Why Mobile Matters for Women Empowerment

The short translation is this: ensuring women have access to the web and its resources, not only empowers them but, ultimately, affects our society as a whole.
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Don't you love a-ha moments? Moments where years of muddling through experiences and gained knowledge come together into an epiphany and you feel like Wonder Woman must have when she was flying around the world creating peace and justice? Yes, I too can save the world! Cue the music, put on the cape, and let me fly!

I had one of those moments a couple of months ago. Let me explain.

I've studied both women's issues and communications; I've taken graduate-level human rights courses as well as gained over a decade of marketing experience. Yet, it wasn't until last month, when I heard Internet maven Karen McGrane speak at a Confab event, that my practice and passion connected.

We can empower women through mobile. Yes, we can!

Stick with me here.

It has been widely noted that 91 percent of American adults own a mobile phone. But what is interesting is that adoption isn't simply adding a mobile phone to an already wired world. For many people, this is their only wire. A mobile device is the Internet for many people. Cell phones are becoming a necessity while home desktops are becoming the luxury. Don't believe me? Research suggests that by next year, more Americans will access the Internet through mobile devices than through desktop computers. And according to Pew Internet Research, these users who mostly access the Internet via their phone tend to be young, disadvantaged citizens "with relatively low income and education levels."

What does this mean for female empowerment?

Well, many women fall into the category of mobile users who only have access to the web through their cell phone. At the same time, women continue to earn less money than men, yet they are more likely to be single heads of households. Women bear the responsibility of raising children, but with fewer economic resources. This correlates to poverty, lower education, and poor health for children and families. The short translation is this: ensuring women have access to the web and its resources, not only empowers them but, ultimately, affects our society as a whole.

Karen McGrane referred to a case study with the American Cancer Society (ACS) in which she quoted David Balcom, ACS managing director of digital platforms, as saying "it was a life-saving imperative to have all of our content on mobile." He realized that the patients who needed the information on their website the most, were the ones who probably didn't have access to a traditional computer. Those patients were accessing the ACS website through their phones and could only see a portion of the content.

What ACS did -- focus on mobile and commit to ensuring its audience could get the life-saving information it needed -- is something, sadly, very few companies are doing. Think of Fortune 100 companies that have a lot at stake as well as the resources to market their companies. Well, 44 of the Fortune 100 don't have a mobile website at all and only six comply with Google's mobile SEO requirements. Only 16 percent of consumer brands have a mobile strategy, and only 14 percent are happy with the results.

If more people are accessing the web via their mobile device, why are so many organizations ignoring how their content works on a mobile device?

A lot of organizations are doing amazing things to empower women. The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women is getting mobile phones into the hands of women. The Egyptian HarassMap allows incidents of assault to be reported so that women can be warned about particularly dangerous areas.

But what about ensuring that content is optimized for mobile so that more women -- especially those who may only have access to the Internet through their mobile device -- have the same opportunity to read, learn and get the information and resources that could make a significant change in their lives. By not paying attention to how your content works on mobile or on a tablet, then you are not paying attention to a really important demographic and you are treating them like second-class citizens.

Ushering in the New Year means that we are just one year away from the Millennium Development Goals deadline. There are a lot of smart people doing incredible work to push things forward. But there is also much work to be done. Two of the eight goals have to do with women: gender equality and empowering women, and improving maternal health.

One of the ways to help get resources to women is as straightforward as paying attention to your mobile strategy. The time is now. It is time to get serious about empowering women. It is time to get serious about ensuring content and resources are available on mobile devices.

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