Women, Technology, and International Development

DipNote Blog - U.S. Department of State

A woman talks on her mobile phone at an election rally in Faizabad, India, Feb. 2, 2012.

A woman talks on her mobile phone at an election rally in Faizabad, India, Feb. 2, 2012.

Ann Mei Chang serves as the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

Over the past decade, the international development community has recognized that investing in women is the most direct and effective way to promote economic growth, peace, and prosperity. Around the world, and more recently in developing countries, we have seen the transformative impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs), particularly mobile phones and the Internet. The question remains, what might be possible when we put these two powerful forces together by investing in women and ICTs in low-to-medium income countries?

This week, the U.S. Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and UN Women are convening the first International Forum on Women, ICT, and Development (WICTAD) in Washington DC, where we are bringing together leaders across five continents to explore this fast emerging field. Putting women and technology together has the potential to be one of the highest-leverage opportunities to address the world’s development challenges. As ICTs become essential tools in both our personal and professional lives, enabling access to these technologies, delivering relevant applications and services, and ensuring inclusion in the lucrative tech sector will become increasingly critical factors in women’s ability to contribute fully to their individual, familial, and societal outcomes.

To further delineate both the challenges and opportunities, Intel released a groundbreaking new study, “Women and the Web” at the WICTAD Forum today. As the first comprehensive study on how women and girls use the Internet, it reports that the gender gap in women’s access to the Internet is even greater than that of mobile phones, with women being 23 percent less likely to use the Internet in low-to-medium income countries. That gap soars to 43 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, where men are almost twice as likely to have access to the Internet as women. This lack of access is giving rise to a second digital divide, one where women and girls risk being left further and further behind. The report issues a call to action to double the number of women online in the next three years, both by bridging the gender gap and broadening overall access in developing countries.

We are seeing a new movement building with innovative developments such as: GSMA’s mWomen Programme working with telecom providers to halve the mobile phone gender gap, Mobile MAMA delivering vital health information for new and expectant mothers, Safaricom’s M-PESA mobile money services in Kenya enabling women to take advantage of financial services for the first time, and Samasource and others providing stable, living wages to women through digital microwork. The most successful of these programs have brought together the knowledge, leadership, and resources of governments, public institutions, corporations, and civil society. We’re hoping that this first-ever Forum on women and ICT will catalyze even more partnerships and even more importantly, bring parties together to set shared, quantifiable goals and targets for the future.

In our modern, connected world, ICT has become increasingly the means with which people learn, become informed about the world around them, connect with friends and opportunities, and give themselves a voice. Along with access to markets, finance, and education, increasing access to ICT by removing gender-related barriers is necessary to fully realize the potential economic contribution of women, and by extension entire communities.

Cross posted from DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State.

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