USF's Museum Blog

STEAM-ing Ahead at the Global Fund for Women

By Nell Herbert

IGNITE Team Global Fund for Women (from left to right: Krista Walton-Potter, Michaela Leslie-Rule, Nell Herbert, and Catherine King)

According to a recent CNN article, San Francisco has replaced Silicon Valley as the world’s technology hub. Having lived in this vibrant and innovative city for the past seven years, you would think that by now I would have fully embraced the city’s love of all things tech. While I admit that I am just as attached to my computer and smart phone as the next San Franciscan, I also question our increasing dependence on technology. At times I want to push back against its prevalence in our lives. I still prefer to read a real book rather than using an e-reader, and I feel an immediate sense of renewal when I’m able to unplug and get out in nature or sit down for a prolonged painting session.

Last year I decided to follow my dream of pursuing a career in the arts and started the Museum Studies masters program at USF. I tend to think of the arts and science/technology as being on opposite ends of the spectrum, but my recent internship at the Global Fund for Women challenged this assumption. In fact, the world of science and technology is beginning to acknowledge the interconnectedness of these two fields as well. Recently in popular discourse the term STEM (which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) has changed to STEAM in order to include the Arts. This shift in thinking marks a growing understanding of the important role that art and design play in innovation.

I learned about the Global Fund for Women during my first semester at USF, when I wrote a research paper on the under representation of women artists in museums and galleries. While women’s access to higher education in the arts has improved, women artists still face significant discrimination in the art world. In a recent ARTNEWS article, author Maura Reilly points out that on average, women artists receive less than 30 percent of solo exhibitions at museums and galleries in the United States and abroad. Their representation in major international art festivals and museums’ permanent collections is equally low.

My research paper included a case study comparing two women’s museums: the National Museum of Women in the Arts based in Washington DC, and the International Museum of Women, an online museum based here in San Francisco. While researching the International Museum of Women I was inspired by their creative and enlightening online exhibits, and I wanted to get involved in the work they were doing. Last year, the International Museum of Women merged with the Global Fund for Women, a not for profit organization that gives grants and support to women’s organizations and women’s human rights movements around the world. During this past spring semester, I worked at the Global Fund for Women as an Editorial and Production Intern.

Prior to my internship, as an advocate for women’s rights I was aware of the under representation of women in the fields of science and technology. But because of my own interests and biases, I didn’t consider this to be a central issue in the women’s rights movement. My perspective shifted when, as an editorial intern, I learned and wrote about incredible organizations doing women’s rights work all over the world. From Coordinated Action Against Human Trafficking in Argentina to Feminist Approach to Technology in India, the organizations that I wrote about are truly using technology in novel and inventive ways.

IGNITE campaign header

During my time at the organization I primarily worked on an online campaign titled: IGNITE: Women Fueling Science and Technology. While working on IGNITE, I learned that all over the world technology can and is being used to increase women’s access to vital services such as healthcare and education. Even women living in remote and rural areas can benefit from the use of technology. For example, I worked on this piece about a program in East Timor, a tiny country in Southeast Asia just north of Australia, that is reducing maternal and neonatal mortality rates by connecting women to midwives and health clinics.

A midwife teaching an expectant mother and her family about the Liga Inan program in East Timor

While increasing women’s access to technology is critical, the need for change doesn’t end there. As Global Fund for Women president and CEO Musimbi Kanyoro points out in her introduction to the campaign, because women are considered technology consumers rather than creators, “today’s technology does not reflect the diversity of women’s experiences, imagination or ingenuity.”

IGNITE hackathon participants in Kerala, IndiaUltimately, the only way that technology will respond to the unique needs of women is if women are actively involved in designing it. In recognition of this fact, the Global Fund for Women sponsored a Hackathon, in which girls and young women in five cities around the world spent a weekend creating websites and applications that responded to the theme of safe spaces.

IGNITE hackathon participants in New York CityThis project, as well as the many organizations that I wrote about for IGNITE, broadened my understanding of the power of technology. While I still think that it is important to be mindful of the role of technology in our daily lives, I also value it as a tool with the potential to transform women’s lives. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute to the IGNITE campaign and the vital work that the Global Fund for Women is doing.

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