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Why Girls Are Bearing the Brunt of the Economic Crisis - and Why Technology Can Help

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Everyone is feeling the pinch in this economic crisis - but in the developing world, it is girls and women who stand to lose the most.

This week Plan International will publish a joint report* (www.plan-international.org/economicreport) with the Overseas Development Institute (http://www.odi.org.uk) showing how girls and women are bearing the brunt of the global economic crisis.

The report finds that family poverty hits girls hardest - with a 1% fall in GDP increasing infant mortality by 7.4 deaths per 1000 girls, versus 1.5 for boys.

Long standing economic trends, entrenched gender inequality and austerity budgets have impacted survival rates, development - including education and employment - and protection from violence, neglect and abuse.

The impacts are likely to reverse gains made in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the research concludes.

The findings also indicate that food shortages and malnutrition are more common among girls than boys.

Women tend to reduce their own food consumption to become 'shock absorbers' for household security.

As women go out to work longer hours for less money, more girls are pushed out of school and into filling the gaps at home with domestic work, into hazardous child labour or even transactional sex.

Many girls are being pushed from school as times get tighter in developing countries. Girls drop out of school more - with 29% decrease in primary school completion for girls versus 22% for boys.

I believe the world is failing girls and women. They need more targeted support in social protection, job creation and education if we are to turn the tide of this trend and close this unacceptable and growing gap.

One result of girls dropping out of school is that they find themselves without access to ICT, and are thus further distanced from the modern world. Girls are left not only illiterate - but technologically illiterate. In turn, their potential earning power is decreased and the gap will continue to grow.

Part of growing up in the 21st century means having a mobile phone and spending time online. These are things we take for granted. Again, I believe access to a computer or a mobile phone is a basic human right, and to fail to provide girls with access is to fail them once again.
Nowadays, as technology leaps ahead into previously unimagined realms, one can argue that to be ill-educated in ICT is to be immediately disadvantaged for living and working in the modern world.

The key, I believe, is to make sure that girls and women have the same access to such technologies as men. Discrimination, lack of confidence and lack of basic language skills all affect teenage girls' access to computers, for example. In many countries it's considered inappropriate for a girl to go to an internet cafe, thus preventing her from completing her homework. Girls are less likely than their brothers to have the financial resources to pay for, say, a mobile phone and its running costs.

In countries where girls are the bottom of the pile, having the fastest broadband in the world won't make ICTs more accessible to them. Changing attitudes will. Working with families and schools, and changing government policy is key; give girls social approval and opportunity and they will find a way to get connected, even in areas where it's difficult to access the internet, because they know how important it is to their future.

We must be addressing gender stereotypes to change attitudes that girls are of a lower status and should not participate in technology; we should be building support among parents and communities for girls' access to ICT and putting more computers into schools.

As we improve technology and connections, and make equipment cheaper, we should also be providing girls with ICT training at school - and increasing communities' access to technology.
As world leaders gather in Davos this week for the annual World Economic Forum, I believe discussion and collaboration between the best of industry and development can be a powerful tool to achieve these goals.

If we can change these gender stereotypes and transform attitudes to technology, I feel sure that we will see girls in the developing world attain their human right to technology, and make massive leaps in the sector, both in their private and their working lives.

*Off the balance sheet: the impact of the economic crisis on girls and young women (January 2013) by Maria Stavropoulou and Nicola Jones is available to read at this link: www.plan-international.org/economicreport