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Technology can empower women

Sri Ranjini Mei Hua says many have made good use of technology to benefit the community

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 3:30am

While technology has traditionally been a male preserve, women today are relating to it in ways that have a real impact on politics, business, culture and community. In particular, they are using mobile phones and the internet to make connections and communicate more.

However, in the developing world, women do not enjoy equal access to technology. For example, while research in Southeast Asia has found that Filipino women trump men in mobile internet use, men continue to use technology far more in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

And although mobile and computer networks have become more widespread in developing countries, access is still lacking in rural areas. Finally, gender hierarchical relations continue to operate insidiously in the home, school, workplace and community, making it difficult for women to use technology to network and organise. Many girls and women are unable to access public internet centres because of family obligations, poor transport, low technological literacy and the low perceived value of technology. However, where women have gained access, they have benefited substantively.

In Bangladesh, for example, women now own 97 per cent of the shares of Grameen Bank, the microfinance organisation that extends small loans to over eight million borrowers, creating income-generating opportunities for the impoverished.

Development aid workers also argue that the best way to eliminate poverty is to empower women and girls. Similarly, in the Philippines and Indonesia, two rapidly growing technology markets in Asia, research has found that women are increasingly using social media technology to expand their opportunities in business and politics.

In the social sphere, modern technology has revolutionised migrants' long-distance relationships. For instance, low-skilled female migrant workers in Singapore have been able to use technology (particularly mobile phones) to keep in touch more regularly with their families back home - something that would not have been possible in the past due to the high cost of international calls.

With the rise of smartphones and social media, the opportunities for connecting and communicating will be limitless, creating spaces for women to operate as agents of change.

Only when women claim their right to the use of technology will we begin to see the effects in the social, political, economic and health domains - a right that may be helped by policies that encourage and support them.

Sri Ranjini Mei Hua is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a former researcher with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies