The Digital Inclusion of Girls and Women

This is a guest post by Jason Riffe, Founder and President of RiD+. He recently lived and worked across Haiti for 15 months implementing programs and advocating for economic, social, and cultural rights. Jason will be a guest presenter at our April 27th Workshop on Digital Inclusion in Fragile Communities from NYC to  Cité Soleil.

There is a problem that exists across our developing world. The lack of access to relevant technologies restricts girls and women from professional development, a livable wage, and a strengthened community. An inclusive society and an inclusive world requires training and access to current technology in order for the developing world to improve. If we look at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, specifically the municipality of Cite Soleil we can see that the barriers women and girls face are one issues and access to technology generally is another. 

When assessing the limits of digital inclusion for women and girls there are a number of variable issues to address first. Over the course of the 15 months that I lived and worked in this community, I realized digital inclusion is marginal if it exists at all. Firstly, Cite Soleil has sporadic access to electricity. Without this resource it is difficult to keep a technology center open for girls and women. Residents do steal electricity from neighboring areas, but the state power company does not provide resources here.  Since the community is impoverished, the state argues that they do not have any tax revenue to pay for the resources. This inherently means that the wealthier areas of Port-au-Prince have 24hr power. Secondly, there are very few schooling centers and only one that has a technology hub comprised of five touchscreen pads. This is a primary school that serves approximately eighty students. 

If we assume electricity is available, and technology is generally accessible, then the barriers women face are cultural. There is a cultural expectation that girls stay home and support the family by performing house duties to the detriment of their education. This expectation removes girls from secondary schooling around 12-14 years of age. This has traditionally been an expectation supported by the mothers as opposed to the men in the community. 

Soleil is a slum of approximately 400,000 people with minimal access to state infrastructure. Social services are non-existent, the majority of the population is unemployed and suffers from extreme poverty.  And yet in a community such as this, where families live next to open canals, where hogs feed off of the waste and refuse, girls and women are constantly searching for opportunities to better their livelihoods. They want a better life and they want to learn relevant skills. Working to include these women in the digital world will positively affect their livelihoods and improve the human condition.

The opportunity exists in communities such as this to integration technology centers focused on providing current relevant technology to underserved populations. Girls and women will be able to learn not just job readiness skills, but critical thinking and problem solving skills. Classes in coding and design can be taught  in a technology lab on platforms and operating systems locally available via personal smartphones. And the extremely poor will gain access to a global network of communication as well as an expanding network of entrepreneurial opportunities. We know the problem; we have a solution. Now let’s work together to provide a life of dignity for all starting with the digital inclusion of women and girls in developing nations.