones for photography can be accessible for more women, even those at the base of the pyramid.
Also, teaching women how to take photos,
promote and sell their artwork can provide real opportunities to empower women to become financially independent in addition to helping to build their self-confidence and self-esteem.
What other truly empowering tech gadgets for women can you think of? Leave a comment with your suggestions!
I appreciate your opinions on the article, and thanks for taking the time to read it. As a woman who is very passionate about women’s rights, I of course did not intend to say that women need those things to succeed.
Technology is in many ways transforming gender roles and making it so that women around the world can spend more time working and less time in their traditional roles at home, which I believe is a wonderful thing.
In my article, I was simply highlighting some useful, cheap, simple gadgets that would allow women to spend less time doing chores (for instance, washing clothes or fetching water) and more time on whatever else they want (i.e. to start a business, take up hobbies, maintain a business, etc). The things I chose I think showed that simple technology can make women safer and more informed — because unfortunately, they are the ones washing and walking to get things and cleaning and cooking most often — and effect positive change for them and their communities. I do not by any means believe these are complete solutions or even the right ones for every community. But it is a small change that could make an impact for some people.
My job, and my passion, is to highlight tech that’s doing good for the world in ways that are unexpected and perhaps usually go unnoticed.
Also my name is spelled “Lyndsey.”
Thanks again for reading, and if you have any ideas for future tech innovations that are empowering women, I would love to hear them. This isn’t a one-off article — I write about women in technology as often as I can, and am extremely passionate about the topic.
My deepest apologies for misspelling your name. I should know better considering I always get “Rhonda” instead of Ronda so am constantly correcting others! =) I will change it on my blog post shortly.
I understood what you were trying to do but I think the point of disagreement was around the use of the word ’empower’. I don’t dispute that these gadgets do amazing things. However, empowering women is a tenuous description for what they do. I think saying that they make their chores easier is about as far as I will go.
Having worked in many countries in Africa, simply having this short of gadget would not really empower women in the true sense of the word. There has lately been an endless parade of articles using that word when something else is really meant and I have not often spoken up about it but felt the need to here; completely nothing personal.
As you see from my own post, I did put a suggestion there. I am also reaching out to others to ask for their suggestions. As I get things in or find stuff on my own, I will be happy to share with you. I think it is important to highlight topics like these since it is not often done. It’s just that when speaking of women in so-called developing country contexts, I am cognizant that painting empowerment picture has to have many more layers than what we often have time to put into a brief article.
I will look forward to sharing more, hopefully very soon. Thanks so much for reaching out!
Ronda I very much appreciate your argument that tech gadgets like the washing machine may only enable women to more efficiently fulfil their proscribes gendered roles. More transformational uses of ICT might include the use of phone cameras, blogs and social media to expose and challenge the gendered division of labour and control over mass media, politics, employment, religion, military, …
Hi Tony, thanks for your comment. Participatory video would certainly fit in quite nicely, wouldn’t it? It would be a cool idea for the heART of A Woman Project to incorporate to take their own transformational instruction and use of mobile phones with cameras further.
When I’ve spoken to working women in Afghanistan over many years household chores are a constant that keep them held back. Unfortunately equitable distribution of household chores is a long way off. Large families and manual methods are a real problem.
Right or wrong, being able to do the laundry etc. faster might be what makes the difference between having a choice to study, do training, etc. or not. I don’t know if that counts as empowerment, but it would be a potentially very large step in the right direction.
Hi Mike, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I actually considered what you said before writing my blog post; the idea that helping women save time so they might do other things can be empowering. This could definitely be true if the women are actually enabled to pursue these things that they wish, but this may not be possible even with increased chore efficiency.
This does remind me of a gender analysis found in Dorothea Kleine’s book Technologies of Choice? (http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/technologies-choice-0/?) where women who tried attending training at a telecentre still had enormous household chore responsibilities to complete. One has to wonder if, with the number of chores that some women have, if these chores are made more efficient, will they ever have sufficient “quality time” to pursue empowering activities of their own? It’s one thing to have the extra time but is this enough time to help the women meet aims they have for themselves? Acquiring new skills requires focus and dedication over time, and usually for extended periods. The sporadic freedom that more efficiently completed chores provide may not be enough quality time for women to empower themselves even if they wanted to.