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Maeghan Orton (center, in purple shirt) visits with villagers in Bumpe near Bo, Sierra Leone, about mobile phone technology. Orton is from Medic Mobile, a technology partner of United Methodist Communications. Several villages in the Bo district will receive new, insecticide-treated mosquito nets from the United Methodist Church's Imagine No Malaria campaign in the first planned redistribution to replace nets given in 2010. 2010 File photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

2010 File photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Maeghan Orton (center, in purple shirt) visits with villagers in Bumpe near Bo, Sierra Leone, about mobile phone technology. Orton is from Medic Mobile, a technology partner of United Methodist Communications. Several villages in the Bo district will receive new, insecticide-treated mosquito nets from the United Methodist Church's Imagine No Malaria campaign in the first planned redistribution to replace nets given in 2010.

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Women can be game changers through technology

By Kathy L. Gilbert
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Editor's Note: This story was first published on September 24, 2015 during the 2015 Game Changers Summit.

The Rev. Betty Zazadi Musau, an African clergywoman and communicator who uses technology daily, heard something new about women’s empowerment from Revi Sterling, executive with NetHope, during the 2015 Game Changer’s Summit.

“She (Sterling) said, ‘It isn’t about technology; it is about human.’ To see and to witness to what women are doing is one thing, but to value them as human beings created in the image of God is very crucial for the church,” Musau said.

Photos and VIDEO

Revi Sterlng talks about gender inequity and how the technlogy gap impacts women.

Revi Sterling explains how technology, in and of itself, can be empowering.

See photos from the event on our Flickr feed.

Gender inequity in technology was an important component at the second conference on ICT4D (information and communications technology for development), sponsored by United Methodist Communications, the denomination’s global information agency. The summit, held Sept. 17-19, featured innovators who are international leaders in the use of technology and communications for the social good.

“United Methodist women could be a moving force for the world. This conference is based on meeting communication needs of the last-mile population. Within that last mile, at the farthest margins, are women,” said the Rev. Neelley Hicks, director of the agency’s ICT4D Church Initiative.

Gender divides lead to digital divides, Sterling said.

Women bear the greatest brunt of poverty and do not have the same access to information and communication technology as men. That limits their access to important information.

Sterling shared news stories about the abuse women have to endure in some parts of the world to have a cell phone.

“Women just want to be heard. They are so shadowed in their communities — by culture, by distance, by their husbands, by their mothers-in-law. They have a lot of things to say and often, only men have the technology,” Sterling said.

Maeghan Orton, Medic Mobile, spoke at the 2014 Game Changers Summit.

“Gender norms, gender roles influence an individual’s access to information, to mobile devices, and also the finances that help them use those devices,” she said.

First-hand experience

“Looking at the experience of Medic Mobile and technology, women in my context have access to handsets (cell phones). We have taught them to control those handsets for their own benefit —it is not for the benefit of the husband; it is for the benefit of the pregnant woman,” Musau said.

Partnering with United Methodist Communications, Medic Mobile, and the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, Musau designed a project in Kamina connecting clinics and villagers via mobile messaging. The program there helps community health workers stay in touch with pregnant women until they deliver, sending text messages with reminders of appointments and other important pre-natal care information.

The Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the first woman ordained in Southern Congo Conference, used one of her cousins who lives in a village as an example of how far technology extends yet doesn’t always inform women.

“My cousin, who has a cell phone, has no clue that there is a mineral (coltan) in the cell phone that comes from the Congo,” she said. “There is war because of this mineral. It is bad. It has to be stopped. Information is critical.”

Coltan is a “conflict mineral” mined in eastern Congo that is used in all consumer electronic products as well as the jewelry, automotive, aerospace, medical equipment and other industries, according to Enough, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to end genocide and crimes against humanity.

“Thank God for technology. We can reverse the situation by passing information and educating the people through cell phones, through social media. I think God is speaking through United Methodist Communications,” Kiboko said.

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Joey Butler, a multimedia editor/producer for United Methodist Communications, contributed to this report. Contact them at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org