Thursday, October 17, 2013

Conference on Latin American and Caribbean Women Spotlights the Use of Technology for Gender Equity

This week the XII Regional Conference on Latin American and Caribbean Women (XII Conferencia Regional sobre la Mujer de América Latina y el Caribe) took place in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The conference was put together by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe: CEPAL) in order to promote gender equity in the region.

The event was a great success in bringing together influential women such as Alicia Bárcena, Executive Director of CEPAL, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, and Alejandrina Germán, Head of the Ministry of Women in the Dominican Republic.

As a Dominican woman who cares deeply about that well-being of Latin American and Caribbean women, the fact that this conference has been so successful makes me proud. I grew up thinking that feminism wasn't for Latinas and I would have failed at any test that asked me to name a Latin American feminist. To see such inspiration women meet and discuss our future gives me hope.

We aren't passive women waiting for a savior, we are taking the bull by the horns. We are organizing and demanding change. And most importantly, we are thinking of the women who don't have the means to organize and attend conferences: the rural, indigenous, black, and poor women who are always put at the margins of society.

Dominican President Danilo Medina opened the conference with a speech in which he said that Dominican women "confront multiple interconnected challenges held in place by one thing: lack of economic independence, aggravated by lack of physical and political independence." His understanding of issues that affect women in his community is admirable. Now I need to see real changes to our society, with a focus on gender equity and access to education.

The main topics for the conference were gender inequality and empowering women using technology. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka reiterated that access to information and technology is indispensable as it helps women earn an income, achieve independence, and ultimately raise their self esteem.

Technology as a tool for gender equity is one way to give women tools to succeed. Yet internet access in rural areas is scarce. Furthermore, English is the primary language used in technology and women are less likely to learn it. Lack of interesting and useful content is also a factor that keeps women away. This is all compounded by the lack of time women have to even dedicate to technology due to childrearing, household chores, and other family obligations that often fall on the shoulders of women. 

My personal activism takes place online. Without the internet I'd have no way of communicating with other activists and become part of a larger movement. I am one of the lucky ones to have been born into privilege, yet there are women in my own family who can't read or write.

But with technology, even women are not able to read and write can have access to education and information. They can use phones, watch videos, listen to discussions. Lack of education is divisive and often affects women more than men, but if we give women in need educational materials in ways they can understand the cycle of treating girls as inferior and less worthy of education can start to diminish. 

I am not always the best at reaching out to people in my own family, but next time I see the women in my family who were pulled out of school at the age of 8 so they could help with household chores, I pledge to teach her how to write an email, or go on youtube. I'll teach her how to use a computer to search useful information like specialty doctors and healthcare centers.

I'm always trying to change the world, yet by helping one woman I can make a huge difference. 

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