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Women and Technology Subject of House Committee

On November 17, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing, “Women and Technology: Increasing Opportunity and Driving International Development.”

Chair Edward R. Royce (R-CA) stated, “Around the world, women and girls are often the hardest hit by poverty. At the same time, empowering women can be the best way to lift them and their families out of poverty.” Rep. Royce continued, “A recent survey in four developing countries found that, of those women who reported using the Internet, over 75 percent said they did so to ‘further their education.’ Many women surveyed also noted that the Internet and other mobile applications dramatically reduced the time and cost associated with tasks like learning about health concerns, arranging transportation, or borrowing and saving money. Just ask the female fisherman in Kenya, who now uses a popular mobile service to store and transfer money using just her cell phone – protecting her business savings from theft and enabling her to spend money as she chooses.” Lastly, Rep. Royce acknowledged that “in addition to having equal access to technology, it is important for women to have equal access to creating that technology. Globally, there are fewer women than men in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. However, there are some countries that have succeeded in having at least 50 percent of their STEM degrees awarded to women – countries like the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Bulgaria. We need to address what is holding women back from entering the sciences in so many other countries, including ours, I’d add.”

Joyce Warner, senior vice president and chief of staff, International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), indicated that “IREX, with the support of the Department of State, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been working to reverse the [alarming gender digital divide]. Women and girls are not benefiting equitably from the advantages that information and communications technologies bring to developing countries…IREX seeks to advance women and girls’ information and communications technology (ICT) access and skills across their lifetime. Since 2004, we have partnered with both public and private donors to develop after-school tech clubs in eight countries…The girls who participate in these programs not only gain digital skills, but also reported strengthened competencies in decision-making skills, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and avoiding risky behaviors.” Ms. Warner added, “Supporting adult mentors and role models for adolescent girls strengthens women’s engagement and empowerment through technology across generations. Since 2013, we have partnered with private-sector partners, such as Microsoft, in support of the Young African Leaders Initiative – Mandela Washington Fellowship… A number of these young leaders are working to bridge the gender and digital divide. One fellow from Ghana is running a social enterprise that is teaching girls to code, thereby building their economic independence and confidence.”

The following witnesses also testified:

  • Geena Davis, founder and chair, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; and
  • Sonia Jorge, executive director, Alliance for Affordable Internet.
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