How Technological Progress Leads to Women’s Progress

As I discussed in a recent op-ed in Inside Sources, technology is a force for economic growth and human progress. Few truly recognize just how much women have benefited from these advances. Technology not only decreases the burden of once-laborious household tasks, it also drives social progress and opportunities for women.

We have come a long way since the days of knee-jerk techno-panics against bicycles that I discuss in that piece. While we still may fear new technology, we have also embraced the freedom it gives us. The internet has been such a success because of policy decisions that enshrined the freedom to innovate online into law.

This means free speech and free expression are the default for women with access to technology. There are fewer barriers to finding their voice and others like them than ever before, whether it’s as bloggers, vloggers, or just on social media. No longer are women confined to the parlor or the sidelines—the era of “cheap speech” has given everyone the opportunity to have a public say.

Consider the recent conversations around sexual harassment. Without communications technologies, the #MeToo movement might have been preemptively snuffed out by the powerful figures at risk of exposure. Social media empowered women to start a dominant international conversation. As Nadia Khomami wrote, “The internet age has better equipped people to deal with these issues. Social media has democratised feminism.”

Technology also generates solutions to long-standing problems in underserved communities.

For example, “Femtech” ventures catering to women’s health have exploded into nearly a $400 million industry. These products are aimed at solving gaps in women’s healthcare such as period tracking and supplying birth control in areas where it may be difficult to access. Other technologies like the Internet of Things could also help women take charge of their own lives.

This isn’t just an American phenomenon. Online platforms can provide new opportunities for women who may otherwise face legal or cultural barriers. For example, ride-hailing services in the Middle East often have the option of matching women drivers and women riders. This empowers women both to be entrepreneurs and to travel more freely and independently.

Perhaps the best part of technological progress is that it frees women to develop the breakthroughs that will power the future. A TechCrunch report found that from 2009 to 2014, the percentage of startups with at least one female founder had nearly doubled and the number of companies with at least one female founder had more than quadrupled. In 2018, female-founded companies accounted for just over two percent of the total, but this small cohort raised a record $2.3 billion in venture capital funding. Such numbers don’t take into to account smaller-scale entrepreneurs or the women who may be pursuing innovation in spaces that don’t require such funding.

Last month, we reflected on the important contributions women have made in a variety of fields during Women’s History Month. Women have come a long way in the last century and even the last few years. Technological advancements have been a powerful tool for women to embrace their full potential. Promoting innovation is not only good economic policy; it is a fundamentally feminist approach.

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