Africa: Women and Mobile Technology

On Friday April 4, the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) held its 2014 Global Women in Leadership Conference, which, this year, examined the ways in which technology is providing new opportunities for women. The conference, entitled “Technology in Action: Changing the Way Women Live and Work,” also focused on how women are taking advantage of the fact that technology is not only improving service delivery, but playing a major part in advancing their empowerment.

“Women’s progress is human progress”

In her keynote address at the conference, Kathy Calvin, CEO and president of the United Nations Foundation, stated that, while the modern world is getting smaller, opportunities are getting bigger. She emphasized that technology is a specific tool that provides opportunities to women. Technology has paved the way for greater democratization and has revolutionized services, from banking and finance to education and health. We are also witnessing a power shift leading to ordinary citizens now proposing solutions: Bottom-up change is happening more than ever.  Technology is the solution that will continue to empower girls and women and, for that reason, is vital to the future. For, as Calvin emphasized, women’s progress is human progress.

Dr. E. William Colglazier, science and technology adviser to the U.S. secretary of state, continued along this line of thought, stating that individual empowerment will accelerate owing to poverty reduction, global middle class growth, greater educational attainment, widespread use of new communications and manufacturing technologies, and health care advances.

While transformative technology is not limited to information and communication technologies (ICTs)—it also includes developments such as cleaner stoves or solar power systems—the discussion at this event largely focused on mobile technologies.  Mobile phones and tools have become popular in Africa. For example, M-Pesa, a mobile platform that has revolutionized access to banking in rural areas, is often quoted as a success story. Panelists at the event also cited initiatives like MAMA (which provides important information through text and voice messages to pregnant women), and M-Farm (which informs rural farmers of market prices for their crops, alerts them of good prices for inputs, and connects them to buyers), as important innovations for women. Read more

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