Women around the world experience poverty at higher rates than men because of certain customs and cultural norms. In many developing countries, women are confined to traditional roles and have limited access to capital, training and technology that could enrich their lives. Such inequality has broad consequences that affect not just women, but the entire community in impoverished regions. Empowering women and ensuring their health and safety correlates directly with ensuring food security for the whole community. The health and financial stability of mothers, in particular, has a huge influence on the welfare and nutrition of children.
The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has studied the ways in which the improved economic status of women positively affects children, families and societies.
Places where women have more social mobility and control over their finances also have lower child mortality rates, more transparent businesses and faster economic growth. In addition, children’s educational opportunities and job prospects are largely contingent upon their mothers’ incomes and financial stability.
The Role of Technology in Empowering Women
Access to technology also plays a large part in cementing gender inequality, especially in developing countries. For example, even though women constitute the majority of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, it is common for tools to be designed for men’s use, which makes them more difficult for women to use and also limits women’s productivity.
Women in these countries also have less access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as radio and mobile phones, that could facilitate better education and strengthen economic participation. When it comes to energy services in the home, many women struggle to find products that are clean, efficient, safe and affordable.
However, global efforts are being made to empower women and facilitate income-generating activities. In Kenya, the production of fuel-efficient cookstoves has created jobs for women and saved them money on energy. In China, India, Malaysia and Thailand, motorized scooters have increased safety for urban women and expanded employment and educational opportunities. Cisco Systems and UNIFEM have promoted ICT educational academies in the Middle East to give women more power and opportunities in the labor market.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) supports the efforts of nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and developed countries’ governments to empower women through technology. But they stress that women in developed countries must be included in such efforts. Specifically, they should be assisted to act collectively and be allowed to participate in the design process of new technologies.
This message has been heard by Congress. In November 2015, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on increasing opportunity for women through technology as a way of driving international development.
At the hearing, Sonia Jorge, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, advocated for policy reforms and investments that would expand women’s access to the Internet and other ICTs. Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, stated that such expansions ought to be crucial to U.S. foreign policy, since they would help “boost economic growth, empower democratic governance and advance global development.”
– Joe D’Amore