IWD 2023: Using technology to push for gender equality

How three Indian-Australian women are cracking the code in their own sphere of influence

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International Women’s Day is upon us once again and the annual tradition of White Women Celebrating Equality via Ticketed Breakfasts commences. Whilst many valid criticisms of the culture surrounding IWD emerge each year, it’s also our duty to combat creeping tokenism by honouring the roots of the women’s equality movement and the role we all play in creating an equitable future for all women.  

This year’s theme “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” draws attention to a critical area which impacts outcomes for women and girls. It urges women to #crackthecode and use innovation in technology to push for gender equality. 

We speak here with three Australian women of subcontinental background about the work they’re doing in this regard, in their fields of financial literacy, safety, and gaming.  

Create tech that meets the needs of women and girls 

SNEHA KADAM, Agile Coach, Financial Services 

As part of a large digital transformation program, Sneha coaches and enables development teams on how to maximise outcomes for banking customers. Like much of the STEM and IT industries, DevOps (sometimes referred to as software development) has historically been a densely male industry. However, as US researcher Caroline Criado Perez points out in her book Invisible Women, there is design bias in everything from seatbelts to pianos – all of which were designed and tested based on male subjects by male-led development teams. This demonstrates the flaws of not having women in the design and creative process. Sneha sheds light on how she makes it her mission to “make it easier for women to manage money.” Speaking about South Asian culture, she mentions that historically women have felt uncomfortable or even stigma when asked? about family finances.  

Sneha Kadam

“Fundamentally there is a barrier or a mental block where women think they don’t really need to manage their finances and rely on their partners,” Sneha says. “By making it easier and simpler for women to manage money on their own, and by building accessible apps, we can make sure they have confidence using the tools.”  

Alongside development, Sneha is also passionate about financial literacy for women and girls. “I am a big advocate for financial literacy programs specifically designed for women being run online using technology. These basic things can reach a wide audience, and so we ask ourselves how we as an industry can remove the blocks preventing people from accessing these things.” 

Reflecting on her own role in a majority male space, she finds that “there isn’t enough at an individual level outside of the leadership programs and International Women’s Day events. All the development opportunities for women are extra work that you do on top of your day job, rather than being integrated in day-to-day interactions, like watercooler chats (which is where a lot of informal networking occurs)”.  

Asked if she could make any one tech change to meet the needs of women and girls, Sneha says, “I’d love to remove the existing barriers that women have to obtain loans, especially business loans, in everything from applications and documentation required, and making whole process more accessible.” 

Close all gaps in digital access and skills 

DHAYANA SENA, Founder of Attack on Geek and Women of XboX 

Also known as MissDeuxGeek, Dhayana is no stranger to the digital world. Working professionally in digital content creation and marketing, Dhayana is a staunch advocate for women and girls in gaming. A notoriously male-dominated environment, the gaming landscape was long overdue for disruption when Dhayana waded into it some eight years ago.  

Though her experience was largely positive, she encountered barriers which lead her to question her place in the community. 

“When I started, the communities were male dominated but they were welcoming,” she reveals. “Most were really glad to see a female gamer.”  

Dhayana Sena

Dhayana acknowledges that in part her path to acceptance may have been easier as she shared her hobby with her husband, who often occupied the same spaces. “Occasionally when streaming (playing in front of a live online audience) I’ve encountered young boys and older men shouting abuse. It made me wonder if I should quit, but I kept going through the strength of the community. You’re not just gaming for yourself but for a community.” 

The gaming landscape has a greater representation of women now, almost 50% according to some industry bodies, however the diversity within that 50% is lacking. The majority of female gamers are white and from Western countries, and professional opportunities in the industry centre around these women. “It is still very rare to see Asian or South Asian representatives in the games industry. As a young teenager in New Zealand seeing that representation would’ve been so great. Wanting to be in entertainment and the arts as a South Asian was so hard.” 

Dhayana describes how difficult it was to demonstrate that success was possible through the lack of role models, and encountered challenges finding support within her family to pursue her passion.  “It has taken a long time to silence the doubt internally,” she admits. This has led her through a few abandoned traditional career attempts, and to her motivation now, which is “showing young girls that no matter what, even if you don’t see yourself represented, you can still do it and achieve that if that’s your passion and what you desire.” 

Address technology-facilitated gender-based violence 

KITTU RANDHAWA, Founder and Director, Indian (Sub-Continental) Crisis and Support Agency  

Every technological advancement comes with the inevitability that technology will eventually be exploited in unintended ways. Speaking to Kittu Randhawa, it sounds like nothing would surprise her when it comes to the avenues utilised by perpetrators of violence against women to control, intimidate and harm. “Digital surveillance is an area we’re seeing a lot of issues in,” she revealed. “Technology is used as surveillance – someone can always know where you are, where you’re going, access your bank accounts – all in real time.”  

Describing the complete lack of privacy many women in abusive relationships face, Kittu describes instances of hidden tracking software installed on phones, perpetrators abusing video doorbell systems and CCTV to monitor and control women, and even seemingly innocuous gifts, such as jewellery containing location trackers. The unprecedented access has lead to organisations such as ISCA and government bodies reassessing how they’ve traditionally worked to support women in vulnerable situations.  

Kittu Randhawa
Kittu Randhawa

Image-based abuse, which involves pictures or videos being circulated of victims without their consent, is also a growing concern. “It’s a huge concern for young girls, but also for newly married women who are not comfortable denying their spouses requests.” Kittu explains that even in the event that a woman refuses to consent to images, they’re often filmed covertly, such as via a hidden camera in the shower, and the images used to threaten or shame all the same.  

However, the advances in technology come with benefits previously inaccessible to women, such as the ability to store important documents on encrypted cloud-based platforms. Echoing Sneha’s message, Kittu also advocates for self-determination for women urging them to always have a ‘Personal Emergency Plan’.  

“This includes know where your passports are, understanding immediate medical needs, children’s essentials, insurance etc. Living in Australia, a land of floods and fires, that is basic to know. Financial independence can be confronting for women sometimes, but it’s no different than being prepared for a disaster. It’s about understanding the essentials required to foster self-determination.” 

Kittu explains that great resources are available via the eSafety Commissioner to learn more about how to protect yourself and your children from technology-facilitated abuse and encourages everyone to review these. With her parting comment, Kittu adds that the one thing we can all do to help women and girls is, “Reach out and say hello to someone you know. Women don’t support women enough. They’re worried what people might think. Just reach out and say ‘hey, how you going’. You need to make it accessible to open and be approachable. That’s the only way a woman facing abuse has the opportunity to disclose.”

Read More: What India-trained women could do to succeed in Australia’s tech sector

Aneeta Menon
Aneeta Menon
Aneeta Menon is a business owner, writer and board member of a Hindu temple in Sydney.

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