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How to Empower Women and Girls Even More — With Technology

Social media and other digital tools are transforming the roles of women and girls across the world, policymakers, activists and tech leaders told the 2014 Social Good Summit on Sunday.

United Nations Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin, noted children's rights activist Graça Machel and Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and administrator at the United Nations Development Programme, joined a panel called "Women Power. Empowered Women." Moderated by ABC News co-anchor Juju Chang, the discussion centered on the ways tech is informing, empowering and inspiring women and girls globally.
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"Information is power," Calvin said. "And technology is the way to empower women."

The panelists discussed the ways technology is improving the lives of women and girls, and addressed action that still needs to be taken on a global scale.

"I think this conversation brings to the center the understanding of the value of our girls," Machel said. "A girl has the same value as a boy. And this means a huge change in the way families and communities look at girls.”

Calvin mentioned specific apps that are helping women around the world, including MAMA, a service developed in partnership with the U.N. that gives age-based information to pregnant and new mothers in Africa — letting them make informed decisions about their health.

"There is a huge gap in gender data," Calvin said.
"If we don’t count women, we can’t take care of them, make sure our policies are meeting their needs or find out if our efforts are working."

"If we don’t count women, we can’t take care of them, make sure our policies are meeting their needs or find out if our efforts are working."

As mobile phone use increases globally, Clark said, women still have far less access than men. She said changing this is "critical to women's economic empowerment and employment."

"The implications of this digital divide is also a services divide, and an information divide," she said. "And information is power, as we know."

For Machel, connecting communities has the power to change long-held ideas or traditions — the kind that lead to child marriage, which affects 15 million girls each year.

“Traditions are man-made,” she said. “These efforts have to go down to the community level. We have to change the mindset.”

A later panel also discussed the importance of connecting communities to change attitudes, and empower women and girls. Moderated by Asha Curran, director of the 92Y's Center for Innovation & Social Impact, "Inspiring Real World Action in the Women's Movement" underscored the work of recent social media campaigns to create discussion surrounding women's issues.

The panelists included Tribal Planet founder Jeff Martin, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Tara Abrahams, the global policy advisor at Girl Rising. They discussed recent hashtag campaigns, like Yes All Women, that have brought women's issues to the forefront of public discourse.

“Social media is forcing traditional media to address these issues,” Martin said.

Above all, each panelist called for further action to support women and girls. "We need to mobilize," Mlambo said. "Gender discrimination is the most tolerated violation of rights on earth today. We cannot have an open-ended struggle as far as women are concerned — there has to be an expiration date."

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