Diya K. Wynn, an AI/ML Ethicist in Emerging Technologies & Intelligent Platforms GSP at Amazon Web Services, talked about Technological Advancements for Women’s Empowerment: Opportunities and Challenges. Ms. Wynn started her speech by sharing her story of a little girl from a single parent, poverty-stricken home in Harlem, New York. She was awarded with a computer for her accomplishment in school, which fascinated her in science and technology, which opened up a world to study and pursue a career in computers and technology. In the stories she read and the movies she watched, there were no role models of women or girls with jobs and careers in computers and science. The media and the society portrayed women with roles as homemakers, teachers, and nurses.
Ms. Wynn said that her story is not uncommon to many women and girls around the world. Exposure and access to education and technology is critical in building sustainable systems, developing effective policies, and changing socio-cultural norms and patriarchal structures that are embedded in the mindset of the society towards women empowerment and gender equality. She also added that the challenges are coupled with racism and discrimination against black African American women in America. To achieve women empowerment and gender equality adopted in the Beijing Declaration and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we have to address the systemic and institutional barriers against women, girls, and people from marginalized communities to ensure equality, equity, and social justice for all worldwide.
The technological advancements in its simplest form benefited the society with new methods, systems, and devices improved or invented that use information technology to solve the problems. The technological advancements also provided jobs, upward mobility, create income, stability and opportunities to build up, inherit, and share in wealth.
For instance, rapid advances in technology made higher speed internet access available in homes (1995); flash was introduced for rich content delivery on the web (1996); Google was founded and transforming how we attain data (1998), Ontologies give way to the semantic web (2004); Social networking gives rise to a new paradigm for connecting, interacting and influencing (2007); Cloud computing provide internet-based access to democratized IT resources (2006); Artificial intelligence (more specifically machine learning) and big data emerge driving change in how we live and work, and Quantum computing promises unparalleled processing power to solve previously unapproachable problems.
Technology is providing us with tools to tackle gender inequality and empower women. Digital platforms, social media, medical and emerging technologies, have opened up avenues for engagement in cultures where women’s physical mobility is restricted and their voices silenced; online activism, community-building which increases awareness and engagement around women’s health and rights issues; career opportunities and learning made is available online and in apps on mobile devices; women to set up businesses and earn income connecting to wider/global sources for financing, marketing and funding; Femtech introduces technical solutions that address female health needs exclusively, including diagnostic tools, software, mobile apps and wearables; women participate in political campaigns, and women can have greater access to knowledge and general information.
World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report benchmarks 153 countries on their progress towards gender parity across four dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. The report indicated that it will take approximately 100 years for us to see gender equality globally. Women on average are 26 percent less likely than men to have a smart phone (Africa, 34%; South Asia, 70%) Men hold 75% of parliamentary seats worldwide and 73% of managerial positions. Women are paid 16% less than men on average, rising to 35% less in some countries. 50-78% of women experienced gender discrimination at work. Nearly one in five women has faced domestic violence in 2019. At least 60% of countries still discriminate against rights to inherit land and other assets
True women’s empowerment is for women to be full players in every area of society, with freedom to create, earn, own and build. That means being able to take full advantage of the benefits of technology and having a seat at the table. In the words of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg “Women belong in all places decisions are being made.” To see more women empowered, women need exposure, education and a real commitment to change that means our collective willingness and courage to put down policies and systems of oppression and create opportunity. In the words of the CEO of AWS, Andy Jassy, “we need missionaries not mercenaries.”