NEWS There needs to be a feminist approach to technology to solve the social impacts of the South Asian COVID-19 crisis.
- As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has swept South Asia in recent months, existing inequalities have come to light.
- One aspect that stands out is- gender inequality in access to technology.
- Around the world, information and access to health care have largely moved online, and those left behind face grave disadvantages.
DATA ON SUCH GENDER INEQUALITY IN ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY
- According to Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) estimates, over 390 million women in low- and middle-income countries do not have Internet access.
- South Asia has more than half of these women with only 65% owning a mobile phone.
- In India, only 14.9% of women were reported to be using the Internet.
REASONS BEHIND SUCH INEQUALITY IN ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY
- When families share a digital device, it is more likely that the father or sons will be allowed to use it exclusively.
- This rooted inequality can be attributed to deeply held cultural beliefs: it is often believed that women’s access to technology will motivate them to challenge patriarchal societies.
- There is also a belief that women need to be protected, and that online content can be dangerous for women/expose them to risks.
- As a consequence, girls and women who ask for phones face suspicion and opposition.
- Most technologies today are created by men, for men, and do not necessarily meet everyone’s requirements. The supposedly neutral world of technology is full of examples of this:
- from video games to virtual assistants to the increasingly large dimensions of “handheld” smartphones, technology is not always made with everyone in mind.
IMPLICATIONS OF THIS INEQUALITY
These gaps prevent women and LGBTQIA+ people from accessing critical services.
- As per recent local data, nearly 17% more men than women have been vaccinated, as it was mandatory to register online to get a vaccination appointment.
- In India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, fewer women than men received the necessary information to survive COVID-19.
- Thus, inaccessibility to technology is further deepening the divide of gender inequality.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
While improving awareness of how to access vaccination and help are crucial to protecting women, the mindset around digital technology and device ownership must also change.
- There is a need to address the existing inequality through innovation.
- Adoption of feminist technology should be the way forward.
- Feminist technology (also called “femtech”) is an approach to technology and innovation that is inclusive, informed and responsive to the entire community while acknowledging all the existing diversity.
- Policy cannot solve the problem of excluding technology on its own, but the private sector can.
- Companies should not look at gender-equal technology solely from an altruistic perspective, but from a pragmatic one.
Women Focused innovations:
- There is huge of designing apps geared specifically towards women-
- Mothers or for women to access telemedicine consultation.
- Or digital networks to connect women to informal job opportunities so they can still earn while balancing caring for their families.
- Other than apps, built-in features on mobile phones such as an emergency button connecting women to law enforcement if they face unwanted street harassment should also be considered.
BENEFITS OF FILLING UP THIS GAP
- According to GSMA, closing the gender gap in mobile Internet usage in low- and middle-income countries would increase GDP by U.S.$700 billion over the next five years.
- Women and girls are the largest consumer groups left out of technology and could be major profit drivers.
STEPS BEING TAKEN AT UN WOMEN
- Companies are being encouraged to sign up and agree to principles that will lead to a more equitable future for all.
- The Generation Equality Forum, the goal is to double the number of women and girls working in technology and innovation.
- It aims to reduce the gender digital divide and ensure universal digital literacy, by 2026 by-
- investing in feminist technology and innovation to support women’s leadership as innovators.
- Its initiatives such as EQUALS and International Girls in ICT Day celebration aims to encourage more girls into taking STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as their academic areas, enter digital technology careers, and aspire to be the next leaders in digital technology.
- In the aftermath of the pandemic, now is the high time to act.
- The right thing to do is also the smart thing to do.
- Bringing an end to the gender technology gap will save lives and make livelihoods more secure.
- As a result, the next pandemic, once it arrives, may not be nearly as destructive. It can only lead to a better community and a better world for us all.