Contraception, washing machines, and the Internet: How technological progress empowers women (and society)
    March 8th, 2020: International Women's Day is a big thing in Eastern Europe and I knew my grandmother in Bulgaria is awaiting my call today as she does on every occasion. She's signed up for Facebook two years ago so we could even have a video chat on Messenger. "It's great, this Internet, she sighed happily. "It is, indeed" I replied, in a rush to hang up because of this thought I had to write down.
    March 8th, 2020: International Women's Day is a big thing in Eastern Europe and I knew my grandmother in Bulgaria is awaiting my call today as she does on every occasion. She's signed up for Facebook two years ago so we could even have a video chat on Messenger. "It's great, this Internet, she sighed happily. "It is, indeed" I replied, in a rush to hang up because of this thought I had to write down.

    The contraception, washing machines, and the Internet - technology has empowered women like no public program in human history. In fact it has empowered society as a whole.

    According to Wikipedia International Women's Day is a "focal point in the movement for women's rights". Hans Rosling, the founder of the Gapminder Foundation, and author of the book "Factfulness", uses an anecdote from his childhood to playfully explain the effect of technological progress and the industrialisation on the liberation of women like this (see full TED talk below):

    "You load the laundry, and what do you get out of the machine? You get books!"

    Examples

    What Hans Rosling refers to is the ability of technology to take over work and free up space for education - for women and men, as well. Here are three examples:

    • Contraception gave women back control of child-birth and fertility, reducing the average number of children, and time spent on maternity, from 8 in the 1950s to 2 in the 2010s.
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    Source: https://ourworldindata.org/fertility-rate

    • Washing machines and other devices reduced housework time, mainly for women, from 59 hours a week in the 1900s to less than 10 hours time per week today.
    Source: https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/how-appliance-boom-moved-more-women-workforce

    • The Internet, and software in particular, moved society forward by not only leveraging energy and devices for mechanic and mass productions (see below Industrial Revolutions I and II), but also creating the case for automatic productivity (Industrial Revolution III). But most importantly it opened up limitless opportunities for free, instant, and flexible education through YouTube, MOOCs, Online Communities, and Wikipedia, to name a few, while empowering women for independent income. With that, it has become another "focal point in the movement for women's rights".
    Add alt text
    Source: http://www.tinaruseva.com

    Improving education, employment, and development opportunities for women as half of the population has a tremendous effect on the economy as whole. Not only because of the proven effects of female education on their own and their children's opportunities, health, wellbeing, and employment, but also because it creates sovereignty, political equality, and a social norms for soceity as a whole - the three pillars of every strong democracy.

    "If you have democracy people will vote for washing machines." Hans Roslin

    International Women's Day this year marks one week before local elections in Munich and 240 days until the president election in the United States - both events of concern for at least half of the population in Germany and the developed economies worldwide. The world today is split in a black-and-white dichotomy of left "dreamers" and right "realists", whose disputes often end up in unreasonable counter-paroles.

    There are blue posters in front of my window promising to bring back the past, red ones for the right of continuing education, and all the other colors for modest digitization. It's difficult to put a political program in a single claim, I know, but I can't get rid of the feeling that politics today profoundly misunderstand technology.

    That wouldn't be a cause of concern just thirty years ago when technology and politics seemed to exist in well-defined different compartments. Today however technology converges with any other area of how we live, what we do, and who we are, and failing to understand its complex dynamics and impact on society results in contentious posters.

    This irrational debates were one of the major concerns of Hans Rosling, a scientist himself, and the reason to start his own movement for a data-driven discours and "factfulness". It was his way to live up to his rights and obligations in a democracy - as a husband, father, and a citizen standing for improving equality and economic wealth for more people around the world. Because progress drives society forward. And luckily today progress does not take politics, but it takes activism. And thanks to the Internet this can take as little as sharing a family anecdote on the Internet or celebrating International Women's Day.

    Further reading:

    JULY, 29 / 2019

    Text author: Tina Ruseva
    Photography: Pexels
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