Despite encouraging signs of progress, the statistics are clear: there is a gender gap and women are behind. How can technology help close the gender gap in economic participation by improving women’s access to health and education?
Health outcomes in the developing world show the stark gender differences that exist: 70% of the world’s poorest individuals are female. Girls are three times more likely to be malnourished than boys. Over 280,000 women die from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications every year.
Mhealth (mobile health) provides access to information and resources in a way that was previously not possible. According to Patricia Mechael, executive director of the mHealth Alliance, mobile health has taken off as “more people have prioritized mobile technologies than even the tech companies anticipated”. Organizations such as the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action provide text-message based information to pregnant women and local healthcare workers. They have reached over 530,000 individuals in South Asia and Africa.
The gender gap also exists in education. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s illiterate are women. Around 72 million primary and secondary school aged girls are not in school. Concerns about safety and sexual assault force girls out of school and into early marriage. Conflict zones exacerbate these fears and in Syrian refugee camps, 51.3% of females are married before the age of 18.
Self-directed learning, empowered by technology, has proven its effectiveness in disadvantaged communities. Inspired by India’s Hole in the Wall project, maths teacher Sergio Juarez Correa employed self-directed learning to build his students’ critical thinking abilities at an impoverished school in Mexico. Test scores on the national exam went from a 45% failure rate to a high pass average, with one student obtaining the highest score in all of Mexico and 10 students in the 99.99% percentile. And in rural Pakistan, a Mobilink-UNESCO programme is increasing literacy skills through SMS messaging, allowing girls to learn in the safety of their homes.
Health, education and economic empowerment are interrelated. Statistics show that when girls’ human rights are met, they are six times less likely to be married as children, have fewer and healthier children, and increase their household income contributions by 18%. For every year a girl stays in school, her income potential increase 15-25%. A 10% increase in girls’ education creates a 3% boost in GDP. Technology can help close the gender gap by improving women’s access to basic human rights such as health and education, creating a powerful social and economic investment.
Author: Noa Gafni is a Global Shaper in the London Hub. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014 will be released on 28 October.
Image: Jayla studies on a computer at the shelter where she lives in Los Angeles, California February 9, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson