Fem-tech can change the world for women, but the tech and online worlds must be better regulated
(chombosan / Alamy Stock Photo)
From AI chatbots such as Chat GPT to the rapid expansion of TikTok, followed by fines for data breaches and bans from government devices, this is a time of huge flux in artificial intelligence (AI) and new technologies. Particularly exciting for me is the emerging area of “fem-tech”.
The old stereotypes of “tech bros” and male CEOs in hoodies, which underserved both women’s needs as tech users and failed to include women in the companies developing them, are finally being challenged. Female entrepreneurs are pioneering apps that help women track their menstrual cycle, supporting women through pregnancy, and helping cope with chronic conditions such as endometriosis.
These nascent sectors could transform women’s health, provide a huge boost to public awareness, and help prevent issues before they reach the NHS’s door, but the lack of direction from government on tech more generally is hampering this ambition.
For these technologies to become truly widespread, we need a skills base, infrastructure, regulation and investor interest to be far higher than they are. Women are more likely to be digitally excluded. In 2021, women founders secured just one per cent of Venture Capital investment in Europe. Yet the government’s broadband rollout has stalled, digital education in schools is declining and the United Kingdom is falling behind international competitors in digital adoption.
Many women find the online space unwelcoming, and at times unsafe. From cyber-stalking and cyber-flashing, to misogynistic pile-ons and incel gangs, women and girls are more at risk online than other groups – the End Violence against Women and Girls Coalition found that women are 27 times more likely than men to be harassed online. The Online Safety Bill was supposed to tackle this, but delays and last minute U-turns from the government have left the bill severely weaker than the government’s original promise.
In contrast, Labour has long campaigned for stronger protections for children and the public online, and we know the risks to women and girls need to be specifically addressed.
From cyber-stalking and cyber-flashing, to misogynistic pile-ons and incel gangs, women and girls are more at risk online than other groups
Labour has been calling for greater regulation of the online world, and for strong regulation to level the playing field for entrepreneurs and challenger firms, including those helmed by female entrepreneurs.
The reality of 21st century Britain is that a huge proportion of us rely on technology and the internet to organise our lives – and that should make our lives easier, not more difficult.
But, without regulation and leadership from the top of government, the mismatch between the potential benefits of tech versus the alarming gaps in terms of keeping people safe online will continue to grow.
The Conservative government has a real opportunity to capitalise on a sector potentially worth millions while also prioritising women and other marginalised groups in doing so. If they aren’t up to it, then Labour colleagues and I are more than ready for the challenge.
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