How mobile technology can empower women in the developing world

English: Mobile phone evolution Русский: Эволю...

English: Mobile phone evolution Русский: Эволюция мобильных телефонов (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The proliferation of mobile phones in the developing world has been both rapid and remarkable and it opens up possibilities to engage with the most vulnerable and marginalised in societies, which in many cases are women and girls. The 2013 Women Deliver conference takes place at the end of May in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and offers the opportunity to galvanise the global community to invest in mobile technology and highlight all the opportunities it brings, some of which I have outlined below.

So, how is mobile technology helping women and girls and what are the potential opportunities?

Mobile devices are improving access to financial services

The move towards mobile banking in developing countries opens up opportunities for women to have more control over their finances. This is particularly relevant in developing countries where the purse strings are traditionally held by men. Mobile payments from work can be made directly to a woman’s phone which offers an additional level of financial control and independence, as well as assurances that the full salary is paid.

Mobile banking systems, such as Kenya’s hugely successful M-PESA, open up financial access to millions of the ‘unbanked’, a large percentage of which will currently be women. The ease with which a mobile bank account can be opened up is vital in allowing women to gain financial control and independence, particularly in countries without access to traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ financial institutions.

Mobile technology, in particular SMS systems, are improving access to healthcare 

Mobile technology circumvents geographical obstacles . It sounds almost too obvious to say, but the mobile device of course removes the need to travel to receive information. In a huge continent such as Africa, which often lacks traditional transport infrastructure, the mobile device can act as an excellent tool to disseminate information from malaria SMS warnings to maternal healthcare and advice. Nothing can replace seeing a doctor, but regular communication via SMS is the next best thing in providing potentially life saving information.

South Africa uses text messaging to improve Maternal Health Access
The mobile phone evokes a feeling of connectivity and independence amongst women

People often refer to ‘the next billion’ when it comes to internet access, and how a large percentage of these users will be from the developing world and will use their smartphone to access the internet. For the moment the basic feature phone is ubiquitous, but the African continent is currently experiencing a boom in its consumer class who are demanding access to the same technology we have in the west. This demand combined with a potential flood of cheaper, Chinese produced smartphones will open up the internet to millions of people who traditional lacked access. For women, the mobile device will serve as a tool of empowerment and is likely to open up female-focused social networks and stimulate women’s rights groups, in areas such as employment. In a continent that is hugely diverse, the mobile tool and the access to the internet it offers will act as an essential portal to access information and act collectively on women’s rights.

More empowerment for women leads to more women in the workforce and greater economic prosperity for a country

It is a fairly broad statement, but the engrossing Hans Rosling puts it very eloquently in a TED talk. The birthrate of a country has nothing to do with religion, but is more closely linked to the number of women in the workforce. As mobile devices offer women access to financial services, educational tools, and health care advice, it will also act as a tool to boost the number of women in the workforce and allow them to contribute economically at a personal and societal level. The more women in the workforce, the more the childbirth rate of a country decreases, the less strain there is on a country’s resources.

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