Women Deliver 2013 ended last week in Kuala Lumpur and key takeaways from the conference are beginning to appear on Twitter. For those unfamiliar with Women Deliver, it is a “global advocacy organization bringing together voices from around the world to call for action to improve the health and well-being of girls and women.” The conference is supposedly the largest global event to focus on the health and empowerment of girls and women. Melinda Gates, Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton were among the many notable speakers.
At engageSPARK, we strongly believe that mobile technology has the potential to empower women and improve girls’ health all over the world. An easy to use, flexible, do-it-yourself SMS and Voice platform can assist local NGOs to develop better information interactions, data collection initiatives and mobile surveys, which are rising in popularity as mobile penetration in developing countries continues to increase. VillageReach, a toll free maternal health hotline in Malawi, is a great example of how mobile is improving women’s health. Mobile phones in particular allow many women – previously unreachable due to their location in remote villages and social status – to gain access to vital community service programs. Because rural women tend to have higher illiteracy rates, voice calls to reach these women are critical.
One of the plenary sessions that stood out to me was called “Health at Your Fingertips: Increasing Information and Service Delivery through Mobile Technology”; it included a panel of various experts in this field. Kirsten Gagnaire, Global Director of MAMA was on the panel. MAMA is one of the shining examples of non-profit organizations that are leading the way for a global movement to provide vital health information to mothers via SMS and Voice technology. MAMA provides pregnant women and new mothers with key information and support using their mobile phones, through five different channels, including an interactive website, text messages, social networking and voicemails. The great thing is that through educating the mothers, the program has an indirect effect on educating their daughters when it’s their turn to start a family. In South Africa, as in many countries, mothers play a central role influencing their daughters. To quote an old proverb: “A mother is she who can take the place of all others, but whose place no one else can take“.
As we are less than 1,000 days away from the 2015 UN Millennium Development Goals deadline to end poverty, it is crucial now more than ever to focus our efforts on strategies that will bring the most value to people who can make the biggest dent in eradicating poverty. Numerous studies have shown that investing in women has huge benefits and far reaching implications for improving the lives of their immediate families and communities. For example, World Bank studies show that an added year of secondary schooling for a girl can increase her lifetime earnings by 15-20 percent.
Women Deliver is an organization that is dedicated to generating political commitment and financial investment for fulfilling Millennium Development Goal #5 — to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health. We at engageSPARK are advocating for even more investment and focus on mobile technologies as a way to inform and thus reduce maternal mortality rates. In fact, this will be one of the key campaigns that our solution will enable NGOs to implement easily and quickly. We hope the next conference will have more sessions about mobile technology as a means to fulfill MDG #5. We’re even happy to host a session!