Having tackled, or at least touched on, what are thought to be some of the world’s most pressing problems, the annual Davos meeting, convened by the World Economic Forum, came to an end on Saturday January 24th – but not without giving women and technology its due consideration. Although the approximately 2,500 event attendees are largely rich and powerful people for whom the latest difficulty faced was whether to take a helicopter or a limousine to the event, there are still people who attend Davos and try to turn what has become an ostentatious gathering and display of wealth into a platform for awareness-raising on issues that simply cannot wait any longer to be addressed. Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is one such attendee.
To be sure, as the Undersecretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka has a professional duty to put women on the agenda at Davos 2015. However, she goes many steps further by linking the empowerment of women to the use of technology as a transformative tool and encouraging men to become feminists. Here are two quotes from Phumzile at Davos:
“With technology, we can achieve universal access to secondary education within a generation.” “Patriarchy is bestowed on men at birth. Whether you want it or not, you have a privilege as a man, and you either fight against it and reject it by becoming a feminist man, or you enjoy the privileges that come with it.”
It is refreshing to see a UN leader speak with such candor while at the same time actually being able to walk the talk that she advocates. Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka was the first ever female Deputy President of South Africa, earned a PhD in the use of mobile phones to support teacher professional development in resource-poor settings, and spearheaded the HeForShe campaign, which was officially launched at Davos with UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson.
While Davos will forever remain primarily a business-focused gathering, one can only hope that with speakers who have messages like Phumzile, that the men who lead the countries and big corporations will eventually realize that it makes both sense and “cents” to actively contribute to women’s empowerment, and technology is a powerful supporting vehicle for such change.