Mobile technology, participation, gender (and a dodgy stat)

Posted on March 27, 2012


I somehow missed this UNDP report “Mobile Technologies and Empowerment: Enhancing human development through participation and innovation”. It’s important to note the mobile specific aspect of current and future technologies being addressed in detail as for all the media talk of Twitter and Facebook revolutions pretty much everything I’ve heard those in the know say is that it has been mobiles that have provided much of the newfound empowerment whether that be in recording video or co-ordinating an escape from approaching government forces.

I’m not sure when I’m gonna find time to read the report but from my days of running a fact-checking organisation there’s a few howlers in the executive summary that beg further investigation. e.g.:

“Given that entire villages in poor and/or rural communities will often share one or two cell phones, it is also estimated that 80 to 90 percent of people in some poor countries have at least minimal access to a cell phone (Zuckerman 2009).”

Now that’s an, at best, opaque or, at worst, entirely useless statistic if ever I saw one. What sections of the population are included in this? Adults or the entire “people”. Which poor countries? What defines a poor country? And what on earth is meant by “minimal access”? Arguably my definition of minimal cell phone access would differ markedly from one given by 79-year-old grandma who lives in Grenada.

Anyway the main point I wanted to make is that the front cover of the report features a group of women, possibly protesters, holding mobile phones which drew my mind back to two great posts by Melissa Albricht at (shared via Panos) which address the positive aspects as well as the challenges for ensuring that the penetration of mobile technologies reflects and addresses the needs of women and girls too.