Are mobile phones empowering for women?

300,000,000 more men than women own a mobile phone. The Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women started a project, mWomen that was recently launched by Hilary Clinton.

The idea is to address this gender gap and

by increasing access to mobile connectivity and services, women living on less than $2 per day will achieve a greater sense of security, independence, economic opportunity and connection with the world outside their homes. This in turn will lead to greater empowerment and control over their lives and those of their families.

It’s in the last bit that there appears to be a bit of a rub. Who gets control, exactly?

Egyptian feminists have cast some doubt about the empowering powers for women of mobile phones, as can be read here (thanks @visualrights).

“Owning a telephone is positive because it gives women a space to communicate with the outside world and greater access to education. She can also get health and medical tips sent to her mobile,” said Abul Koumsan.

“But for women in Egypt, a mobile can be compared to a dog leash: her family constantly calls her to know where she is, even if she’s in the classroom or at university. And if she is unable to answer or in an area with no network, she could find herself in a very unpleasant situation once back home,” she adds.

She also mitigates the freedom a mobile offers a woman in Egypt because, “Her father or brother may very well monitor her mobile by looking through her SMSs and phones calls.”

And unfortunately, it’s happened before that girls and women get killed because it is suspected they shamed the honour of the family by having been on the phone with men, or even because the family found an unknown number on their phone, which happened with Shawbo Ali Rauf (19) in Iraq in 2008 (from this account here).

Tricky. What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Are mobile phones empowering for women?

  1. I can’t say for sure whether the phones will be liberating. But I think it’s a safe bet that the U.S. government’s role (and let’s not forget that Clinton is an agent of the government) is economic, mainly expanding markets for corporate benefactors.

  2. The negative aspects sound similar to the way young adults with mobile phones are treated around these parts. They presumably aren’t killed for usage that’s against the rules, but I wouldn’t doubt that they are grounded or even beaten in many cases. I’m also sure it’s quite common for parents to monitor the monthly bill and punish based on what appears within. In spite of all the negative, however, I bet there aren’t many kids who would be willing to give up their phones.

    On the other hand, it might be a question of scale – in which case, this analogy isn’t very helpful.

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