Empowering the girl child through tech

Women hold key to an equitable society as their inclusion leads to sustainable development, writes Sabin Muzaffar.

Today an estimated 122 million youth are illiterate globally, out of which 60.7 percent are young women according to a UNESCO report. More than 1.3 billion people live in abject poverty and then there is also the current devastating refugee situation the world over from Syria to Burma, among the numerous issues afflicting mankind. All have inextricable links to poor health, malnutrition and of course different forms of violence.

In September 2000, one of the largest gatherings of world leaders met and adopted the groundbreaking UN Millennium Declaration with a commitment to forge international partnerships to reduce extreme poverty and other set of targets known as the Millennium goals, having a deadline of 2015.

The year 2012 saw the emergence of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), replacing the Millennium Goals once those expired in 2015. These were formally discussed at the United Nations Conference held in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20).

According to the SDG’s preamble: “The Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan. We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps, which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind.”

Women hold key to a just and equitable society not only because their inclusion leads to sustainable development, but also because by being primary caregivers they form the backbone of communities.

Sustainable development is only possible through the participation of each and every member of society – this includes not only adult men and women, but also children and particularly the girl child. Women hold key to a just and equitable society not only because their inclusion leads to sustainable development, but also because by being primary caregivers they form the backbone of communities.

Former Sustainable Development Advisor of the Organization for Economic Co- operation and Development (OECD) Candice Stevens writes in ‘Are women the key to sustainable development?’ an insightful paper published by the Boston University: “Gender inequalities are extracting high economic costs and leading to social inequities and environmental degradation around the world.”

In a joint program titled, ‘Empowering Adolescent Girls and Young Women through Education’ by UNESCO, UN Women, UNFPA and World Bank, it was stated: “Societies pay a high price when girls and women are deprived of their right to education: the persistence of chronic poverty, high child and maternal mortality, poor nutrition, early marriage, vulnerability to exploitation and lack of voice in public life. At the same time, we know that girls’ and women’s education yields quantum development gains for all, including improved family health and education, decent jobs, higher incomes and greater civic participation– in short a life of dignity and more inclusive societies.”

Empowerment on an individual level, national and global scales will only be a fleeting ‘impulse’ if stakeholders – policy makers, educators, technologists and most importantly parents – fail to become change-makers.

To reiterate, women are marginalized primarily due to poverty – which is also the root cause of illiteracy and poor health. In order to break this vicious circle, an enabling environment is critical to equip and arm women through training and education, subsequently enabling her to combat these systemic issues. Educating a girl means instigating a positive ripple effect from delay in marriage to childbearing, raised awareness about health issues and consequently increased earning power. This invariably leads to economic empowerment of the individual, family and therefore the society.

Aligning Technology with Education

In this day and age of technological boom, the digital landscape can play a pivotal role in improving the plight of women and disrupting the dismal status quo. Technology, particularly civic applications hold the power to liberate women – old and young.

Resident Director Aurat Foundation Pakistan, writer and activist, Mahnaz Rahman opines: “Since the last two decades while talking about globalization, there has been an ongoing discussion on empowering citizens through technology. I strongly believe that scientific and technological progress will resolve women issues. Presently, women are prisoners of their own wombs and biology rules a women’s destiny. Feminists have been struggling to change such notions. As they say birth control pills were a revolution for women, now DNA test helps girls/women get rapists behind bar. Technology helps us in every way.” Indeed be it addressing scenarios of conflict or resolving socio-economic issues.

In this day and age of technological boom, the digital landscape can play a pivotal role in improving the plight of women and disrupting the dismal status quo. Technology, particularly civic applications hold the power to liberate women – old and young.

Founder Pakistan Innovation Foundation, Athar Osama comments: “Technology and innovation can play an important role in supporting several Sustainable Development Goals relevant to girls and women, especially in a conservative society like ours. Girls are more likely to attend or continue attending school if the school was within their own village than if it is in the next village or beyond. Lack of security and access to safe transport is key here. Not only could e-learning provide access to education in the safe environment of their village or even home, technology could also enhance safety while travelling. We have done several innovation challenges including the ilmApps Challenge and Women’s Transport Challenge to find creative ways to address these issues.”

According to Chilean President and former Executive Director, UN Women Michelle Bachelet: “Information and communication technologies (ICTs) represent a significant opportunity for advancing gender equality, women’s empowerment and equitable development. ICTs and access to the Internet provide basic infrastructure for the 21st century and a set of tools that, when appropriately used, can offer benefits for women in all spheres of life. Given the convergence with traditional media, they also offer a mechanism for combatting pervasive gender stereotypes that continue to hold back progress for gender equality everywhere.”

Harnessing the Power of Mobility

Mobile use has increased manifold over the past one decade all over the world. Populous continents such as Africa and Asia have the potential to reap the benefit of being connected and using smart technologies.

Sub-Saharan Africa has been the fastest growing region in terms of mobile penetration as far as unique subscribers and connections are concerned. According to a GSMA report on Mobile Economy Africa 2014, “by June 2014, there
were 329 million unique subscribers, equivalent to a penetration rate of 38%.”

Studies show mobile broadband subscriptions have increased making it the most dynamic ICT market as per an ITU report. And with companies like Mozilla announcing plans to bring low-cost smart phones to developing countries, it opens doors to a wealth of opportunities of empowerment and emancipation.

An important tool for communication, the power of mobility as well as smart phone technology can be harnessed to educate the masses in under-developed as well as developing countries. Although women are approximately 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man, this scenario is rapidly changing.

In an earlier discussion with Ananke, TechWoman Zimbabwe’s President Rumbidzai Mlambo had remarked: “Technology is critical to empowering society through women. Possessing a primary role as caregivers, women have firsthand knowledge of issues such as health and nutrition that her family suffers. So when you train a girl to code, she will invariably create a civic apps based on her own experiences and that of her community.”

An important tool for communication, the power of mobility as well as smart phone technology can be harnessed to educate the masses in under-developed as well as developing countries.

There is a dire need to re-align education, especially tech learning in order to make it more inclusive. The importance of an encouraging environment at home and school cannot be emphasized enough. Equally important is easy to access education and specifically the curricula being followed at schools. Introduce tech-based extracurricular activities and incentivize girls to join in – be it coursework credits, certificates and/or rewards. Tech companies as well as incubators can also play a leading role in developing a talent pool of future technologists by launching stimulating virtual/remote, at-school summer programs.

Alleviating deeply entrenched issues on a global scale requires going back to the basics. Engage the girl early on, share the tools of economic emancipation: education and technology; and witness the making of an equitable civic society!

Image Credits: Digital Photos

 

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