This One's For The Ladies

Ms. Pac Man, the most famous lady in tech?

Happy International Women’s Week!

NDI’s work strives to incorporate women’s meaningful participation in democracy and governance worldwide. Our Women’s Political Participation team is dedicated to mainstreaming women’s perspectives in all programs, and within the Institute there is a significant representation of women at senior positions both in DC and the field.

Of our full-time team members, I’m the only female. But for those keeping score, we're 6 for 6 in hiring women to work on our team. Like my predecessor Katherine Maher, my gender isn’t in the forefront of my brain. And while it’s still true that there are proportionally less women with technical degrees and represented in the technology workforce, the number of women in the ICT4D, net freedom, and democracy and technology space is vastly growing. There’s no shortage of “Top 10 Awesome Women in Tech for Development” or “The 30 Women in Digital Activism You Should Follow on Twitter Right Now”-type lists, which leaves some big shoes to fill, whether they be flats or heels.

But as women are becoming the majority users on social networking sites and nearing the number of male internet users worldwide, there is still much work to be done to incorporate gender considerations in ICT4D interventions. The UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme has published an outstanding resource on Gender and ICT. Within this resource, it’s brought to light that there is no gender neutrality in technology. For those who espouse technology for the greater good, that sentence may cause auditory images of record scratches or screeching brakes. However, women’s role in a country or region’s social structure, economy and political framework are important factors in how women can access technology, further determining how women can use ICTs both safely and meaningfully in democracy and governance-based projects. Handing out tablets or similarly shiny and new devices to women in countries with poor economies, limited internet penetration, and little to no record of respecting women’s rights not only makes success of such an intervention extremely unlikely, but can leave the women in such a project targets for theft and violence.

Projects like Take Back the Tech not only provide opportunities for women to collaborate in a global campaign to end gender-based violence, but also provide resources on how to safely and securely communicate. In addition, telephony platforms like FreedomFone and Souktel allow women working for change to interact with and support each other’s work in areas where mobile phones are widely accessible. Here at NDI, we assess the best ways that ICTs can be incorporated in democracy programs. This often results in using more widely available but less glamorous tools, and thinking through ways to combine offline and online action.

Though we’ve have made many strides in arenas that have historically been absent of women, like technology and political leadership, this week is an important reminder that there is still more work to be done.