From Sohini's Desk:
International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated annually all over the world on March 8th to acknowledge social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, and to call for gender equality. Interestingly, IWD has been observed since the early 1900s! This year’s IWD theme is ‘Embrace Equity’. While talking about IWD’s Embrace Equity, I would also like to include United Nation’s theme ‘DigiAll: technology and innovation for gender equality’.
There are two words Equality and Equity. As words, they actually share the same root: aequus, meaning “even” /fair or equal. Both are important in their own right.So, it is important to understand the difference between the two as well.
In today’s day and age of google, chatgpt and others, I do not have to give a whole definition of the two but all I would say to distinguish between the two is that ‘Equality is giving everyone a shoe while equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits!’ For example: you imagine, you can give a sweet filled with peanut butter to every child in a particular class, which is fair and equal but if one child has a nut allergy, you are putting that child at a huge risk and actually doing harm.
Only talking about equal opportunity in the fields of education, workplace, health and all other aspects of life for everyone is not enough. We need to consider various diversities, marginalised communities, racial, gender differences, disabilities and many more social justice issues.Hence raise the awareness around Embracing Equity.
This concept actually is not very new. In medieval England justice system, while resolving disputes, they used a phrase, which we are aware of even today: ‘case by case basis’.
Now, if we need to understand each and every person or group’s personalised needs, to give everyone access to right level of health, education, workplace and all, first, we need the information from each of these individuals or groups that what are their need and what is blocking them from fulfilling those? In very simple terms, we need data. At Empeal, a digital health solution for chronic disease prevention and management, our moto is ‘measure it to manage it’. Unless we have the right information on the problem, we cannot take right action or give the right solution. So, be it at policy level or at organisation level who are producing products and services, they first need to understand the ‘root cause’ information from all the DIVERSE sources.
Technology can be a great enabler in this space. Technology has the ability to gather enormous amount of data from varied sources, analyse them quickly to develop solutions and use innovation to scale those solutions, so that it reaches the right people at the right time. And here we can join the dots with United Nations Sustainable development Goals, or SDGs, which is not only promoting these but also asking us to measure the impact of the solutions that are implemented. And this can be achieved through the use of technology and innovation. But to do this, technology need to be brought from ‘lab to market’ in a safe way with significant importance given to usability of those technology by ALL, with ethical overlay and it need to be bias free.
So usability, user journey of each innovative solutions, should include both the tech savvy population as well as the ones those are not, while taking steps towards increasing digital literacy. Ethical overlay is also important, especially when we see cybercrime and cyberbullies on the rise, which put vulnerable population even more under threat.
It is important to consider avoiding bias, otherwise we will be back to square one. For example, we were using workplace HR policies for women for generations, which were made predominantly by men. No wonder we had so many challenges at workplaces because it simply lacked a diversified, balanced view.
If we are not careful, technology that can scale positive actions, can also scale biases, and ethical issues. The solution to that is ensure the information that we are gathering to make our decisions to support equity, come from diverse sources and perspectives, so that is no one is marginalised and technology is used ‘for good’.
That is why organisations promote diversity and inclusion, to hear perspective of each section of the society. That’s why AI uses millions of data to train their models. Similarly, technologies are developed by humans. It is important to include diverse teams while developing these solutions while encouraging women to pursue more STEM studies, research and supports for entrepreneurship.
So, to summarise, we need to consider equity along with equality. This needs lot of information input and quick analytical ability, where technology can help. Develop innovative solutions from that information and implement them at scale while measuring their impact ensuring the technology and innovation is inclusive in terms of usability, has ethical overlay and is diverse enough to be bias free.