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Opening of CSW 56 with Special Focus on Empowering Rural Women through Technology

28 Feb

Yesterday marked the opening of the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), organized for the first time in conjunction with UN-Women. Madame Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN-Women, offered remarks to the Commission chaired this year by Ambassador Marjon Kamara of Liberia. In addition to the theme of this year’s CSW on the situation of rural women, Madame Bachelet drew particular attention to the assistance needed for Palestinian women as well as women and children kidnapped and subsequently imprisoned in armed conflict. Madame Bachelet called for adoption of concrete actions for empowering rural women, women who represent one out of every four people in the world, over the next two weeks of the CSW. As aptly noted by many of the speakers in the opening session, empowering women is not only good for women, but it is good for peace and, therefore, for humanity.

Ms. Bachelet succinctly outlined the social, cultural, economic and political barriers impeding rural women’s participation and, in turn, the development of the entire community. Ms. Bachelet provided  examples of improved communities around the globe, such as Egyptian women being able to sign up for ID cards for access to health care, suffrage and education, as well as the more than 1 million women who have been asked to sit on rural village boards throughout India.

Ms. Bachelet also described another phenomenal form of development and its connection to women- Information Communication Technology for Development (ICTD). ICTD was referenced as it relates to a global survey conducted by the GSMA Development Fund. She reported that 93 percent of women surveyed felt safer with a mobile phone, 85 percent of women felt more independent with a mobile phone, and 41 percent had increased their economic opportunities by being mobile and connected. Other speakers such as Elizabeth Atangania of the Pan-African Farmer’s Forum also outlined the benefits of connecting women with resources and access explaining that mobile technology can be a helpful tool in aiding this process.

The exponential effects of a mobile phone were specifically underscored for their powerful influence on women’s empowerment, whether economic, political, social or otherwise. Ms. Bachelet noted, “And here I want to talk about mobile phones because they are changing lives and strengthening economic enterprises. Whether it’s information about credit, markets, weather updates, transportation or health services, mobile phones are changing the way rural women and men obtain services and conduct business.” One need not look much farther than the events associated with the Arab Spring over the last year and the tremendous impact of mobile technologies, social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, and other real-time updates from the ground by women and men alike.

These new technologies are key components to bridging the divide between men and women, rural and urban, as well as granting access and mobilization opportunities, most especially for rural women who are so often removed from the center of political discourse. In the context of social networking, these tools have a multiplier effect that ultimately give a voice to any woman that has a mobile phone and internet connection. Therefore, we sincerely hope that this year’s CSW will form concrete and actionable recommendations for improving the situation of rural women such that their voices can be heard buttressed by greater access to information and resources through these new technologies.

–Shea Molloy and Katherine Prizeman