“Alexa, what’s the weather like today?”.
If you started your day by asking a chatbot for advice on whether or not to pack an umbrella, you’re one of the millions of us who have become reliant on AI (Artificial Intelligence) to get through your day-to-day. But while AI and high-tech devices have brought multiple benefits, they also have a much darker side. From chatbots that can’t recognise women’s voices as well as men’s, to automatic hand dryers that fail to respond to black skin, we’re starting to understand the ramifications of unconscious bias on the tech shaping our lives.
This bias is disproportionately impacting marginalised groups, such as women and people of colour. Take Caroline Criado Perez’s much publicised new book, ‘Invisible Women’, which showcases inequality through the lens of data. Through a stream of shocking statistics, Criado Perez demonstrates the imbalance now embedded in everything from medicine to automotives and shows how the tech industry’s supposed ‘gender blindness’ has actually led to a host of products that don’t function properly for women and people of colour. Ever struggled to hold an iPhone or fit one in your pocket? One size definitely does not fit all.
However, while only 22% of AI professionals globally are female, there is a wave of talented women in technology working to change the landscape of AI to make it more ethical, useful and reflective of the world we live in.
The Women Leading in AI 2019 report has recommended new ‘rules’ to help with the process of designing AI/tech more inclusively, from mandatory Algorithm Impact Assessments to skills training for employees working with the technology. Women within the industry are leading the way; our very own TEDxLondonWomen speaker Josie Young is doing transformative work building feminist chatbots. Joy Buolamwini founder of the Algorithmic Justice League is campaigning for AI to represent a ‘richer portrait of humanity’. These women are on the frontline, ensuring future generations live in a world that is not working against us, but for us, and is built to help us thrive. The future is most definitely female.
“We can start thinking about how we create more inclusive code and employ inclusive coding practices. […] We have the opportunity to unlock even greater equality if we make social change a priority and not an afterthought.”
Joy Buolamwini, computer scientist and founder of the Algorithm Justice League
Women Shaping the World
It’s not just tech and AI where women are shaking things up. We’ve collated some of the amazing successes happening across the globe with women taking the lead.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made history when she was the first world leader in 30 years to give birth to a baby in office. In September 2018, she also became the first world leader to attend the UN general assembly meeting with her baby, setting a precedent for working parents the world over.
In November 2018, a record-breaking 102 women were elected to the House of Representatives in the US midterms. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress; Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids became the first Native American women to be elected to Congress; and, at 29 years old, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest women ever elected to Congress.
Republic of Ireland
In May 2018, the Republic of Ireland voted to overturn the country’s abortion ban, in a historic referendum when 66.4% of Irish citizens voted to replace the Eighth Amendment.
Iceland kicked off 2018 with a new law that requires equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality with the aim to close the gender pay gap by 2022.
On 25th October 2018, Ethiopia elected its first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde. Zewde was an experienced diplomat before becoming Africa’s only female head of state.
A women’s union in Kerala, India, in 2018 won the state’s workers the ‘right to sit’. Women working in retail stores in Kerala had been prohibited from sitting, chatting, or even leaning against walls after standing for hours. After a long fight, the Keralan government agreed to amend the labour laws to grant workers the right to sit.
A young Peruvian woman has been winning global accolades for creating a social enterprise that equips low-income women with the digital skills they need to thrive in the tech industry. Mariana Costa Checa co-founded Laboratoria after being inspired by enterprises like Black Girls Code and now runs training centres in Peru, Chile, Mexico and Brazil.
Caroline Contreras, known as Miss Rizos, has been breaking cultural barriers with her work to normalise natural hair in the Latinx community. The blogger and activist started one of the Dominican Republic’s first natural hair salons and is challenging the beauty standard that says straight hair is more beautiful.
Further Reading: Words by Women
Some of the women writers you should know, as recommended by our Literary Partner, Penguin Books.
Leader of the Suffragette movement, Pankhurst’s autobiography details the inner struggles and indomitable spirit of the women and men within the suffrage campaign.
Heralded as the first feminist text, De Beauvoir’s declaration, ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’, spearheaded the fight for greater gender equality.
Wolf’s radical work first published in 1990 is a powerful examination of the tyranny and obsession of the cult of female beauty.
Wickedly funny and unflinchingly honest, Chungtai explores the power of female sexuality while
slyly mocking the subtle tyrannies of middle-class life in 1940s India.
Suleri’s memoir of life in the newly-created country of Pakistan spirals from the shocking tragedies that hit her family to a wider meditation on universal questions about being a woman.