Friday, March 4, 2011

Can technology change the status of women in the world?

Can technology change the status of women in the world?

That was the underlying question of the workshop I participated in at the United Nations during the week long Commision on the Status of Women conference.
All this new technology is great, one participant from Zimbabwe said, but how does it help an impoverished woman from the countryside? An impressively eloquent and passionate high school aged girl in the audience spoke about how the Internet is used for trafficking girls all over the world.

My response was that new media is a tool, and that like any tool, can be used for good and bad. I used the example of how video games; which have a reputation for being violent and mindless; can, like BREAKAWAY, be a vehicle for spreading positive and meaningful messages. I also replied that although the Internet may not be able to directly change the life of an illiterate woman in the countryside, others can use the powers of this highly connective medium to create awareness, raise money and facilitate change.

Nonetheless, the fact that these issues are so real and so easily overlooked really hit me. The digital divide grows by the day. Knowing this, how can we sit back and ride the tide of new technology further and further away from shore?

What good is giving a laptop to a boy who cannot read? How can organizations use open source tools if they don't know about them? These are some of the other questions that lingered for me.

The solution seems somewhat obvious -- tools are only what we make them out to be. Without the knowledge of how to use them, they provide no value. You can not just drop a pile of laptops in a village and leave. Putting literacy software on their computers is one solution, having educators facilitate the process is ideal. For just this reason, thanks to a new round of funding from the UNFPA, we will be developing a facilitators guide to travel along with BREAKAWAY.

What are your thoughts and ideas about this? Do you feel any obligation to help bridge the digital divide? How can we best use the tools at our disposal to help others?

Many thanks to Jimmie Briggs from Man Up and UN Women for putting this together!

Watch the video!

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