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- As Delivered - 

WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following statement at the full Committee hearing on women and technology, increasing opportunity, and driving international development:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, that’s better.  For calling this hearing.  Let me welcome our witnesses to the Foreign Affairs Committee.  Thank you for your hard work, and shining a light on what I view as an intersection of two issues critical to our foreign policy: the challenges facing women and girls as the growing reach of modern technology, and the growing reach of modern technology.  I’m looking forward to a good discussion.

“I’d like to note that for the second time this month, our Committee has a panel made up entirely of women.   Two weeks ago, Assistant Secretary Patterson and Assistant Secretary Nuland were here testifying on the crisis in Syria.  And today we have this distinguished group. 

“It’s amazing the way technology has changed.  The way we access numbers, respond to crises, or simply communicate with one another.  Today, a coffee planter in East Africa with a smartphone can know what his produce is worth in London.  A doctor anywhere in the world can pull up a patient’s medical record with the push of a button.  Classrooms with broadband access have a gateway to an incredible wealth of knowledge, information, and face-to-face connections with people a world away.

“Of course, technology can also be exploited for nefarious purposes.  We know that ISIS has taken advantage of everyday encryption technology and even video games to communicate and orchestrate attacks like the one in Paris.  But these abuses underscore why we need a full understanding of the way technology is growing and changing the global landscape.  But they should not blind us to the fact that technology has brought massive benefits to billions of people around the world.

“At the same time, it’s important to recognize that those benefits have not been evenly distributed.  When we focus on access to technology, we see that women and girls are at a tremendous disadvantage, just as they are in so many other areas.

“Women in developing countries are 23 percent less likely than men to be online.  In South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, the gap is nearly 35 percent.  And in sub-Saharan Africa, it jumps to 45 percent.  Those are really shocking statistics.

“Some of this disparity is due to structural economic inequality.  The cost of technology can be prohibitive in places where women are not full participants in their economies.  Some of this problem stems from other norms and ideas about women and girls that keep them as second-class citizens. 

“For example—across much of the developing world—Internet cafés are the easiest way to get online.  The constraints of childcare and responsibilities at home make this a difficult option for some women.  Access to mobile technology could help break down these barriers.  But around the world, 200 million fewer women than men own mobile phones today.  It’s unbelievable.

“But beyond these practical limitations in many countries, Internet cafés—and the Internet in general—are considered inappropriate for women and girls.  Even in some of the most remote areas, Internet cafés are packed with boys and young men, but women and girls are left out. 

“In Azerbaijan, only 14 percent of women have ever been online?14 percent.  While 70 percent of men have access to the Internet.  In India and Egypt, one in five women reported believing that the Internet is inappropriate for them.  Can you imagine that?  Their reasons for not getting online ranged from concerns that their families would disapprove, to not knowing how the Internet could benefit their lives.

“The reality, of course, is that access to technology could not only improve the lives of individual women, but could help to lift entire communities and entire countries.  We know that keeping women and girls on the sidelines of society is a major drag on growth and prosperity.  When women become full economic and political participants, the results are huge in terms of driving economic progress, improving health and education, and raising standards of living.  Getting more technology in the hands of more women is a critical way to tap that potential.

“According to a recent study sponsored by Intel, getting an additional 150 million women online would add 13 to 18 billion dollars to the combined annual GDPs of 144 developing countries.  They would help countries become stronger, more stable partners on the world stage, and add fuel to the global economy. 

“So the question isn’t why should we break down the gender divide when it comes to technology, but how do we break down that divide?  What education and training efforts will best provide women with the knowledge they need to use technology for their benefit?  What kind of partnerships will help make technology more accessible and affordable?  How do we address the out-of-date taboo that technology is somehow inappropriate for women and girls?  It’s unbelievable.

“I hope our witnesses can offer their guidance in these areas, because I honestly believe that expanding access to technology could help solve so many problems.  I thank you again for all you do.  All of you.  I look forward to your testimony.  And I yield back, Mr. Chairman.”