International Women’s Day at London’s Women of the World festival was filled with talks about how the rise of gender equality is changing the world around us. Carry on reading to explore some of the ways women are using technology to accelerate that change…
Solar Mama’s in Malawi
A VSO project in rural Malawi is giving women, who previously had very little formal education, a chance to earn a living and lengthen their working days.
In a country where 90% of homes are not connected to the electric grid, the innovative Solar Mama rural electrification project is training rural women to build and install home lighting systems in their rural villages.
For Dines a single mother of two, who couldn’t afford to attend school, learning to build and wire electrical components has allowed her to double her monthly income. She not only provides lighting to her village but can now work after dark, boosting her doughnut-making business.
“I was excited to do the course because I had never seen women being solar engineers. I was excited to think that a woman like me could be an engineer,” said Dines, who is a single mother of two.
“I learned how to build solar lanterns, and how to fix them. I learned how to maintain the home solar systems. I am paying secondary school fees for my two older children. I hope they will be able to finish school. I have worked hard and I am very proud of myself. I know I can do more.”
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2018, only 22% of AI professionals globally are female. The wider tech industry isn’t much better, with Microsoft reporting just 28% of all its employees are women, a figure that drops significantly when it comes to actual technical roles, which tend to be among the best-paying jobs.
This limits women and tech companies. It is easy for us to forget that the code and software behind computer screens was written by real people. We have data and algorithms all around us, impacting all parts of modern life whether we realise it or not. Technology is shaping our future and we need a wider and more diverse group working to create it.
However, AI can also push for progress in gender equality. Discrepancies in pay and promotions cause the infamous gender pay gap. New technology, like the software used by Gapsquare, allows companies to analyse existing pay discrepancies based on gender and other protected characteristics. Using data about employees alongside payroll information, companies can account for differences and identify the reasons why the pay gaps exist, allowing for a data-driven change in the future.
Using social media for consciousness raising
The internet and social media have changed how we live our lives over the past 20 years. From community building, awareness-raising, activism and mentorship opportunities - the internet has created a space that has allowed women to band together and get their voices heard.
Social media, in particular, has long had a role in propelling women’s rights to the forefront of the political agenda. Remember the #BringBackOurGirls campaign launched in 2014 after the abduction of more than 300 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria? The hashtag has been a part of over 4.5 million tweets globally, keeping the news story relevant and demanding action from governments.
In 2019, we have also seen the strength of movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp to call out and expose gender violence and inequality like never before. Social media has become an important platform for women, where traditionally, their voices have been marginalised in the media - for example, 60% of online news is written by men.