Last week, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish National Party tweeted this picture:
Indeed, last week was another milestone for women in British politics and maybe for women worldwide. The last time a woman acted as prime minister in the UK was 41 years ago, when Margaret Thatcher took office in 1975. In addition, Leanne Wood is the head of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh National Party, and Arlene Foster represents Ireland as First minister. The UK therefore, is headed by women.
Let’s add to this the fact that for the first time ever a woman is up in the running for president in the United States, and that Germany is already led by a powerful woman. This, at least on paper, looks like a great trend of women leaders (and if you want to see more women in politics, check out mySociety EveryPolitician).
We say on paper because when it comes to civil engagement and politics, global representation and participation of women is still scarce. In developing countries, women suffer from discrimination in public sphere that affects their participation in civic life. Just this weekend, Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani social media star was killed for choosing to live her life the way she wanted. She was killed by her own brother, for what is known as “honour killing” One of the reasons Waseem Azeem attested to murdering his sister was because she ‘defamed’ a political cleric.
In many countries in the world, not only Pakistan, women are murdered for daring to live outside the boundaries of traditional society and taking up inspiring careers while men remain free to do so without question. Even in the UK, not so long ago, Stella Creasy, a parliament member for the Cooperative party, and Caroline Criado-Perez, an activist, received Twitter threats for advocating having a woman on the £10 note. Apparently, besides the face of the queen, having more women in the public space is still, for some, a threat to society. Sadly, many young girls around the world will look at the picture of May and Sturgeon and not dream. They know their dreams can cost them their lives.
This deep dissonance between the two events this week, makes us ponder what role does civic tech have in supporting/empowering women in politics? How can we encourage more women to become politicians and take part in leading our world, and how we can abolish terrifying phenomena such as “Honour Killings” or online violence that block young girls from ever saying what is on their minds. May, Sturgeon, Wood and Foster probably became involved in politics long before the internet became big part of their work (and lives). They grow up and evolved to the politician they are in an environment that allowed them to do that (yet, we need to remember that compared to their male counterparts, this environment is not as welcoming or easy to work in).
So yes, women can become successful without having an app to make them more aware of politics. Yet, it seems that we are not doing enough in the civic tech world to encourage women to become decision-makers of the world. Users of civic tech are still mainly “pale, male and stale”, and in the world of open government, only 11 commitments are relevant to gender and empowerment of women. 8 of them are from the Norway.
What does it mean for us at Open Heroines?
1. First of all, in order to make women part of civic tech, we as women need to make sure that civic tech apps are also appealing to women. It should neither alienate women nor go overboard to be stereotypically pink and fluffy in a condescending fashion. Women should be included as a persona, where we need to understand what does, what doesn’t, and what WOULD make us use civic tech apps.
2. Secondly, we need to step up and support one another. Our open heroine Hera Hussain is doing wonders with her volunteer based organisation Chayn, an open-source project that leverages technology to empower women against violence and oppression. Their group in Pakistan is just one example of how tech can help women to find the information they desperately need but which is often withheld from them or hard to find.
3. Thirdly, if you are involved in creating your next National Action Plan for your country, make sure that gender commitments are on the table. Even if these commitments do not become part of the official plan, putting these subjects up for discussion is an important first step for raising awareness of gender issues.
We would like to finish with the words of Nicola Sturgeon and to believe that in spite of all of the challenges that we described here, nothing should be off limits for girls everywhere. If you have ideas of how to improve women’s participation in your country, or would like to share challenges you are facing, please email us at email@example.com.
Let’s smash patriarchy together.
This post was written by Mor Rubinstein, with the edits of Hera Hussain, Kristen Robinson, Ana Brandusescu and Ruba Ishak