Empowering more women as a means of enabling greater economic prosperity and social gains across the board is so obvious on many levels. Anything that self-evident can lull us into a complacent mood. When news comes along that moves the dial again, we really ought to perk up our ears. I’m especially fond of the contrast approach.
First, the glass ceiling. Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In” is in my pile of to-reads. That’s just indicative of the mountain of great books sitting on my desk. The Facebook COO was already an iconic touchstone for corporate feminism before entering the ranks of celebrity authors. Now any water cooler conversation on gender (in)equality in the workplace has to refer to her book. Too few women, she writes, are at the top levels of power – be it business or government – in spite of a massive generational leap in education. Economic data brilliantly presented by The Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel backs up her claim.
Second, the Mobile Kunji (or “key” in Hindi). No bestseller status here, but what an innovative idea! Poverty in rural Bihar, in northeastern India, is made worse by high rates of maternal and infant mortality. Women need better access to medical advice on family planning and women’s health issues. So the BBC’s Media Action Charity is helping with a clever program based on providing better medical advice to women through mobile phones. They devised a character named Dr Anita. “She” provides helpful and reassuring automated advice based on a number code punched into the healthcare worker’s phone. This gets around the problems of access (80% mobile phone ownership) and illiteracy (forget about text messages) in a huge region with few resources.
A world away from the water cooler, but the same underlying principle: Give women greater opportunities to make more responsible and better decisions. Sandberg’s book has sparked a public debate in the best sense and Mobile Kunji is winning the hearts and minds of Indian women.