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March 9, 2019
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March 9, 2019

Advancing women’s equality

The world needs women innovators, like theoretical physicist, Dr Shirley Jackson. Visit 

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

On March 8 the world observed International Women’s Day (IWD). The 2019 theme is: Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.

As the UN states, the theme “focuses on innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure….Innovation and technology provide unprecedented opportunities, yet trends indicate a growing gender digital divide and women are under-represented in the field of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and design. It prevents them from developing and influencing gender-responsive innovations to achieve transformative gains for society….it is vital that women’s ideas and experiences equally influence the design and implementation of the innovations that shape our future societies.”

We are called “to examine the ways in which innovation can remove barriers and accelerate progress for gender equality, encourage investment in gender-responsive social systems, and build services and infrastructure that meet the needs of women and girls” (UN).

Our challenge in T&T is that we are still playing catch-up to prepare students and adults for life in our fast-paced world in which the digital revolution is moving along like a juggernaut.

If we are to advance gender equality, there is an urgent need for all those responsible for producing/implementing/monitoring/evaluating development plans—at all levels, to re-visit these to ensure that they will help us to achieve the sustainable development goals to which we have signed up, especially key aspects of goals 4 and 5.

Women and girls can only “play an active role in building more inclusive systems, efficient services and sustainable infrastructure” (UN) if T&T embraces innovation and technology in a meaningful way e.g. by creating an enabling environment in which these can be developed.

In April last year, Planning Minister, Hon Camille Robinson-Regis, pointed to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Information Technology Report, which highlighted the fact that “there is a lot more T&T can do to increase the contribution of its ICT sector to the national GDP, which in 2015 stood at $5.5 billion or 3.4 per cent of GDP.”

We need to stay on top of current trends. As Bevil Wooding said some time ago, “Technology trends will continue to play a significant role in determining which businesses, organisations and countries will be most successful.”

I dare say our millennials can teach people like me a thing or two. I am definitely not a digital “native”, but we must all be open to transformation if we are to play our part in this new world or we will be left behind. My great-niece, Cherisse, constantly urges me saying: “You need to go brave, Auntie Leela!”.

As Christians, we need to root innovation and technology in the teachings of our Church. It is worth noting Pope Francis’ message to Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum in 2018.

Inter alia, he said: “… the most recent technologies are transforming economic models and the globalised world itself, which, conditioned by private interests and an ambition for profit at all costs, seem to favour further fragmentation and individualism, rather than to facilitate approaches that are more inclusive…artificial intelligence, robotics and other technological innovations must be so employed that they contribute to the service of humanity and to the protection of our common home, rather than to the contrary, as some assessments unfortunately foresee.”

If our girls and women are not to be seen as “cogs in a wheel” or products of our “throwaway culture”, we must demonstrate that we respect their innate, inviolable, and inalienable dignity by empowering them and creating conditions in which they can flourish.

Like boys and men, they too are made in God’s image and likeness, and an inclusive society must include them when promoting integral human development. Let’s try to make Pope Francis’ wish come true.

In 2017, via a pre-taped video from the Vatican, he addressed scientists, academics, tech innovators, investors and cultural “elites” attending a TED Conference in Vancouver. He stated: “How wonderful it would be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion.”