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Technology and Women’s Businesses

Few women in rural Bangladesh actually have mobile phones, but billboards like this one (which Jim shot a good ways out from Dhaka), probably go a long way toward normalizing the idea that women should have them.

It is easy to think that new technologies will solve our problems in economic development.  And, to be sure, the internet and, especially, mobile phones are making a huge difference in the developing world already.

But it is also important to understand their limitations.  From my own observations, but especially since reading the Intel and CBFW reports on women and technology, I am convinced that we need bear in mind the reception conditions for technology in developing nations, while taking steps to achieve wide dissemination as soon as possible.  Specifically, we need to be mindful that:

1.  Women have much less access than men and this is largely due to gender norms.  The men get the technology first, partly because they control the purse strings, but much of it because they stand in the portal of the door to the outside world.  They attribute all kinds of corruptive influences to both technologies and insist they need to protect their families from it.

2.  The reach simply is not as wide as we think.  Mobile technology is much, much more common than internet access in the developing world.  Even when people have access to the web, they often have insufficient bandwidth to, for example, skype or even watch a video. This is true even in cities and even among elites.

3.  Literacy and language are still barriers.  Complex websites that require good English literacy, as well as good computer skills, are not usable by many, many women, even among the elite.

At the Power Shift Forum, we will be honored to hear the research results from Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, Vodafone, and Intel, all of whom are leaders in this area.


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