STORY INLINE POST
Sonia, a middle-aged woman from a small town in Mexico, grapples with the complexities of being a single parent to her four daughters. To make ends meet, Sonia works tirelessly as a domestic cleaner in the city, committing herself to a demanding full-time job that necessitates long hours of commuting. Balancing the practicalities of her circumstances, she can only make the journey back to her small town and reunite with her girls twice a month, as they are cared for and raised by Sonia's mother for the rest of month.
Having completed only primary school, Sonia shoulders the sole responsibility of providing for the economic upbringing of her girls. In the first half of 2022, her eldest daughter, aged 15, made a difficult choice to leave school in pursuit of a job that would expedite her path toward economic independence. This decision has left Sonia concerned, fearing that her other three daughters may follow suit. She recognizes that her children are lacking the necessary education to pursue higher studies and break free from the limited options and opportunities that have characterized the lives of other women in their family.
Sonia's concerns resonate with numerous women in Latin America, who find themselves grappling with similar challenges. Across several countries in the region, women and girls have long confronted systemic barriers that restrict their access to education, employment, and empowerment. The COVID-19 pandemic, as highlighted in The New York Times article 1+1=4? Latin America Confronts a Pandemic Education Crisis, has exacerbated these inequalities, particularly in the realm of education. One key factor underpinning these challenges is the persistent lack of access to technology, which further perpetuates gender disparities throughout the region. Rather than delving into the multifaceted causes of such inequality, which require comprehensive attention to each cause and its consequence in society, this article aims to elucidate how access to technology and technology education can significantly contribute to economic mobility and individual empowerment.
Is Technology the Means to an End?
While Sonia's family situation may seem disconnected from technology and the future of digital transformation, history has taught us otherwise. Research conducted by the World Bank has shown that countries with higher rates of women participating in the tech industry experience notable GDP growth. Latin America, specifically, stands to benefit greatly from increasing the number of women in the digital economy. The Inter-American Development Bank reports that such an increase could contribute to a potential GDP growth of up to 14% in certain countries within the region. Furthermore, the impact of a technology education is evident in the success of organizations like Laboratoria, which focuses on training women in tech. Graduates from their coding bootcamps in Latin America have witnessed an average salary increase of 2.7 times within a year after completing the program, demonstrating the positive correlation between technology skills and economic advancement.
Initiatives promoting coding and digital skills training have empowered women to pursue careers in the tech industry, bridging the gender gap in a predominantly male-dominated field. Online platforms and e-commerce have provided opportunities for women entrepreneurs to launch their businesses and reach global markets, enabling economic independence and financial growth. Additionally, access to online education and remote learning has offered women in remote areas or with familial responsibilities the chance to acquire knowledge and skills, breaking down geographical and societal barriers.
Change the Conversation, Seize the Opportunity
It may seem obvious that promoting coding and digital skills is beneficial, but how do we even begin in situations like Sonia's daughters', where the underlying problem seems so distant from the solution?
In a country like Mexico, where over 60% of the population owns a smartphone, the existence of skill gaps in digital proficiency poses a significant barrier. However, it also presents a clear pathway aligned with the future of the workforce if the opportunity is effectively harnessed. Taking small yet impactful steps can make a tremendous difference. One such step is shifting the narrative around technology, challenging the perception that it is exclusively associated with men or that technology creators are predominantly male. Research on APEC economies has revealed that even when women have knowledge and access to digital technologies, they may lack the skills and confidence to utilize them effectively. This "technophobia" negatively impacts women's confidence when it comes to engaging with digital tools. Addressing this issue and fostering a supportive environment can help bridge the digital divide and empower women to fully embrace and utilize technology.
The Power of Role Models
Returning to the idea of seizing opportunities, organizations, governments, and education systems could contribute to bridging the digital skills gap by promoting active role models who are women technology creators in the region. One approach to changing the narrative and overcoming technophobia could involve highlighting examples of women as technology creators. By reshaping the conversation in the digital realm and showcasing more women as not just technology users, but creators, we can provide precisely what women in Latin American countries require: a wealth of options and opportunities for diverse and promising futures.
Information, Involvement of Key People
The lack of information about the workings of basic software architecture and the design of everyday communication applications contributes to the waning enthusiasm for technology among women, not to mention their limited access to it in rural areas. However, the mere knowledge of the existence of such technology can have a profound impact. This was evident in the "Women in Technology" initiative conducted in rural villages in Kenya. As part of this program, iPads were introduced, containing a collection of photos showcasing successful women from diverse backgrounds, including engineers, entrepreneurs, doctors, and community leaders. For the women in these villages, whose exposure to opportunities was restricted by their immediate surroundings, this experience was transformative.
Witnessing the accomplishments of these women through the power of technology ignited a spark of inspiration and self-belief within them, shattering the narrative that constrained their aspirations. Motivated by the achievements they saw, the participants started to dream bigger and imagine a future beyond traditional gender roles. They embarked on educational pursuits, launched their own businesses, and actively engaged in community development. This experiment demonstrates how technology, exemplified by iPads, served as a catalyst for positive change, empowering women in Africa to rewrite their own narratives and forge a future of equal opportunities and progress. This project and experience is just a mere example of what can be done in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Harnessing technology for gender equality is essential in empowering women in Latin America. By addressing the systemic barriers and providing access to technology and technology education, we can bridge the gender gap and unlock economic mobility for women. Initiatives that promote coding and digital skills training, online platforms for entrepreneurship, and online education have already showcased their potential in creating positive change. It is crucial for organizations, governments, and society as a whole to support and invest in these efforts, ensuring that all women have equal opportunities to thrive in the digital era. Through collective action and a commitment to inclusivity, we can create a more equitable and empowering environment for women, unleashing their full potential and transforming societies in Latin America.