I had the great opportunity to attend and participate in Mobile Learning Week 2015 (#MLW2015) hosted by UNESCO and UN Women. The annual event illuminates how mobile technology can be leveraged to accelerate high quality education. The theme this year was “leveraging technology to empower women and girls,” with the aim to help direct the world towards greater gender equality, both in education and beyond.
The two day Symposium began with introductions from Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, followed by a keynote address by Cherie Blair, who reminded us that, “When you empower a woman, you empower an economy, and indeed a nation.”
I participated in an all-women panel on “Equitable Access” led by Valerie Hannon of the Innovation Unit UK, and with a group of women leaders including Doreen Bodgan (ITU), Adele Vrana (Wikipedia), Michelle Thorne (Mozilla) and Shelly Esque (Intel).
The panel highlighted affordability as a main barrier to equitable access. High costs of connectivity limit access for women in the developing world, resulting in increasing exclusion of women from the emerging global economy of information and knowledge, the digital economy. The average cost of broadband Internet in developing countries ranges from 11% to 30% of average monthly incomes (A4AI 2013).
Relevant and regular access to the Internet is also vital for advancing educational opportunities through technology. Relevant access includes a type of access where a woman with a low level of literacy can afford audio and video content in an appropriate language regularly and reliably, or where she might access information with a basic voice phone call to get information through an intermediary.
As Doreen Bogdan reminded us, measurement is an issue. In order to engage with policy makers we need data and research on women and what constitutes meaningful and equitable access in different parts of the world. This is something that the Web Foundation is addressing through its women’s rights research and advocacy initiative. Bogdan highlighted that it’s time to stop the trend of the “gender issue” being just a side event, and that “women’s empowerment is not only good for women and girls, but for all of humanity”. She highlighted that we are currently seeing a disconnect between education and ICT sectors; 95% of global jobs now have an ICT component, and Ministers of ICT and Education need to come into dialogue to promote women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
Shelly Esque of Intel highlighted the “maker-movement” as a practical framework for getting girls excited about STEM; gaming strategies are also great methods for digital literacy training. Esque urged the audience to look at scaling successful programs in a localized way to close the gender access gap.
Adele Vrana from Wikipedia noted that everyone should have access to world’s knowledge through technology, and furthermore, to apply that knowledge. Michelle Thorne from Mozilla encouraged the audience to take leadership in furthering “days of action” into deeper systemic change. She appealed to the teacher in all of us, highlighting that there are opportunities for everyone to share digital skills.
Achieving equitable Internet access for women and girls depends on political, legal and regulatory commitments to broadband infrastructure – where women and girls can access more affordable Internet and a higher quality of connectivity; and where the availability of relevant content empowers women in their access to knowledge and decision making power.
In developing a post-2015 agenda, we have to consider that when the MDGs were agreed upon in 2000, we didn’t have smartphones, as Doreen Bogdan reminded us. As the GSMA Connected Women “Bridging the gender gap: Mobile access and usage in low and middle-income countries” report released yesterday shows, on average, women are 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than men, which translates into 200 million fewer women than men owning mobile phones. Equitable access for women depends on bringing together diverse voices, understanding the socialisation of technology, and advocating for access to the Internet as a global public good. We have to ensure that the digital revolution is a revolution for girl’s and women’s education and economic empowerment. It’s possible!