"Tech" isn't a four-letter word, but when it comes to "women's issues" it might as well be. Technology has become a male-dominated big business; profits have become the priority over ethics and/or social implications. Women are missing from the technology design room to the boardroom and this diminishes the value and unique talents women bring to the table. We can no longer accept this as a normal expectation. Marketing tactics by technology manufacturers have only just begun to include women in their advertising.
Today, it is commonly acceptable to send a resume through email, to fill out a graduate school or job application online or to find "Mr. or Mrs. Right" through Match.com.
However, when it comes to women's issues technology is traditionally not included as a venue to advocate or mobilize around. Violence against women has appeared as cyber stalking and/or bullying. The video game "Grand Theft Auto" which gives points for beating a certain class of women to get the user's money back has been a recent "hot" topic. There are many government agencies working to get the "Grand Theft Auto" game off shelves or properly labeled as adult content but there are not that many encouraging educational reform for girls in science, math, technology or gaming.
If there were more girls involved in designing games this product may not have gone to the shelf with violence against women packaged in the scoring system of the game. Women are one of the highest purchasers of video games for their sons but they never check to see if there are games for their daughters. Most are completely unaware that game consoles like the Xbox where designed with no intentions on having options for women or girls. The gaming industry is not the enemy; games can be excellent tools for learning if used properly.
There are increasingly more software games being designed for schools and educational purposes. Socialimpactgames.com focuses on games for public policy, health, wellness, business and social issues. Whether there is a game that promotes anti Bush agendas or ethnic cleansing, women must be involved.
Government officials have introduced a bill to address electronic stalking in Washington DC, although it has included stalking by computers, email, telephones and cell phones it does not include video and audio recordings or the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that have been used by stalkers to track their victims. There have been recent attempts with the Video Voyeurism Act, but there are important women's issues missing from these valuable attempts at addressing the issue. Public health and safety has major societal implications. There are E-Government initiatives under the 2002 Act that will impact many women's' lives, however the congressional subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census is no longer in existence.
"Egov" is the new lingo for initiatives that include the Department of Justice's plans for information sharing technology that include development and deployment. This is also where jurors are now analyzing and reviewing investigative data through laptops and other technologies. Funding for video devices are used to catch criminals such as speeding and red light violators, or security cameras in stop lights but funding is not available for initiatives that use interactive videoconferencing technology to build and maintain family bonds between incarcerated mothers and their children or to provide other needed family services. There are several Bills/Acts in congress that are on the books about health care and information technology.
Many are designed to improve efficiency and the quality of health care delivery by streamlining medical records, preventing medication errors, giving online access to information about outbreaks of infectious diseases or simply to help single mothers get their children immunized for school like DC's government did by implementing the internet based immunization registry. Telemedicine has been used to help women by providing prenatal care in rural areas. A recent bill to address digital divide issues in rural areas will affect the continuation of the telemedicine program for those mothers. The societal impacts of technology are both positive and negative and are traditionally noticeable in areas of non-traditional work, job readiness, and education.
Rarely are areas of health, environment, public safety or cyber security considered major concerns for women as it relates to science and technology. Already, the lack of technological skills is one reason why so many low-income women aren't able to find jobs above entry-level salaries. If this is not addressed, the lack of technological skills will leave a larger underemployed working class since studies have shown that in 2008 there will be over 1.3 million new technology workers and by 2010, 65% of the economy will be based on technology.
Prior to the fourth grade, studies show that girls are as interested in technology more than boys. After that, girls are discouraged by the adults in their lives and are constantly challenged by the boys in their class, which leaves them questioning whether they should even bother with math, science or technology. Adolescent girls are intensely pressured to be "cute" instead of "smart," which leads to the current conflict for young women interested in math, science or technology. Tech "geeks" are rarely considered cute or attractive.
It is also at this time that young girls choose not to go into sports, yet we have the WNBA, women's football, tennis and golf. Without better awareness and advocacy, women will also be susceptible to losing the gains that science and technology bring and vulnerable to the dangers of technological ignorance. We'll continue to be unprepared to advocate for or against the decisions made in business and government laws or regulations. Women and girls must be equally educated, encouraged, and provided opportunities in science and technology. If they aren't, the women of tomorrow won't be able to adequately function in our technologically changing society.
We need to challenge all women, especially women lead organizations, women philanthropists and area women funding foundations. Let's widen the gender lens to include non traditional women's issues, our futures depend on it.
Shireen Mitchell is the Executive Officer of Digital Sisters/Sistas Inc. She is a technology diversity specialist. Author of the essay "Gaining Daily Access to Science and Technology" in the book "50 Ways to Improve Women's Lives". firstname.lastname@example.org or www.digital-sistas.org.