In order for girls to work and attend school at the same rate as boys, they need to physically get there first. Safe roads, transit systems and communication technologies are imperative to a healthy economy, but are disproportionately holding back girls and women from sustainable growth. Achieving goal number 9 of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will enable women and girls to prosper politically, economically and socially.
SDG 9 is to “build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.” Taken broadly, investments in infrastructure and advances in technology are critical to achieving sustainable development. Improvements to infrastructure will generate political, economic and social benefits for all, but women and girls will arguably benefit the most from these developments.
Pave the way to a healthy life
An efficient and well-connected transit system means more than paving roads and building train tracks. Reliable transit can save a mother’s life as she goes into labor. A paved, well-lit road can enable a young girl to safely ride her bike to and from school, or use the bathroom at night without having to fear for her safety. An operating bus system can ensure a woman arrives at work on time and remains a high-performing employee at work.
Communities, and particularly women and girls, need to be able to depend on the infrastructure that connects them to neighboring services and regional hubs. A Girls’ Globe featured organization, CleanBirth.org, has written about how women living in rural areas are unreachable during the rainy season in Laos when roads are washed out and transportation is unreliable. If the first target in SDG 9 is met – to “develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure…with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all,” – the once unreachable mothers will have increased access to the same resources as urban-dwelling mothers.
Smart phones, smart societies
Female employees are the minority in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector. For example, in Jordan women make up less than 25% of employees in the IT and communication sectors. But this May, a Jordanian parade showcased university students’ work, with a focus on women in the ICT fields. The day celebrated women in this field with over 50% of the financial prizes awarded to projects from female students.
Additionally, mobile technology is increasingly the most popular way to both communicate and receive important information. Organizations such as Grameen Foundation are using mobile technology to increase the quality of antenatal and neonatal care in Ghana. Mothers can receive text messages each week that provide information on the development of their baby and best practices to take to ensure a healthy term birth. The nurses are also able to use the data to track their patients and plan for preventative care. The Grameen Foundation is one of many organizations contributing to the momentum of using mobile devices to improve maternal healthcare.
But the disparity of women in technology positions is not limited to developing countries. There is a significant lack of female employees in technology positions in the United States and Europe. For example, in the U.S. 12% of engineers are women and 26% of jobs in computing are held by women. The “Silicon Valley Gender Gap” as it has been called, is problematic because a somewhat homogenous group of people are making the highly utilized products that connect us every day. This leads to specific set of agendas and goals that may result in missed opportunities to connect with those not at the planning meetings.
Organizations like Girls Who Code are working to empower young girls in computer science at a young age in efforts to close this technology gap. The final target of SDG 9 is to “significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.” When the minds and voices contributing to the creation of communication technologies are diversified, products that reach a wider scope of people – and can cater to their different and diverse needs – will be developed. Girls Who Code is working to balance the landscape of those creating our communications channels so that more women and girls are reached and therefore heard in the future.
The SDGs are a comprehensive and interdependent set of goals. Sound infrastructure and innovative technology can accelerate the success of the other 16 goals for a country. As we are planning the steps to achieve SDG 9, we need to ensure that women and girls are on the road and at the desk for truly equal and sustainable development to occur, not only as beneficiaries of infrastructure and technology, but as the creators and developers of them as well.
Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.