Technology Crucial to Women's Empowerment

Jan 7, 2018

The Administration of President Donald Trump has placed a focus on women's economic opportunities, empowerment and entrepreneurship.

That's because even though there is no better way to strengthen the economy than to boost women's participation in the workforce, still, too often women face barriers to success. One persistent problem is women's lack of access to digital technology, said USAID's Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment, Michelle Bekkering.

FILE - Carpenter-designer Asmaa Megahed, 30, is pictured in her workshop in Cairo.
FILE - Carpenter-designer Asmaa Megahed, 30, is pictured in her workshop in Cairo.

“In developing countries it is estimated that 70 percent of women-owned small and medium size businesses are still denied access to the capital they need. Nearly one in two women are shut off from the internet.”

“In all of our conversations we're recognizing that technology is ... the great equalizer. Technology is offering us... an acceleration of impact in areas where change had been taking a very long time,” said Ms. Bekkering.

Unfortunately, even as the world becomes ever more digital, women and girls lag far behind boys and men in access to technology, particularly the internet. “If you look right now at the gap around the world, 1.7 billion women in the developing world are still unconnected to the internet. And so if you look at the figures – [the] Intel[Corporation] has predicted that if you could even bring 600 million women online, that could add an average of between 13 to 18 billion dollars in GDP to 144 developing countries,” said Ms. Bekkering.

Although this is a common problem globally, the reasons for the digital gender gap vary. A recurrent one is high costs of mobile phones and service. In the developing world, some 200 million fewer women than men own a mobile phone, the most common means of Internet access there.

USAID is looking at solutions to bring down the costs, such as offering two SIM cards for the price of one, and using-solar powered charging stations in off-the electric grid regions. We are also working with people who live under these conditions who have a lot of great ideas for improvements.

“USAID,” said Senior Coordinator Bekkering, “is working to break down these barriers to allow women the opportunity to achieve their full potential.”