Mobile technology: An enabler of women empowerment

How is it that, in a world where there are more mobile devices than people, women are still being excluded from mobile ownership and use?

“Leveraging technology to empower women and girls” is the theme of Mobile Learning Week, which opened on 23 February at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. On the first day, a series of workshops showed that mobile technology is a key tool in improving women’s lives and status.

Beyond their use as a simple means of communication, mobile devices help provide a sense of physical security to women…

“Me and My Mobile” is a workshop that was solely devoted to discussions about secure mobile communications for women and girls and peer-to-peer sharing of mobile security practices. Mobile applications, designed to prevent violence against women and girls or increase mobile security, were reviewed by women and girls from different contexts, with feedback channeled directly to developers. The aim of this initiative was to increase knowledge and skills of mobile security, raise awareness among participants of the vulnerability of women and girls in the face of these technological advances, and suggest well-thought out solutions to protect them from the dangers that may arise, such as cyberbullying and online sexual violence via mobiles. Partners such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines and South Africa have expressed interest in testing the methodology in their communities.

…as well as health advice.

The “Oh My Body” workshop introduced the participants to a mobile application of the same name, created by Butterfly Works. “Oh My Body” runs on feature phones and Android devices. It provides young girls with accurate and youth-friendly information about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), without the need for intervention by adults or peers. It represents a quick and simplified access to important information for women and girls. “Oh My Body” contains short animated stories, FAQs, games, and myth busters as well as practical tips for young women to manage their sexual health. During the workshop, participants were introduced to a process of co-creation with girls and young women in order to develop context-specific information. They were guided through the use of the content creation and delivery software used for this application, and had the possibility to create their own mobile lesson on a particular SRHR topic.

Mobiles devices save lives

In this workshop, participants learned about Media Matters for Women’s (MMW) project to create an innovative and low-cost communication system through which women and girls can share information, learn from each other, entertain each other, hear crucial messages, and join in a movement that begins in their village and extends across their country. The power of the MMW approach is its potential to go beyond networking to effecting social change. The use of Bluetooth to deliver news during the Ebola crisis is one example. The organization was able to reach women and girls in the most remote areas of Sierra Leone with relevant news and information about the Ebola crisis in their language, on a weekly basis and through audio files.

The workshop demonstrated that we could connect and start dialogues between people living in remote areas and facing the dangers of a current crisis, including illiterate communities. This deeper penetration of connectivity is made possible by solar rechargers, wireless bandwidth and female journalists. MMW connects rural women and girls with information that empowers and enables them to access and fully enjoy their rights.

Prepare women & girls for the STEM jobs of tomorrow

Fengyun Cheng and Chris Meehan, respectively provost and mobile learning coordinator at the Beijing Royal School, conducted an interactive workshop that details and explains how to encourage female students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers through a wide-ranging STEM initiative. This included innovative mobile learning projects, science fairs, mentoring opportunities, student clubs, field trips and a STEM research writing competition. With a particular emphasis on using mobile learning to empower young women to choose traditionally male-dominated careers in STEM, this workshop provided participants with concrete plans. They learned about creating and facilitating in-class STEM projects that encourage women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Covering many areas of activity, these workshops all point in the same direction: mobile power for girl power.