Technology’s Quiet Revolution for Women

‘Social media is just the latest in a long line of technologies that have been driving profound changes in civil society,’ claims Isobel Coleman, one of the 30 contributors to The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights. 

Coleman connects the rise of technologies to the improvement in women’s lives and says that ‘a quiet revolution is taking place for women’; their access to ideas and education being aided by technology that began with the printing press, followed by the radio, television and now social media. The role of Twitter and Facebook in mobilising women during the Arab uprisings has been well documented, but the empowerment and mobilising of women needs more than access to opportunities such as education and social media.

In a remote Afghan village where local women were being taught how to run a business, an Afghan woman asked a question: ‘What’s the point of learning how to start a business if we don’t have access to birth control?’ This is a really valid consideration in a country such as  Afghanistan which not only has one of the highest fertility rates in the world, but is where one out of eleven women is likely to die from giving birth.

Access to modern contraceptives has been a significant driver in bringing progress to women both in the west and in developing countries. But the provision of safe and affordable contraception is still limited for about 215 million women who live in rural and remote areas of the world. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa accessing contraception means a long trip to a far away health provider-a journey that is difficult and frequently limited by distance, expense and lack of time. Coleman welcomes the new delivery methods whereby the older contraceptives can be given by injection and are long-lasting, negating the need to visit the health centres as often.

Although contraception reduces the size of families, and increases women’s freedom to learn, work and participate in civil society there are downsides to many reproductive technologies; for example the popular use of sonogram technology is leading to sex selection and the aborting of females resulting in millions of ‘missing’ baby girls in countries such as China and India. Also worrying are the new long-lasting woman-controlled and self-implantable contraceptive devices that can be turned on and off at will and which are now being spruiked by the Gates Foundation.

While various forms of technology are  empowering women there remains  many significant cultural, social and religious barriers that need to be overcome before women are really free-such as  the assumed right of male sexual access to women hence the marketing of more potent contraceptive technologies.

‘Technology’s Quiet Revolution for Women’ written by Isobel Coleman and one of the chapters of The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights  should lead  to a broader discussion on the place of  technology in women’s lives including the value or abuse of future contraceptive devices.

Women are not free anywhere in this world until all women in the world are free —Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights, edited by Minky Worden is published by Spinifex Press.

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