IGNITE: Technology Is a Women’s Rights Issue

I come from a country whose time is now when it comes to mobile technology. For urban, rural, poor and rich — the story is all the same. With a mobile phone, I can pay school fees for my siblings, order a live goat to be delivered for my niece’s wedding feast, and pay my hairdresser in Kenyatta market — a crowded slum area with the best hair braiders in the world. This is not new. Two decades ago, I saw firsthand how my mother’s life was transformed by having a cell phone and access to mobile technology. Her “Nokio” was her connection to her family, doctor, and pastor — and she could not imagine a life without it. This story is the same for many women and girls around the world: a cell phone is more than just a cell phone — it’s a critical tool of empowerment, information, and education.

From the Internet to mobile phones, technology enables us to connect with each other and the world around us in new and innovative ways. Yet there is a serious gender gap when it comes to technological access, literacy, and influence.

At the end of 2013, an estimated 200 million fewer women than men had access to the Internet. If nothing is done to address this gap, it is projected to grow to 350 million within three years. Mobile phones are more and more essential to daily life (indeed, more people around the world own mobile phones than toothbrushes), but women are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. Beside the lack of access to technology, we also know that too few women are leaders, innovators, and decision makers in today’s digital world.

A global technology revolution is taking place, and if women and girls aren’t part of it, the future for women’s human rights is bleak.

Global Fund for Women’s new online campaign and multimedia project IGNITE: Women Fueling Science and Technology is a global platform to demand change. IGNITE gives voice to girls and women who are demanding a place at the table and demonstrates how addressing the global gender gap in science and technology will unlock creativity, propel innovation, and create equality.

IGNITE highlights pioneering women-led organizations working to propel women’s rights in their communities through technology like the Inwelle Study and Resource Center in Enugu, Nigeria, which enables girls to learn computer and information and communication technology (ICT) skills that give them a chance to get higher paying jobs and avoid early and often violent marriages, and Voices of Women Media (VOW Media), which provides women from marginalized communities with innovative media tools, such as video, radio, and photography.

IGNITE shares the stories of women and girls who are leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and ICT, like Juliana Rotich, the founder of Kenya-based Ushahidi, whose groundbreaking open-source crowd mapping software is used to report rights abuses including violence against women, and Maria Solé Bravo and Anna Carreras in Spain who used their backgrounds in design, engineering, and architecture to create their Kit de Libertad de Expresión (Freedom of Expression Toolkit) which creates digital banners that allow people to add their voices to demonstrations from anywhere in the world.

At Global Fund for Women we are passionate about technology because the organizations we work with tell us that access to technology — for themselves and for the women and girls in their communities — is critical to advancing women’s human rights.

Join me and Global Fund for Women as we call for equal access to and control of technology for women and girls around the world. Take action and call on the world to recognize that technology – using it, shaping it, and leading it – is a fundamental issue of women’s human rights.

By removing barriers to women and girls’ access to technology, we will drive new opportunities for connection, education, engagement, and imagination. The value of these opportunities to women and girls is unquantifiable. For women like my mother in thousands of places in the world, access to a cell phone can be transformative for their everyday lives. For many of the women and girls sharing their stories in IGNITE, access to technology helped them become leaders and change makers. We have no way of knowing what new ideas, inventions, and solutions women and girls’ equal access to technology will unleash. But can you imagine? Join me. Let’s imagine together!

This blog post is the first in a series focused on elevating the stories and issues highlighted in IGNITE: Women Fueling Science and Technology, a global campaign and media project from Global Fund for Women that explores the roles of science and technology in advancing gender equality. IGNITE features stories of women and girls who are leading and innovating in science and technology, highlights the gender gap in technology, and advocates for women and girls’ increased access to and control of technologies. Global Fund for Women is a grantmaker and global advocate for women’s human rights.

Follow Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro on Twitter: accessed on 20/11/2014


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