International Women’s Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the fight for equal rights for women and international peace.
In our own area of Information Technology (IT), the pioneering women in computing struggled against preconceptions, restrictive work practices and stereotyped management practices in order to survive professionally. In 2008 the unequal participation by women in IT has not disappeared and continues to be an issue around the globe.
The importance of the issue to society is illustrated by the Anita Borg Institute (n.d., p. 4):
…technology has an extraordinary potential for improving the human condition—from more accurate disaster forecasting to medical breakthroughs in diagnostics and health-care delivery. But what are the problems technology is attempting to solve? Whose priorities are represented? How much of technology truly benefits the world’s peoples? Who are the creators of technology? The creators of most of our current technology, however, represent a narrow stratum of the world’s population – North American males. The important needs and problems that inform and drive technology are defined primarily from the experience and perspective of a few.
The ACM-W is supporting women in IT internationally through its Ambassador program. ACM-W ambassadors in nine countries, while sharing much in common in their enthusiasm to promote IT with young women, have different social, political and economic challenges that complicate their drive to increase female involvement in IT.
For example Women's representation in Parliament, often used as an indicator of the status of women, varies significantly in the ambassador countries; the USA is ranked 71s, Australia 30th, the United Kingdom 60th, Canada 50th, Turkey 108th, South Africa 15th, Pakistan 51st, India 107th, and New Zealand 14th (http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm).
In my own country Australia, women have many career choices presented to them, a luxury not always available in other cultures. Yet for every $1 earned by men in Australia today, women earn just 84c. Even worse – this gap has actually widened since 2004 (http://www.getup.org.au/campaign/HowTheOtherHalfEarns). While women are embracing IT applications they are not embracing IT careers. One new initiative to attempt to address this was the launch of a fun new book ‘Tech girls are chic, not just geek’ on International Women’s day. The book presents the diversity of IT careers and shows that it takes all types of people to work in IT.
Unfortunately the road ahead is neither straight nor paved as we strive to achieve a critical mass of women in IT. Yet, we should never lose sight of the global picture:
Across the world women have grown poorer than before. With their children, women still make up four-fifths of the poorest people in the US and are among the poorest classes throughout the world. (French 2007, p. viii)
Anita Borg Insitute For Women And Technology (n.d.). Changing the World for Women and for Technology, Virtual Development Center Five Year Report, 19992005. Retrieved January 2007, from http://www.anitaborg.org/programs/vdc/vdc_19992005.pdf.
French, M. (2007). The Women’s Room,Virago.
Graphic: ‘Punch 13th June 1910’ retrieved March 2008 from special.lib.gla.ac.uk/images/suffrage/f255_37.jpg