Women’s issues and how technology can save lives

  • 4,000 participants at Women Deliver conference joined by tens of thousands from all over the world via live-streaming and social media
  • Conference sees launch of +SocialGood, a new approach to global engagement that connects innovators
Women’s issues and how technology can save lives

IT is not unusual to see thousands of people from all over the world converging on Kuala Lumpur for an event, which is happening this week with the on-going Women Deliver 2013 global conference from May 28-30 that discusses the health and well-being of girls and women.
However, the 4,000 participants from 150 countries, including some of the world’s leading experts on these issues, are being joined by tens of thousands of people from all over the world who are sharing experiences, ideas and best practices via live-streaming and social media.
“Tonight, we’re making history because it’s the first time we’re making use of technology this – and it’s also the first time many of these issues are being discussed,” Aaron Sherinian, vice-president of communications and public relations at the United Nations Foundation, said on May 27 on the eve of the conference.
That evening saw the Women Deliver conference launch +SocialGood (with the Twitter hashtag #SocialGood), which its creators said was a new approach to global engagement that connects innovators around a shared vision: The power of technology and new media to make the world a better place.
Both an online hub and a toolkit for planning events year-round, +SocialGood invites community members around the globe to connect with each other and discuss how technology and social media can positively impact the issues they care about.
The idea came about last September at the Social Good Summit three-day conference, held annually during United Nations General Assembly Week in which people gathered in nearly 300 cities to discuss how to make progress on local and global challenges.
Women’s issues and how technology can save lives“This meeting produced unexpected results – it not only brought together people who may not have got to know each other, but more importantly, started dialogues around the world through social media that were crafting and catalysing change,” said Sherinian (pic).
“As soon as the summit was over, our phones started ringing; people were asking us: How can we engage our community? How can we engage through social media and new technologies to drive solutions?
“We’re meeting here tonight in this room, and all around the world through social media, to keep these issues on top of the world’s agenda,” he added. “We’re here tonight as part of what our friends at Mashable call ‘The Connected Generation’ – it’s not about your age as much as it is about the age in which we live.”
Sherinian said that +SocialGood was a long-term partnership between Women Deliver and Social Good Summit partners: The UN Development Programme, Mashable, 92nd Street Y (a nonprofit community and cultural centre), the United Nations Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. On May 27 itself, the Case Foundation added its support as well.
Through a mix of online conversations and real-world events, +SocialGood aims to support the global community of innovators, social entrepreneurs and thought leaders. Community members can use +SocialGood resources to host events ranging from Meetups in local communities to digital conversations connected with major events such as the World Economic Forum, SXSW, Women Deliver, or the G8.
Women’s issues and how technology can save lives 
The platform was launched by Esther Agbarakwe (pic), described as a “digital story teller, climate change and reproductive health activist” from Nigeria.
“Technology is the very fabric that connects us all together,” she said. “It’s what keeps us alive; it empowers us to make the right decisions about ourselves; and it allows us to hold our governments accountable as well.”
Malaysia, land of contrasts
While many Malaysians are still reeling from recent news that the deputy public prosecutor withdrew a rape case against a 40-year old man after he agreed to marry his 13-year-old victim, Kuala Lumpur (KL) was chosen to host the Women Deliver conference because of Malaysia’s otherwise good record on issues related to women and girls.
“It’s because of what Malaysia has done for girls and women,” said Jill Sheffield, president of Women Deliver.
“It’s an amazing story in the reduction of maternal mortality, from 590 per 100,000 live births or so just after its independence [in 1957] to 29 today! Malaysia did it in a way that was so smart and effective, and was willing to share with anyone who wanted to learn.
“It did by bringing health services to where the people were, making the services and people available where they were needed. I think the Malaysian Government deserves all the kudos it can get,” she said at one of the many panel discussions preceding the conference proper.
After public outrage over the aforementioned child rape case, Malaysia’s Attorney-General said the prosecution would proceed with statutory rape charges against the accused restaurant manager.
Sheffield’s fellow panelist Kathy Calvin, president and chief executive officer of the UN Foundation, concurred with her on how political will plays a major role in addressing women’s issues. “I think political will is critical, not just from governments but also from companies and people who can make a difference,” she said.
But a key part of the discussions on the evening of May 27 revolved around technology. Panel moderator Wong Mei Leng, the Malaysian editor of pregnancy and parenting website BabyCenter, noted that technology today seems to be taking decision-making away from traditional authority figures and putting it firmly in the hands of women and girls, and young people as a whole.
“What has been the response of governments and local communities, in your experience, to these changes,” she asked her two panelists.
“I find they’re very excited about this – they [women and young people] are doing half their work,” said Sheffield, adding that there were three technologies that were key here, the first being medical technology, while another was mobility.
“Mobile telephones have absolutely shortened the distance between the person and the health system, or the private sector acting on behalf of the health system,” she said.
“Mobile technology is only limited by our imagination – I think it can do amazing things in reaching out and sharing information; in asking for help; in making sure people have the medication they need; in getting to the clinics on time; and others.
“The third is social media – it’s just simply a phenomenon,” she said, adding that it has allowed young people to become part of this discussion in a serious way. “They’re ready, they’re willing, and they’re very able.”
The UN Foundation’s Calvin agreed that technology can make a massive difference when it comes to disseminating information and shortening distances. For example, the UN Foundation is using mobile phones to send health reminders to young mothers, and even to disseminate family planning messaging.
And social media is incredibly powerful. “Young people today don’t really trust institutions, so they’re taking charge [with new technology] to make changes,” she added.

Next page: The young take charge 

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