Women's Political Participation

Voto Mobile - Engaging and Polling Citizens with the Power of Voice

Voto - Mobile Engagement, Simplified

There is an election in a week,  you want to poll the citizenry before the election, and your financial resources are limited. What should you do? Should you (A.) Give up because it is simply not possible to get a full-fledged poll out in the field. (B.) Beg your donor to give you a last minute cash infusion to bring on more staff and a polling company. (C.) Join the 21st Century and leverage technology to generate a fully randomized national telephone poll using a platform like Voto Mobile. Voto Mobile's goal is to make interacting with an audience via mobile phones - either one-way via broadcast or two-way in an interactive fashion -- easy and inexpensive.

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to sit down twice with developers and staff from the socially conscious start-up Voto Mobile. Based out of Kumasi, Ghana, Voto Mobile has the straight-forward goal of “Mobile Engagement, Simplified.” The company is leveraging the ubiquity of mobile phones around the world to enable both research and social engagement that offers CSOs, NGOs, Political Parties and other organizations new capabilities. READ MORE »

Our Digital Future: What's Next for Internet Research

NDItech was recently at an event on Our Digital Future: Ideas for Internet Research hosted by The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. A diverse panel of experts in the field were invited to the discussion: Matthew Reisman, a Senior Manager at Microsoft, Milton Mueller, Professor at the Syracuse University of Information Studies, Brian Bieron, Senior director with eBay, and Carolina Rossini who serves as Project Director for the Latin American Resource Center.

Panelists made a number of interesting observations about the status and power of the internet in today’s global society. Matthew Reisman pointed out that Microsoft, in particular, is interested in studies of how government regulatory policies are affecting the ability of entrepreneurs to conduct business online - which would be most easily measured by conducting econometric research on internet policies enacted around the world.  As trade and services burgeon online, governments are creating barriers that complicate the ease of doing international business. It is important for those researching the modern impact of the internet to consider just how these barriers are affecting businesses, economies, and people, especially in a world where eCommerce has grown to encompass over 6 percent of the global retail sector over a period of ten years. Milton Mueller further asserted that developing an understanding of intimate relations between technology and social relations is essential, including how [we] are going to govern newly implemented technologies, and what the global impact of this governance will be.

The internet is global and as such has particular impact on the economic possibilities for developing countries. We hope to see tangible data from conversations such as this that makes the point wht the internet - in economic and political terms - is a vital resource for countries worldwide.

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Internet Freedom - Not So Much in Mobile Land

African Countries with SIM Card Registration Requirement (Courtesy: Martin and Donovan)

Last week was Internet Freedom Day - a year after a bill attempting to restrict content online, the so-called SOPA/PIPA bill, was defeated in the United States Congress. We here at NDItech are people of the Internet. We believe, as described in the Declaration on Internet Freedom, that

a free and open Internet can bring about a better world. To keep the Internet free and open, we call on communities, industries and countries to recognize these principles. We believe that they will help to bring about more creativity, more innovation and more open societies.

But, we are worried. As an organization that supports and works for democratic principles and practices, empowered communities, and responsive and accountable governments under the rule of law, and, as a unit within this organization that believes and works on the effective and innovative use of technology in this work, we see troubling trends. 

These are trends not happening on the Internet as we typically define it per se, though even there is plenty to worry about. What we are seeing is in the land of mobile phones - the devices and networks where most of the world communicates today.  There is actually very little information on 'internet freedom' issues in telecommunications - there is no 'state of mobile freedom' report, and there is precious little data on mobile censorship, SMS tracking, surveillance, etc.  Much of it is anecdotal, unsubstantiated, or both. READ MORE »

Closing the Technology Gender Gap

The covers of the two reports

Two recent reports emphasize the importance of the ICT gender gap in developing countries. These in-depth analyses provide statistics, case studies, and conclusions that clearly demonstrate why closing that gap is so essential to development and to increasing women's political participation.  

Last year, the GSMA (the association of GSM mobile operators) and the Cherie Blaire Foundation produced a report on women and mobile technology. Intel, in coordination with Dalberg and GlobeScan, released a report yesterday that focuses on Internet access in developing countries. Key takeaways from each publication: 

Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity A study on the mobile phone gender gap in low and middle-income countries

  • Closing the mobile gap for women represents a $13 billion dollar opportunity: With the gender gap representing over 300 million women, providing service represents not only an important step for human rights, but a monetary incentive to the private sector as well.
  • The top three benefits of cell phone ownership for women: feeling safer (93%), feeling more connected with friends and family (93%) and feeling more independent (85%)
  • The top five factors predicting ownership of mobile phone: Household income, urban/rural location, age, occupation, and education level.
  • Barriers preventing ownership of mobile phones: cost of handsets, no need to have one as everyone is local, and use of landline instead of mobile.
  • The report also includes: case studies of projects in Pakistan promoting female literacy, culturally appropriate advertising for women in Afghanistan, distance learning in Mexico, and providing input for women in Kosovo's constitution

Download the report here. 

Women and the Web: Bridging the Internet gap and creating new global opportunities in low and middle-income countries

  • Closing the Internet gap for women represents 50 to 70 billion dollars: Similar to mobiles, increasing the number of women online also represents a potential increase in GDP of $13 to 18 billion across 144 developing countries.
  • Internet penetration varies greatly among continents: while North America experiences 79%, the Middle East has 40%, Asia has 28%, and Africa lags behind at 16% internet penetration.
  • Access to the Internet provides both positive individual and ecosystem outcomes: including increased confidence and self worth, more opporutnities for education or employment, and access to networks, as well as economic development through GDP growth, gender equality through the leveling of opportunity, and diversification of markets.
  • Major individual inhibitors to Internet access: awareness of the content and use of information on the Internet, ability to navigate and consume web content, and an environment lacking in encouragement of use.
  • The largest ecosystem inhibitors to Internet access: network infrastructure, economic viability of Internet connection options, policies encouraging women to use the Internet, 

Tech Innovation for Democracy (and FTW!)

Ghana elections 2008 sms

I am excited to announce that I am joining NDI to work on tech innovations.  NDI is a leader in using tech for building democratic people and institutions, and an organization that I have known of and worked with ever since I started MobileActive.org (way back in 2005). In fact, my now-boss Chris Spence was part of the inaugural meeting that we convened on 'mobile tech in social change' in 2005 that eventually led to NDI being the undisputed expert organization in using SMS in systematic domestic election observation, work that I have written much about.  

I will be working with the pioneers at NDItech, and the creative program staff in the NDI offices that are using tech in innovative ways to support representative democracy in areas such as citizen participation, elections, open parliaments, strong parties, and accountable and transparent institutions.  Democracy and governance, as the field is affectionately known by those inside it, is where I started more than 20 years ago, and I am thrilled to return to it, throwing into the mix creative uses of online technologies, new media, and mobile (of course).  And while 'innovation' is a much-(over)used term these days, I'm hoping to put our own imprint and interpretation on it as a part of the growing #tech4dem field.

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This One's For The Ladies

Ms. Pac Man, the most famous lady in tech?

Happy International Women’s Week!

NDI’s work strives to incorporate women’s meaningful participation in democracy and governance worldwide. Our Women’s Political Participation team is dedicated to mainstreaming women’s perspectives in all programs, and within the Institute there is a significant representation of women at senior positions both in DC and the field.

Of our full-time team members, I’m the only female. But for those keeping score, we're 6 for 6 in hiring women to work on our team. Like my predecessor Katherine Maher, my gender isn’t in the forefront of my brain. And while it’s still true that there are proportionally less women with technical degrees and represented in the technology workforce, the number of women in the ICT4D, net freedom, and democracy and technology space is vastly growing. There’s no shortage of “Top 10 Awesome Women in Tech for Development” or “The 30 Women in Digital Activism You Should Follow on Twitter Right Now”-type lists, which leaves some big shoes to fill, whether they be flats or heels.

But as women are becoming the majority users on social networking sites and nearing the number of male internet users worldwide, there is still much work to be done to incorporate gender considerations in ICT4D interventions. READ MORE »

Tweeting International Women's Day

In celebration of International Women's Day, the Women's Political Participation program here at NDI hosted a tweetchat featuring the State Department (@S_GWI), Secretary Madeleine Albright, and iKNOW Politics (@iKNOW_Politics). The discussion included opportunities and challenges to women's roles in politics. This event is an innovative approach to provide a space for stakeholders in women's empowerment to engage with thought leaders and policy makers across countries. Below is our Storify for the event: READ MORE »

Technology and the Other 50%: Women and ICT

A pro-democracy protester in Tahrir Square, Cairo, carries her video camera and speaks on her mobile phone.

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day!

NDI demonstrates its committment to supporting women in democracy on a daily basis. Roughly 75% of NDI programs have dedicated components on women's political participation. Within NDI, women are represented at the top levels of the organization in DC and in the field, including on a team focusing on mainstreaming women's programming in all of NDI's work.

And hey - there's me! I'm the female on the NDItech team.  I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my gender at work; I'm an XX who works with some pretty great XYs, and I'm glad for that. But it is true that I'm outnumbered, three to one - and that women in technology are vastly underrepresented in general. Women make up only about a quarter of the recipients of Computer Science degrees, and are present in the technology workforce in roughly equal proportions. A quick stroll around the corporate campuses of tech giants in Silicon Valley bears out the numbers: just not a lot of ladies out there. READ MORE »

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