Social Media & Women Empowerment

Source: London Student Feminists

In the wake of the Social Media Revolution, social user growth is expanding fast in emerging markets such as Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa. In 2017 Social Networking in Asia-Pacific will have the largest social network population worldwide and the Middle East and Africa will have the second-largest audience. What does that mean for development and women empowerment? Can Social Media include women’s voices in decision making processes and promote equality?
According to a report by the OECD Development Centre hashtag activism has helped to bring forth women’s issues to the forefront of political agendas. Through increased visibility successful hashtags such as #BringBackOurGirls and #HeForShe has brought not only large audiences online but also the attention of decision makers. Activism through Social Media helps grass-roots movements to call for gender equality through public accountability, and through using Social Media tools the possibility of tackling and raising awareness about issues such as violence and harassment against women can help grass-roots organizations show through campaigns how big the scale of the problem is.
However, as positive as that sounds, Social Media and online activism can also lock women into a world of Social Media where the awareness campaigns starts and stops there. The gap of inequality between the genders remain in the decision-making positions. Furthermore, without involving women and young girls into leadership positions through training in policy changing or how to directly effect the systems of decision-making, the problems facing women empowerment remains. Another angle is the gap that Social Media creates between women in rural areas and those in urban areas. Organizations naturally direct their content and campaigns toward audiences with access to Social Media, thus many women are restricted from taking advantage of Social Media, its tools and political advocacy online because of illiteracy, language barriers and the digital divide in infrastructure between the rural and the urban areas. Their struggle is therefore many times invisible, and empowerment campaigns favors those of high-end reaching large audiences.
An example is Emma Watson’s speech to the UN “I’m a Feminist” (See video below) ignited a wave of shares, massive campaigning on various Social Media outlets and the rejoicing of grassroots organizations for its message,


the video engaged the news with articles, blog posts and comments. While it is true that the widespread of important messages such as this has been facilitated through Social Media and encourages users to share and discuss the subject freely. However it is also important to note that from a development perspective Social Media (and Emma Watson’s speech)  is not available to  women in rural areas, it does not speak to them nor of their struggles, it helps in increasing the gap of invisibility between women in rural and urban areas and therefore restricts many women when being directed (and facilitated) to certain groups in society.
The fact that women in rural areas have limited access to new technologies, language barriers and lack of education are huge problems in itself and poses challenges for furthering women empowerment and the move towards gender equality. The way Social Media campaigns often are designed by organizations or famous personalities based in the West poses questions of post-colonial criticism in the absence of voices of women in the developing countries in favor of those speaking for them in the Western ones. In their report on Big Data and International Development: Impacts, Scenarios and Policy Options, Stephen Spratt & Justin Baker acknowledges the importance of addressing the English language bias of big data, they call on creating helping mechanisms to transfer education benefits to developing countries to help increase the ability of grass-roots to tap into real-time data sources. The same will be necessary for Social Media to be an effective tool in decision-making it has to be combined with education and outreach to women in rural areas as well, making their voices heard and lending them a real space to promote empowerment. Without training and preparing women and young girls to enter leadership positions Social Media campaigns might create a waves of engagement but not necessary that of a policy changing one.

4 Comments

  1. Stella

    Nice blog article how to the social media revolution is expanding in Asia, Middle East and Africa. I also like the discussion about the gender roles, but also the inequality between the genders which you mention. You also discusses another recognized point, the problem in the rural areas, where they have less possibilities to technologies and education as well. The question is here, how is it possible to reach these women and how can they receive training to enter Social Media Leadership?

    1. Dalida

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting Stella. You are raising important points and I believe that we might need to redesign certain educational programs in order to create true participation and make the path to decision-making and change possible for women, not only in cities but more importantly in rural areas. As you probably know, a big challenge is illiteracy where over 493 million women still can’t read (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/jun/17/literacy-women-illiteracy-development). Reaching women is one of the challenges and ending illiteracy is yet another.

  2. Elin Williams

    Interesting aspect of gender equality and social media as a tool to reach it. It is facinating to read about how social media plays a large part in politics and decision making processes. The question is, does hashtag acitivism end at visability, awareness and attention making? It is also interesting to read your thoughts on and analysis of the digital gap, and how soical media can actually lock grassroot movements and women out of decicion making processes within the areas they are fighting for change, since social media is often praised to be accessable for everyone everywhere regarding socioeconomic status.

    You provide a critical and constructive viewpoint on a very current subject. From a ComDev point of view, I think you give plenty of interesting insights and give points of discussion to an issue far from resolved. Thank you!

  3. Elin Williams

    Interesting aspect of gender equality and social media as a tool to reach it. It is fascinating to read about how social media plays a large part in politics and decision making processes. The question is, does hashtag activism end at visibility, awareness and attention making? It is also interesting to read your thoughts on and analysis of the digital gap, and how social media can actually lock grassroots movements and women out of decision making processes within the areas they are fighting for change, since social media is often praised to be accessible for everyone everywhere regarding socioeconomic status.

    You provide a critical and constructive viewpoint on a very current subject. From a ComDev point of view, I think you give plenty of interesting insights and give points of discussion to an issue far from resolved.

    Thank you for an interesting read!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *