Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.
21 March 2013: Yesterday I was chilling out with my mum discussing many things and about Timbuktu as usual. We like reminding ourselves of what our life used to be back then.
I told mum it will be nice to go back home and resume our lives. This was what set her off. She said, after a short pause, I am not sure we will be going back to Timbuktu, I am not sure we will ever go back. She didn’t have to explain. I am very close to my mum and I always understand everything she says.
We left Timbuktu a year ago, when security was a serious issue. We were all scared of getting in trouble with the insurgents. Everything was very uncertain. But deep down, mum and I knew that we were leaving for another reason too. We were engaged in battle of another kind. Though we were determined to win, and we still are, we knew our chances were becoming slimmer in Timbuktu.
Married before 15
It is not easy to go against a whole family, to say “no” to pre-established rules which have been implemented for centuries. That’s what we did when mum strongly opposed plans to get me married before my 15th birthday.
They planned everything. They have found a “suitable” husband and we were due to be married in a matter of weeks. Mum entered a rage when she heard about this. She told them the wedding will be “over her dead body”.
She was so determined that the family had to back off. We both know they won’t give up. They won’t give up until it is done. So when we packed everything to leave Timbuktu because of the conflict we were also trying to get away from that situation, which was, to be frank, become quite unbearable.
Mum always becomes very agitated when we talk about this problem. She wants to protect me, she doesn’t want me to end up like her, she often says.
Forced out of education
She is a divorcee. She was forced into a marriage she didn’t want when she was 14. She was a school girl and she was married to a man 10 to 15 years older with no education and no job. Of course she had to leave school once married. She was lucky to find a teacher position many years later. This didn’t make it any easier for her to live with a man she had not chosen.
Two years ago, she took the courageous decision to ask for divorce. She has been raising us on her own ever since. I think she is impressive. She is such a strong woman. I want to be like her, that confident.
I know mum can make staying her in Ségou work for us. The decision to stay is more complex though. My grandmother, my mum’s mum, is begging us to come back home. She was not part of the early wedding plot, and she misses us a lot. We do miss her too.
I want to make my own choices
So at the moment we don’t know if we will settle here in Ségou or go back to Timbuktu. Because she is still undecided about going back to Timbuktu, mum is always lecturing me about the dangers of getting married at a young age with someone you have not chosen.
She is trying to make sure that if we return to Timbuktu, I will be prepared for the battle ahead. I think I am ready. I am not a little girl any more. I know what I want.
I want to make my own choices for my future and getting married now is not part of my plans.
Support Plan's emergency response work: donate to the Mali conflict appeal
*Name has been changed to protect her identity.
School is helping displaced Zeina, 13, to look to the future in Segou, Mali – but stories of conflict and family members being forced to hide in bushes to escape violence make her feel confused and afraid.
21 March 2013: I don’t know why but I cannot stop thinking about my best friend Fadimata today. I think she is somewhere in Algeria now. I don’t know exactly where but I hope she is ok.
So many things happened to her before she left Kidal. She was crying all the time. Her mum, who was pregnant during the troubles, is dead. My mum said that she died because she was scared of the gunshots and the troubles in Kidal.
I don’t understand exactly what happened or how it happened but my friend Fadimata was crying all the time after that. All her brothers and sisters were crying too. I cried sometimes with her.
Vandalised and broken
I cried for her mum but I also cried for what was happening to us, all the things I didn’t understand. My dad was a pharmacist in Kidal. The insurgents vandalised his pharmacy. Everything in the shop was broken on purpose. At the time, I wondered why? Then mum explained why they did it. I still don’t understand.
Mum said he was targeted because he is ‘black’ and she is ‘white Tuareg’ and some people think their marriage is an ill-match. I never thought that of my family this way - that dad is ‘black’ and mum is ‘white Tuareg’. Anyhow, what difference does it make? Mum said, some people think it matters. I find that kind of confusing.
Hiding in the bushes
I am even more confused because the other day mum said, my daddy is not a target anymore but she and her family might be now. She said that grandad and the rest of the family have fled Kidal. They are now hiding in the bushes. They don’t want to be found.
I still don’t get it. I am wondering where I stand in all this? Am I a target or not? A target for who and for what reasons? That is why I am so scared at the idea of going back to Kidal. We often talk about that with mum and my sister Lala, but none of us feel that confident.
I won't go back
Hearing all this, I personally won’t go back now unless I know there is someone up there in Kidal to protect me and my family.
Anyway, I kind of like Ségou now, especially the river. Mum took us several times to the riverside. It is always an enchanting trip.
There is no river in Kidal. There are no vegetables, like cabbages, in the market in Kidal. Here there a plenty of vegetables everywhere, even by the roadside.
Plan school support
I also have friends in my new school in Segou. I am happy to be still going to school. It took mum several weeks when we arrived to find schools for the 5 of us. She admitted she didn’t know where to start, as this was for all of us, our very first trip to Segou.
Then she met a man from a local organisation of northern Mali, who apparently works with a bigger organisation called Plan - within days we were all enrolled in new schools.
My new best friend here in Ségou is Fatoumata. Fatoumata and her family are from the Dogon ethnic group. It does not matter for us. When we started playing together, some of her friends warned her not to play with a displaced girl. Some of my displaced friends were against our friendship too.
We don’t care really. We play nicely together and that’s all. Sometimes she comes back at home with me; sometimes her dad takes me to school.
I promised Fatoumata that she will be the first on my guest list if we go back to Kidal one day. I also told her that she will be one of the main characters of my first book. For, I didn’t tell you, but I want to be a writer.
I like reading books. My favourite book at the moment is a book about the history of the old Malian empires. I think someone will need at some point to tell the story of our exile. I hope I will be the one.
Find out more about Plan's emergency response and donate to the Mali conflict appeal
The first years of a child’s life are vital for their development – but when disaster strikes young children often miss out on the care and support they need.
Plan’s education in emergencies specialist Sweta Shah reflects on her work and the impact it’s had on children’s lives.
12 March 2013: My first long term emergency position was in Chad with Darfur refugees, which helped me see the many extra complexities of emergencies for children.
It showed me what worked well in Plan’s early childhood care and development (ECCD) in emergencies programmes and how we can easily get real results.
I helped establish many child-friendly spaces (somewhere children are safe, can play, socialise with other children and learn) and I worked with nutrition and health colleagues so that we also ran supplementary feeding and health sessions for mums so they could help ensure their small children were fed nutritious diets.
The sessions also supported pregnant women. One of them who came to the classes named her baby after me. I was shocked!
Reaching children with disabilities
One of the things I’m really proud of is our work on how to bring children with disabilities into the programme. In Darfurian culture, society thinks children with disabilities can’t do anything.
There were also challenges on how to get children with disabilities to the child-friendly spaces. We got local wheelbarrows and used community child protection committees to collect the children and transport them to the spaces so they could play.
For one physically handicapped little girl around 6 years old, this was the first time she had ever played with other children and had an opportunity to learn.
Terrified and wouldn’t talk
I remember another young boy around 5 years old who used to come to our spaces. He had been particularly affected by the violence he had witnessed. He wouldn’t talk at all, which can be a normal psychosocial reaction. He was terrified of loud noises - they really scared him (planes going overhead would terrify him because of the bombing of the Darfurian villages he had experienced). He also had nightmares and couldn’t control his bladder any longer.
In just a short time he gradually started to talk to other children and play, and within around 6 months he was back to a ‘normal’ boy of his age.
Refugee calls for support
When I was in Liberia last year - supporting Plan’s programme for Ivorian refugees - the parents and communities were coming to us and begging us to come and do ECCD services in their communities.
They had seen the difference it had made to children who were using our child-friendly spaces and could see those children were talking, laughing, socialising and learning.
Another key benefit of child-friendly spaces is that they give parents somewhere safe to leave their children while they go and find work and food.
Skill and creativity
For me, ECCD in emergencies is about making sure children during this most important time in their development have as much stimulation and experiences as possible - so they can grow up to their optimal level.
That's what makes ECCD work - it's so cost effective. You get so much bang for your buck. You don’t need lots of money; but you need skilled staff who are trained on how to do ECCD and can look at their situation with creativity and innovation – such as making toys out of things they find on the ground.
When we do parenting classes, we show them you can do these things anywhere with your child. So many times I’ve seen mums with their children waiting in line for hours and hours for food rations, often not interacting with their child.
We can give them the awareness and skills to play with their children while they’re in the queue. It really makes a difference.
Sweta is currently supporting the launch of 2 Plan ECCD in emergencies reports at the CIES 2013* conference in New Orleans, USA.
Read Plan’s new ECCD in emergencies reports
Find out more about Plan’s global ECCD work
To comment on Sweta's blog, leave a message on Facebook
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
8 March 2013: Fifteen-year-old Rehana lives in Delhi. The teenager is friendly and intelligent, which means she takes no risks when she goes out on her own in the city.
Learning karate and carrying a safety-pin is, she confides, the best way to protect yourself against random oglers and gropers on the bus. Giving them a quick jab with the pin, she says, is the best way to ward them off.
As the Delhi rape case rumbles on, girls in India have become all the more aware of the dangers of large cities. When we talk about the developing world we tend to focus on rural environments, forgetting that the claustrophobic, impoverished chaos of a developing capital can be the most challenging environment of all for a child - particularly a young girl.
The news that another girl, this time aged 7, may have been assaulted while at school in Delhi, only proves that these incidents are more and more common.
And it's not just Delhi; in many of the world's major metropoli, girls face daily challenges to their safety. The paradox is that while these young women may have more opportunities than their rural peers - better education, for example, or the opportunity to marry later, to someone they love - their worlds are drawing in, not out.
Routinely subjected to sexual harassment, exploitation and insecurity, city girls are often afraid to step outside the house alone.
"No-one loves us or helps us," says one Egyptian teenager, poignantly, on her life in Cairo. She is just one of thousands of girls in cities around the world who face daily challenges as they navigate the urban environment around them.
A new study by Plan talked to over 1,000 girls in 5 major world cities - Delhi, Lima, Kampala, Hanoi and Cairo. We asked them to map out their cities and highlight the dangers.
The findings reveal shocking challenges to girls' lives, in which everything from unlit streets and blind corners pose risks to their everyday safety; where girls routinely run the gauntlet of sexual harassment, exploitation and insecurity.
Girls explained that men and boys often take advantage by pressing themselves against them, groping or sexually harassing them as they passed by. They reported harassment by pedestrians, bus conductors, robbers, teenage boys, gangs and factory workers.
The city, for many young women, is a hostile environment that is to be negotiated as delicately as a war zone; they hide their bodies, afraid to meet anyone's eye. Most believed it was their fault if they got harassed.
School drop outs
Most alarmingly, many drop out of school because it is just too dangerous to get there - like 16 year-old Egyptian teenager Mayada, who left in grade 7 because her father thought it too unsafe for her to use the bus.
It's clear that girls' opportunities are being massively affected by all these threats. If a girl gets to secondary school, she increases her and her future family's earnings by as much as 25%; has more of a choice about whether to have a child, is more likely to survive childbirth and her children are more likely to survive beyond 5 years. If a girl doesn't get an education, the reverse happens.
Off the radar
These are impoverished, unpatrolled areas of major cities that are off the radar, vast slum districts where no registered population figures are ever taken; where girls do not have a voice. Instead, these young women are simply ignored, a hidden generation that is missing out on a viable future.
It is the responsibility of all of us to map out the risks and address them, and to include girls and their concerns in city planning. At the moment, girls and their needs are not factored into the equation, and they should be.
Teenagers like Rehana and Mayada; Malala, from Pakistan, now famous for her campaign for education, and collective movements like Billion Rising are building momentum and creating a united voice for change.
We need to back them up; we need to make sure that girls like Rehana no longer feel they have to poke men with a safety pin on the bus to avoid being harassed; we must get them to school on time, as is their right.
Read more about Plan’s safer cities report
Join Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign
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25 February 2013: After a 3 hour drive from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, we finally arrive in Chokwe town. The destruction caused by the recent floods is still evident but life seems to be slowly getting back to normal.
Electricity and running water have been restored. The community of mostly women and children is cleaning up the rubble left in the wake of what has been referred to as Mozambique’s worst floods in 13 years.
There are very few men, if any, in Chokwe and I wonder why. Soon enough, I learn that the town is mainly populated by women and children, as many male adults have gone to South Africa in search of work in the mines. It is these women and children who are having to contend with the effects of the floods.
Rummaging for books
Walking into a primary school just a stone’s throw away from Chokwe town helps one appreciate the extent of the destruction caused by the floods. Pupils rummage through a heap of soiled and torn papers, which used to be their library just a month ago - perhaps searching for any reading material that they can salvage.
Across the school, wet desks are laid out in the open to allow the sun to dry them in readiness for the children’s return to class.
I meet up with Jeremy, a 12-year-old boy who used to spend most of his afternoons in the school library. He, like many other students, is keeping his fingers crossed - hoping for things to return to normal so he can continue with his education. I feel for him.
I also meet Teresa Manhique, director of Nkosse Primary School, and she tells me that most pupils cannot attend school because they are still living in makeshift camps and they lost most of their educational material.
She also tells me that the few pupils that have returned to school are experiencing problems concentrating in class as they often come to learn on empty tummies. Most families still do not have enough food.
I am here with my colleagues from Plan to distribute 10,000 learners’ kits to help these children return to school - as the country rebuilds education institutions and other infrastructure destroyed by the floods.
This is our small way of helping to ensure that children return to school. By the time we leave Chokwe town, we have managed to put smiles back on the faces of many children who were itching to go back to school. There’s no better feeling!
Find out more about Plan's work in Mozambique
To comment on Grace's blog, leave a message on Facebook
Bobo Seide, a widow in Bafatá, Guinea-Bissau, carried out female genital mutilation (FGM) on girls for 20 years until she learned about the dangers from Plan. Today she is an anti-FGM activist and preparing to celebrate the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM.
5 February 2013: I started practising FGM just after my elder sister passed away; she had also taken the knife after my mother died many years ago, and I was very proud to become a practitioner. It was very prestigious and had great social status to become an FGM practitioner in those days, as people used to view our family as one with honour and privilege.
I felt well respected in the community and people invited me everywhere to attend ceremonies. But now I believe it was purely traditional beliefs and nothing more.
I abandoned the practice 6 years ago, but I was confidentially practising it on children from the neighbourhood and on my close family until I was sensitised enough to be involved in Plan’s activities against female genital mutilation.
Now I am a 100% activist against FGM. I attended many training sessions and meetings organised by Plan and I am working in my community to tell people everything l know about the practice. I know that FGM can lead to women having complications during birth and you can easily catch infections such as HIV and AIDS. I feel regretful now about practising FGM for 20 years, as l wish l had known what I know now.
We are doing a lot towards abandoning the practice but we still have a long way to go.
Give up the knife
Most of the people remain in the practice because it’s lucrative and at a community level practitioners are considered having spiritual power that makes them strong in the community and they are respected by both men and women. Due to this power they are often part of the decision making processes.
Since I left the knife, I have been selling fruits and vegetables to make a small income. Many people are afraid to do this, but I am working to convince as many as I can to give up the knife.
International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation is marked every 6 February to raise awareness of FGM and promote its eradication.
Plan works to raise awareness of FGM and change attitudes through a number of approaches - including outreach to religious leaders, community leaders, FGM practitioners, youth and parents.
In Guinea-Bissau alone - where in some areas 90% of girls have been cut - Plan is implementing an anti-FGM project which aims to reach 80,000 people by 2015.
Learn about Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign
* Facts from WHO. Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites.
1 February 2013: Louise Hagendijk, Communication and Media Officer at Plan EU Office, explains how cuts to the EU aid budget could have serious implications on the lives of millions.
EDF, DCI, EAR, ECHO…. They may just look like letters to you, but these little letters have a very important impact on the lives of millions of people in the world’s poorest countries. Those letters represent the various funding instruments which make up the EU’s development and humanitarian aid budget, and they are – one and all – under serious threat. Let me explain…
Right now, the EU is busy negotiating its spending limits for 2014-2020 – the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF – yes, more letters) provides the financial blueprint for EU policies across each major category of spending, including development and humanitarian aid, until the end of the decade. On 7-8 February, EU leaders will come together to attempt to reach agreement once and for all on how much they think it should be.
Cuts should not cost lives or curtail futures
In times of economic crisis, it’s fair to say nobody is entering the room with their purse strings pulled wide open. Far from it: feeling the pinch at home, EU member states are desperate to slash the European Commission’s original budget proposal. Maybe you agree that spending needs to be reined in, maybe you don’t. But whatever side of the divide you fall, you must surely agree that those cuts should not cost lives or curtail futures.
According to the latest proposals, although aid accounts for only 5.47% of overall spending (or, more concretely, around €0.32 per person per week), it’s facing a 12% cut in comparison to the Commission’s proposal. By contrast, other, much larger, parts of the budget are looking at reductions of around 5%.
Plan Europe Open letter
Alarmed by what’s at stake, 11 Plan Europe national directors joined forces and sent an open letter to heads of state or government calling for them to stand up for EU aid. “The decisions you make at the European Council on 7-8 February on the Union’s long term budget for 2014-2020 will determine the path you choose to take the EU down, both at home and in our relations with the wider world,” they write.
“There is much resting on these negotiations, with implications for European citizens and those beyond our borders. The EU has an important role to play in supporting international development, and you must take this responsibility seriously.”
Girls and young women hardest hit
These negotiations come in the wake of new research published by Plan and the Overseas Development Institute with show that the economic crisis is hitting girls and young women the hardest.
The report, Off the balance sheet: the impact of the economic crisis on girls and young women, finds that family poverty has more impact on a girls’ survival than boys; a 1% fall in GDP increases infant mortality by 7.4 deaths per 1,000 births for girls versus 1.5 for boys.
If member states go ahead with drastic cuts to the proposed EU aid budget, it’s likely to have a disproportionately negative effect on girls and young women, and austerity budgets that hit children and young people the hardest risk sacrificing future prosperity for short term goals.
If I was an EU leader, I wouldn’t want that on my conscience for the sake of a few cents a week…
Take part in the discussions around the EU aid budget on Twitter using the hashtag #EUBudget.
Find out more about the work of Plan EU.
30 January 2013: At this year's World Economic Forum* in Davos, Plan’s Chief Executive Officer, Nigel Chapman, chaired a discussion on the 'digital gender divide'.
If you’re not sure what the digital gender divide is, imagine a world where your office IT guy is an IT girl, or where the first person to offer you help with your Powerpoint presentation is a woman. How likely is this in your office, your city, your country?
It’s a worldwide problem. For example in the UK, the information, communication and technology (ICT) sector accounts for a whopping 9% of the country’s economy - £81 billion - but just 17% of the people benefiting from employment in this sector are women. Ironically, 17% also happens to be the percentage of women participants at the WEF this year.
In low and middle income countries, the ICT sector is widely seen as a catalyst for creating economic opportunities for individuals, communities and states.
Ten years ago the debate was all about the digital divide – a canyon between rich and poor, urban and rural. Recently though, countries like India, Vietnam and Indonesia have seen economic growth partly because their governments have encouraged investment in digital communications and technology, and other countries, such as Kenya, Liberia and Ghana, are watching closely.
Barriers for women
There’s no doubt that there has been a growth in jobs and business opportunities in the ICT sector for those able to benefit from the opportunities, but it's the same old story for girls and women.
Technology is seen as a man's domain. Shiny new toys and gadgets are aimed at guys. The majority of people working in the technology industry are men. Even the language is gendered: geek, boys' toys, scientist and engineer. Whether it's learning ICT skills, or using computers, girls and women face all the usual cultural, social and economic barriers that come with being female. This is the digital gender divide.
"Girls are burdened with chores which do not provide them with adequate time to learn, access the computer and have time for leisure and play which are all very important for her development” – Abigail, 16 years, Ghana
Chance for change
There are two shining lights on this particular horizon though. The first is the mobile (cell) phone. The ability to have relatively cheap, personal, portable access to digital information and communication is not as revolutionary as some say, but it's a technological evolution that has great potential to benefit girls and women.
If computers are male, telephones are female, traditionally used for family gossip and chatting with friends or listening to the radio. Women, on the whole, are already in control of this technology, which makes it a hugely powerful tool for change.
In many countries, girls are already using and innovating with mobile phones. In Kenya, the cost of owning a mobile phone dropped by two-thirds in just 3 years (US$10 in 2009 to US$3 in 2011) and this trend is continuing.
Schoolgirls in Nairobi use mobiles to catch up on classes and collaborate on homework. Groups like AkiraChix in Kenya, Women in Technology Uganda and Asikana in Zambia are teaching girls how to create mobile phone applications, particularly using the Android platform where development costs are low.
Women such as Juliana Rotich from Ushadidi and Sheryl Sanderberg from Facebook are also providing crucial role models for girls wanting a science or technology career path. And the future looks good: Asikana has mapped over 20 women’s technology organisations in Africa* already, and more are in the pipeline.
What is Plan doing?
The second light on the horizon is us: Plan. We've got years of experience of working with girls and women in communities, and we're increasing our expertise and our voice in this area through initiatives such as Because I am a Girl.
We've also got a growing amount of programmes that are integrating technology within more traditional programmes in education, health and disaster response.
I'll leave the last word with Asri, from Indonesia, who took part in the Because I am a Girl Fast Talk Initiative on ICT and girls in 2011:
“I want to change the paradigm which says that girls aren’t used to technology like computer engineering…Girls with tools are okay and technology isn’t built for boys only. I want the girls to know that they are able to be computer engineers too.”
Read Plan CEO Nigel Chapman’s blog: Why technology is the future for girls
To comment on Sarah’s blog, leave a message on Facebook
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
29 January 2013: Sévaré is a very different town from what it had been over the past weeks.
People are gradually coming back and things are becoming normal as it used to be. We are hearing less and less gunshots.
I am glad things are returning to normal. Even my 6-year-old brother, Mamadou, is not crying anymore - but he has gone all quiet about the dead bodies he saw close to the military barracks. I am avoiding the subject with him because I don’t want to make him cry again. At the same time I am still worried about him. I would like to know what is in his mind when he seems so absorbed in his thoughts. I am hoping that once he returns to school he will cheer up.
School re-opened this week and it feels great. Almost all my friends who fled after the fighting started are back. The teachers are back. The atmosphere is so nice.
I never thought I would actually miss school! After the fighting broke out and I heard that school was closing because most of the children and teachers were leaving town, I was overjoyed! My immediate reaction was “great, that’s a well deserved break”.
The joy I felt over this unexpected holiday did not last long. From day 2 onwards I missed my friends badly. I missed playing in the school yard. I felt secure and comfortable in school.
Watching the morning march
One of my friends who came back from staying with his family in Ségou told me the story of his experience and I am glad that my parents decided to keep us in Mopti.
Salifou said that all the time he was in Ségou, he would wake up in the morning and get ready for school, except that there was no school. He would sit down at the front gate of his relative’s house and look at all the children passing with their school bags, skipping along on their way to school.
Watching this ‘morning march’ made him very sad. After so many years at school, he had now become ‘the boy who does not go to school’, the boy who has no future.
I never thought of school this way. Salifou’s experience made me realise how lucky me and my friends really are.
We took school for granted because we’ve always been in school. I suppose there are lots of children across the country who would like to be in our shoes.
*Name has been changed to protect the child's identity.
Read Hamidou’s blog post on how the conflict has affected his family
Education and child protection are key parts of Plan’s emergency response to the Mali conflict. Our teams are distributing school kits for displaced students, setting up special ‘catch-up’ classes for them, providing hot school meals, as well as safe spaces and emotional support.
Find out more and donate to the Mali and Sahel appeal
28 January 2013: In the wake of the annual meeting at this year's in Davos, Nigel Chapman, CEO of Plan International, explores why there are nearly 25% fewer girls and women online and why closing the gender gap will affect future generations.
Should access to a computer or a mobile phone be a basic human right? A controversial question perhaps, but nowadays, as technology leaps ahead into previously unimagined realms, one can argue that to be ill-educated in ICT is to be immediately disadvantaged for life and work in the modern world. You only have to look at the news from last week’s annual technology exhibition in Las Vegas; the spectacles equipped with Google; the digital fork that helps you lose weight, to know that computer technology is not, nowadays, merely space-age, but increasingly omnipresent.
Hope and transformation
The developing world in the context of the digital age is wide-ranging and exciting too, not least because it’s one of the only sectors where the developing world has effectively jumped ahead a stage. While westerners have pottered through the technological revolution via desktop computers, laptops, mobiles, smart phones and now, tablets, much of the developing world has leapt straight in with mobile phones, and in many cities young people are fast accelerating straight to the latest-generation smart phones.
The potential of technology to help the developing world is enormous and, while the challenges are numerous, there’s a sense of great hope and transformation. The fact that, in Africa, only 1 in 3 people has access to electricity but some 700 million have a mobile phone, can be seen in a positive light. And for their owners, technology is about solving problems rather than sharing social trivia; while the west is playing around with digital forks and science-fiction glasses, the developing world is making pragmatic use of technology to drive GP growth, reinforce rights and break the cycle of poverty.
Technology for survival
You’re more likely to find mobile phone owners using a service to send money to a rural relative, or volunteer nurses logging on to text a health message to a pregnant mother. Farmers monitor their cows' gestation cycle or find out where they can get the best price for their goods. Radically, technology for the developing world is about survival rather than entertainment.
The key, I believe, is to make sure that girls and women, above all else, have the same access to such technologies as men. In the developing world, nearly 25% fewer girls and women are online than boys and men – with this gap climbing to 40% in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa.
Discrimination, lack of confidence and lack of basic language skills all affect teenage girls’ access to computers, for example. In many countries it’s considered inappropriate for a girl to go to an internet cafe, thus preventing her from completing her homework. Girls are less likely than their brothers to have the financial resources to pay for, say, a mobile phone and its running costs.
Challenging the gender gap
If we can change these gender stereotypes and transform attitudes to technology, I feel sure that we will see girls in the developing world attain their human right to technology, and make massive leaps in the sector, both in their private and their working lives. If no action is taken, the gap of women online will increase from 200 million today to 350 million within 3 years.
I hope that one day in the future it will be the female internet engineer from Africa who wows the world by bringing the latest useful, space-age tech development to that great exhibition in Las Vegas.
This post supports the recent Off the balance sheet report which explores the effect of the recession on girls and women.
To comment on Nigel's blog, leave him a message on .