Empowering Media That Matters
Home >> Blog >> Media Impact >> Women, Technology, and Social Media

Women, Technology, and Social Media

Change Your World DCDid you know that Yahoo! has a Business & Human Rights Program? Today they hosted a Change Your World Summit in Washington, D.C.--a follow up to their first Summit in Cairo--dedicated to Women, Technology and Social/Digital Media. I showed up to see what's new in the discussion that may apply to social documentary filmmakers.

The speakers' line-up was impressive, here's just a sampling:

Holly Gordon, Executive Producer, 10×10
Courtney Martin, Feministing and ValentiMartin Media
Mikaela Beardsley, Executive Producer, Half the Sky
Lindsay Guetschow, Senior Director, Marketing & Strategic Alliances, Participant Media
Emily Jacobi, Executive Director and Founder, Digital Democracy
Marietje Schaake, Member of European Parliament
Jennifer Preston,  Reporter, New York Times
Shelby Knox, Director of Organizing, Women’s Rights for Change.org
Allison Palmer, Vice President of Campaigns and Programs, GLAAD
Kristin Peterson, CEO, Inveneo

Women are still reticent to own their own expertise. That's one of the motivations for the director of Business & Human Rights at Yahoo! Inc., Ebele Okobi, to host this event. In addition to robust panels, the Summit included a session of the The Op Ed Project, "a social venture founded to increase the range and quality of ideas we hear in the world," by helping train women to communicate for the spread of influence and ideas. Women in social documentary can certainly identify with the need.


Some of "the biggest flashes on the media landscape are white dudes articulating their own guilt," said Courtney Martin.

Think about Kony 2012 on one side and Waiting for Superman on the other, even Kristoff's Half the Sky. All are examples of white men as central figures. Miss Representation was a women-centered documentary that revealed the problem of who create messages in media. But there, still, a privileged white woman is at the helm. Why is this a problem beyond the obvious inequity? Social change media makers face this ongoing challenge.

"Don't be tempted to simplify women's rights into a women's issue,"  according to Marietje Schaake, European Member of Parliament for the Dutch Democratic Party.

Schaake emphasized the she didn't get elected because women voted for her. She's an MP because she has good ideas and people voted for her. The message, as articulated by Ann Mei Chang from the U.S. State Department, is that inclusion of women isn't the right thing to do, or a moral issue, it's the necessary thing to do. Inclusion of women means better outcomes. People at all levels recognize this. Digital Democracy held a mobile technology training in Chiapas, Mexico, said Founder and Executive Director Emily Jacobi, and the community decided that women were the most important recipients. What's good for women is good for everyone. It's a strategic argument. Take the economic angle - by not giving phones to women on a global scale, you're "leaving money on the table," said Chang. Anthea Watson Strong, former Director of Voter Experience the Obama for America Technology Team, says "real time data is going to show us that women are superusers of social media and technology." There's some leverage for campaign X.

What social documentary filmmakers know better than most: story transcends technology.

Don't discount the power of the network to carry a story, even at the most local level. Afghanistan has 300,000 users on Facebook and it's own tech start-ups. On Change.org, a brother started a petition for his sister who was raped in the jim crow era, and whose known perpetrators were never prosecuted. The outcome: the local legislature issued an official public apology. Also, a surprising number of petitions on Change.org are kids hoping for a bigger allowance. Well... you have to start somewhere. Advocacy organizations like Resolve count on individual stories. They put infertile couples in the offices of Congress people, and make sure the moment is uncomfortable, in addition to creating online spaces for stories. Other examples of small going big? How about the infamous "penis picture"--as referred to by Allison Fine, Senior Fellow at Demos: A Network of Ideas and Action--of men at the infamous contraception hearing on the Hill. Also--the response to the backlash against Ellen Degeneres when she was chosen as JC Penney's spokesperson. Meanwhile, two women in Afghanistan opened a women's only internet cafe on International Women's Day in Kabul.

Shelby Knox, Director of Organizing and Women's Rights at Change.org said "there are people out there to get pissed off with, so let's do it."

Couldn't say it better than that.

So where will you start? How about change.org/cannes -- The 2012 Cannes film festival has 22 finalists. ... None of them are women.