Opinion

The Great Debate

How technology widens the gender gap

The Internet and mobile phones have transformed our connections to people around the world. This technology has also, however, led to a widening gender gap in poorer countries. For it is largely men who control the information revolution that helps to educate, inform and empower.

In low and middle-income countries, a woman is 21 percent less likely than a man to own a mobile phone, according to research done by GSMA. In Africa, women are 23 percent less likely than a man to own a cell phone. In the Middle East the figure is 24 percent and in South Asia, 37 percent,

The factors driving women’s lack of connectivity vary from community to community. But the end result is always the same: disempowerment.

Women are not just missing out on educational and economic opportunities because they don’t own mobile phones. They are losing a voice. This disturbing finding is highlighted by the United Nations/Overseas Development Institute-ledMY World survey, a major, inclusive global poll. Respondents were asked to rank their priorities — including political freedoms, better healthcare, protection from violence and crime — in making the world better. They could vote paper, online or by mobile phone. The results will help world leaders as they deliberate on the post-2015 global development agenda this week, during the conference of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

The survey has already gathered 1.5 million votes. Women are just as keen as men to have their views heard — engagement offline is a 50-50 split between women and men; online women have voted more than men, with a 52-48 split.

What women want is political key

No matter how artificial and canned the candidates can seem at a presidential debate, no matter how competent or ineffectual the moderator — the nominee’s true self will peak out at some point.

Thus did GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney tip his hand when it comes to the all-important female vote — which both he and President Barack Obama have been scrambling after. He didn’t make a huge gaffe or get ensnared in a tough debate about choice. Moving around the stage, he seemed a 1950s throwback who had wandered in from a different decade — one where men were men, women wore shirtwaist dresses (Ann Romney’s uniform) and marriage was between a man and a woman.

Of course what drove this home was Romney’s anecdote about trying to find talented women for his staff when he was governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007. He said he actually went to a number of women’s groups “and they brought us whole binders full of women.” Though he apparently flipped this story: The groups came to him unsolicited.

Is the world any closer to closing the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is out with its 6th annual Global Gender Gap report. The report measures how equitably countries are distributing their resources between women and men — regardless of their level of resources.

“By and large, the trends are positive,” one of the authors of the report Saadia Zahidi, who is the senior director at WEF, told correspondent Reuters Michelle Nichols. “85% of the 135 countries listed have made progress.”

Over the last six years, the gaps in health and education between men and women have been closed by 96% and 93%, respectively. However, the gaps in economic participation and political empowerment are much greater — 59% and 18%, respectively, over the last six years.

The gender gap in personal finance

womenmoneyIt’s not surprising that men and women handle their personal finances differently. Yet, data collected by the employee benefits company Financial Finesse shows that men trump women when it comes to managing their wallets.

Out of the 3,500 U.S. workers polled, 90 percent of men said they pay their bills on time each month compared to only 74 percent of women. Also, 71 percent of men said they have a handle on their cash flow so they spend less than they earn each month, while only 53 percent of women could claim the same.

Manisha Thakor, a Houston-based finance expert for women, explains that women tend to be less educated in personal finance.

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