Women and girls in Ireland encouraged to divulge mobile devices’ impact on their lives

28 Jan 2015

Entrepreneur Joanna Norton

Irish entrepreneur Joanna Norton is running an online campaign to highlight how women use mobile technology, to be showcased at the upcoming UNESCO Mobile Learning Week.

If you are anything like me, then realising you have accidentally left the house without your mobile phone feels like you are suddenly missing a body part. But have you ever stopped to think about how you use mobile devices to get things done, from the mundane to the amazing? And have you ever recognised just how easily you use that technology?

Over the coming weeks, Joanna Norton wants women and girls in Ireland to take part in an online campaign that demonstrates their experiences of using mobile technology, and she plans to present the results at this year’s UNESCO Mobile Learning Week, which is focused on empowering women and girls through technology.  

“I believe one way to do this is to showcase just how we use technology in our day-to-day lives,” she says. “There’s a stereotype that women aren’t (techie) or aren’t as keen on using technology as men. I just don’t believe that’s true. I know hundreds of women who use mobile technology in really effective ways every day, and – indeed – who have developed and adapted mobile technology to suit their own needs.”

Grassroots initiative

It’s easy to get involved: you just take a photograph of yourself and state how mobile technology impacts your life (maybe in the workplace, managing family life, keeping connected, in learning and education) then upload the photograph to your own Facebook page and/or Newstalk’s Facebook page. Or if Twitter is more your thing, then post the photo tagging @NewstalkFM and include the hashtag #MLW2015 and a brief description to go with the picture.

“It’s a grassroots initiative to encourage Irish women and girls to state for themselves how they use their mobile devices, what the technology means to them and maybe how mobile technology has empowered them,” explains Dublin- and London-based Norton, who is the founder of Keywords English. “It’s making women and girls aware that they are quite proficient in how they use their device for day-to-day living.”

Empowering with mobile tech

Mobile Learning Week is UNESCO’s flagship ICT in Education event, and last year it attracted more than 700 participants from 60 different countries. This year it runs run from 23-27 February at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, and UNESCO is partnering with UN Women to raise the visibility and impact of the event.

By talking about the campaign at the event in Paris, Norton hopes it will inspire women to be more aware of how mobile technology can empower them, and that it will inspire other grassroots initiatives around the world.  

“We will create a visual storyboard with captions representing the experiences of young girls up to grandmothers with mobile technology,” says Norton. “I will present that to the forum about what I did to get the campaign up and running and any findings that I have had from it.”

The idea for such a campaign struck Norton when she presented about her work at a previous UNSECO conference.

“It took me years to get to a platform like that (UNSECO) and I thought there must be some way of making this whole process more inclusive,” she says. “So this campaign is about being able to present women’s experiences to the UNESCO conference and to UN Women and hopefully to be able to share a model like this with others who perhaps have absolutely no resources. This will show what is possible just with a mobile device and Wi-Fi connection.”

Links with STEM

Norton also hopes the campaign will help encourage young women to make the link between the technology they use and STEM.

“The under-representation of women in STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – is well-documented at this stage. It is a major problem in Ireland. Here, tech and innovation are hailed as being really key to our future economic success but at the same time there are not enough skilled staff available to work in these sectors,” she says.

“The aim is to make women more aware that they are engaging and living with technology by using their mobile device – we need to be a bit more creative in terms of how we explain what STEM is and what technology is.”

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.

Inspire 2015 is Silicon Republic’s international event running 18-19 June in Dublin that connects sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication