Thursday, October 4, 2012

GHC12: Leveraging Mobile and Internet Technology to Improve Women's Lives in the Developing World

Ann Mei Chang (US Department of State), started out by telling us what we know: technology is important! While only about 30% of the world population are online, there is great gender disparity in  developing countries (20% fewer women have access to mobile technology).

In the US, men and women have relatively equal access to Facebook, but in Egypt/Africa, only 37% of the Facebook users are female. In Afghanistan, it's only 16%.

This is disturbing, because it's been shown that having access to technology increases individual's abilities to earn money and move their household (and eventually their country) forward.

Mobile apps can bring a lot of technology to individuals, like basic health information, government information, education, access markets so you that you can find out the price of goods, etc.

More apps are becoming available every day, but they are not widely used. There are many issues for this adoption, though, including that only 50% of the rural population has any type of cell coverage. This is also much more expensive in  places like Africa (both in real dollars and compared with their income). In the US, a mobile Internet connection costs about 1.5% of your monthly income - in Africa, it's 300% of their monthly income!

For women in particular, this can be worse, as their husbands/brothers/fathers are not allowing the women in their lives to even have access to mobile phones. The men in these countries believe the only reason a woman would want a phone is to have an affair, which is, 1) pretty ridiculous 2) extremely unlikely the reason why they'd want a phone. (Can you imagine telling a man that the only reason to have a phone was to have an affair? opinion mine)

Another barrier to entry is the types of phones available in these developing countries - remember feature phones? You know, pre-smartphone? (Okay, my husband is still using his ;-) You probably didn't use very many applications, and the ones that you used were probably SMS based. Those types of phones that many of us consider outdated are state of the art in other countries.

Ms Chang recommends trying to leverage existing technology and apps - already have recognition and people have access to it. Don't try to rebuild the wheel - too difficult to maintain.

She recommends designing applications for women's needs and priorities, working with intermediaries to help with access and literacy barriers, be open to a non-technical solution, and be aware of maintenance plans from the start.

Ms. Chang likes the idea of a technology career for women in developing countries, because of the flexibility of the hours and the fact that it's a new and emerging field, not male dominated (yet).

This post syndicated from Thoughts on security, beer, theater and biking!