Wow, so in a post I wrote last month, I asked what possible synergies exist between mobile money services and the increasing attention being paid to women’s ability to use mobile phones for their betterment:

“Right now, I am thinking of the ability to use a mobile money service to support women and men who experience domestic violence and must leave their homes in a rush with little or nothing in order to escape their abusers. Often, these people have limited finances because of the control exerted by their partners. If domestic violence support organizations could help them access funding support quickly, it could mean help for men and women would be within reach much faster. Efforts could even be led by domestic violence survivors as a sort of crowdfunding response.”

It appears that someone heard my ruminations [or more likely had the idea long before I did 🙂 ] and now we have Safe Night!

Safe Night

 

Safe Night is an app in the US that uses a crowdfunding mechanism to help place victims of domestic violence in hotel rooms when other free shelters are unavailable. The app helps to meet a real need, according to this blog post on LinkedIn: “Last year there were 6,818 requests for shelter from domestic violence victims that went unmet by domestic violence service organizations on a single day in 2012.”

This is a fantastic example of what can be done when people really concentrate on using mobile technology in sensible, sustainable ways to support people, and especially women.

What other innovations do you know exist?

In July 2013, The Economist spotlighted the seemingly “surprising” statistic that approximately 35% of tech entrepreneurs in Western Asia are women, which supposedly outstrips that of entrepreneurs who are women in places like North America and Europe. Many on the Internet have said their surprise stems from the [mis]conception that women in Western countries are “less oppressed” than their Western Asian counterparts, and so they should perform better in this area. 

But I think people really shouldn’t be surprised. As the old adage goes, “adversity breeds success.” A number of women in Western Asia think that they may be even better prepared for the rough and tumble tech entrepreneurship world not only because of high rates of tertiary education completion in the region, but also because they are skilled at forging partnerships and compromises with the managerial skills developed in the country contexts they live in.

Source: changemakers.org

Source: changemakers.org

Here’s five reasons why I think we need to jettison the surprise and start to celebrate the success of Western Asian women in tech entrepreneurship:

1. Success anywhere for women in tech is success for us all.

2. Especially in the wealthier countries of Western Asia, imagine the potential if ventures [co-]generated by women were able to gain access to funding that made their ideas a reality! What innovations might await us?

3. For women in more conservative areas of Western Asia, the ability to gain virtual mobility through remote working is a nascent, and possibly transformative, avenue for them to make further contributions to their societies.

4. Frankly, hearing something like this from a region that is somewhat under-discussed in ICT4D is like a breath of fresh air. Is Latin America next on the move?

5. The inspiration to young girls in Western Asia that undoubtedly comes from seeing their female compatriots succeed in an area that they may not have previously believed was open to them.

For February I am sharing a guest post on the blog written by Sarah Johns, an academic colleague I know from Royal Holloway, University of London. Sarah works for Plan International and is presently completing the MSc in Practising Sustainable Development with ICT4D specialism, the course I completed prior to beginning my PhD work. It was at Royal Holloway that Sarah and I had an engaging conversation about gender and mobile learning, and our conversation inspired Sarah’s post. With her permission, I am reposting the text of the blog here.

Girl geeks and boys’ toys: The digital gender divide

Sarah Johns

By Sarah Johns, Plan International Publishing Coordinator
(originally posted on 30 January 2013 on the Plan International website)

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Plan’s Chief Executive Officer, Nigel Chapman, chaired a discussion on the ‘digital gender divide’. If you’re not sure what the digital gender divide is, imagine a world where your office IT guy is an IT girl, or where the first person to offer you help with your Powerpoint presentation is a woman. How likely is this in your office, your city, your country?

It’s a worldwide problem. For example in the UK, the information, communication and technology (ICT) sector accounts for a whopping 9% of the country’s economy – ÂŁ81 billion – but just 17% of the people benefiting from employment in this sector are women. Ironically, 17% also happens to be the percentage of women participants at the WEF this year.

Economic opportunities
In low and middle income countries, the ICT sector is widely seen as a catalyst for creating economic opportunities for individuals, communities and states.

Ten years ago the debate was all about the digital divide – a canyon between rich and poor, urban and rural. Recently though, countries like India, Vietnam and Indonesia have seen economic growth partly because their governments have encouraged investment in digital communications and technology, and other countries, such as Kenya, Liberia and Ghana, are watching closely.

Barriers for women

There’s no doubt that there has been a growth in jobs and business opportunities in the ICT sector for those able to benefit from the opportunities, but it’s the same old story for girls and women.

Technology is seen as a man’s domain. Shiny new toys and gadgets are aimed at guys. The majority of people working in the technology industry are men. Even the language is gendered: geek, boys’ toys, scientist and engineer. Whether it’s learning ICT skills, or using computers, girls and women face all the usual cultural, social and economic barriers that come with being female. This is the digital gender divide.

“Girls are burdened with chores which do not provide them with adequate time to learn, access the computer and have time for leisure and play which are all very important for her development” – Abigail, 16 years, Ghana

Chance for change
There are two shining lights on this particular horizon though. The first is the mobile (cell) phone. The ability to have relatively cheap, personal, portable access to digital information and communication is not as revolutionary as some say, but it’s a technological evolution that has great potential to benefit girls and women.

If computers are male, telephones are female, traditionally used for family gossip and chatting with friends or listening to the radio. Women, on the whole, are already in control of this technology, which makes it a hugely powerful tool for change.

In many countries, girls are already using and innovating with mobile phones. In Kenya, the cost of owning a mobile phone dropped by two-thirds in just 3 years (US$10 in 2009 to US$3 in 2011) and this trend is continuing.

Schoolgirls in Nairobi use mobiles to catch up on classes and collaborate on homework. Groups like AkiraChix in Kenya, Women in Technology Uganda and Asikana in Zambia are teaching girls how to create mobile phone applications, particularly using the Android platform where development costs are low.

Women such as Juliana Rotich from Ushadidi and Sheryl Sanderberg from Facebook are also providing crucial role models for girls wanting a science or technology career path. And the future looks good: Asikana has mapped over 20 women’s technology organisations in Africa already, and more are in the pipeline.

What is Plan doing?

The second light on the horizon is us: Plan. We’ve got years of experience of working with girls and women in communities, and we’re increasing our expertise and our voice in this area through initiatives such as Because I am a Girl.

We’ve also got a growing amount of programmes that are integrating technology within more traditional programmes in education, health and disaster response.

I’ll leave the last word with Asri, from Indonesia, who took part in the Because I am a Girl Fast Talk Initiative on ICT and girls in 2011:

“I want to change the paradigm which says that girls aren’t used to technology like computer engineering…Girls with tools are okay and technology isn’t built for boys only. I want the girls to know that they are able to be computer engineers too.”