Sleepless but Social in Seattle

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Last year, I was at a march with my colleagues at Women for Women’s Human Rights-New Ways and many other women activists in my hometown -Istanbul, Turkey- on the International Women’s Day. This year, I found myself in Seattle. The occasion was the first social media meetup organized by Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation in honor of the International Women’s Day.

Although the Foundation does not have a program focusing directly on women, Jennifer Hauseman, the head of digital said “women and girls issues cut across so much of the development work we do”. Gary L. Darmstad, senior fellow for Global Development, also mentioned that there is a shift in their strategy and they think more about “how” and “who” when it comes to design strategies and the question “who” brings gender issues to the table.

Photo Credit: Gates Foundation

Photo Credit: Gates Foundation

To be able to ask the right questions and define “how” and “who”, you need to have a good picture of “what” so Gates Foundation gives huge importance to the data. Yes, the data is important and it is a good advocacy tool. Here are some of the data to keep in mind:

  • Closing the gender gap increases GDP. Even in Western European countries which are more equal than the average, data shows the equal opportunity would increase GDP by 20%. Imagine what the impact would be in Turkey where only 1 in 4 women is in workforce.
  • Every dollar spent on family planning can save governments up to 6 dollars. This data especially caught my attention because the government’s recent policies in Turkey to make family planning less accessible are framed with the argument that economic growth is only possible if we achieve to keep the population young which is actually not true.

So gender issues are critical but how important is social media for women and girls? According to the data, women are 21% less likely to have cellphone in developing countries. While still there is a technology gap for women, participants emphasized that social media -and cellphones in lack of computers and internet- makes women more visible, it enables women to connect with each other and raise their voices. It gives the possibility to start a conversation and reach out to people who are not like-minded as Mariam Claeson from Gates Foundation pointed out. Technologies and innovations for good make healthcare services and family planning better and functional for women. Many lives are saved with mainstreaming those innovations.

Nevertheless, it seems there is still a lot to do to assure more equal societies. As the societies transform themselves, the effective use of communications and social media becomes more important. The key here is to find ways to provide more community-level services and communications tools.

by Derya Kaya

edited by Sophia Mayberry

To see a blog post on the event by Gates Foundation, please visit here. 

To see the whole conversation, check out #gatessocial on Twitter.