Innovation

10 simple gadgets that empower women around the world

Low-tech solutions can make all the difference for women in developing nations, which in turn empowers entire communities. Here are 10 examples.

sunsuitcase.jpg
A solar suitcase, which gives midwives light in childbirth.
Image: We Care Solar

An overwhelming amount of data shows empowering women leads to stronger, healthier, smarter communities.

When women are elected to office, policy making increasingly reflects the priorities of families, women, and otherwise excluded groups, according to the World Bank. If they delay marriage, they have greater educational achievement and lower fertility, which extends their life expectancy — pregnancy-related causes account for most deaths of girls 15 to 19 in the developing world — as well as the health and education of children. And, when women control money, they spend it in ways that benefit the home and community.

Technology is spreading faster than ever and empowering people around the world, but women have much less access to it than men. And simple technology that allows women safer circumstances, more power, and healthier food and water can make all the difference.

Here are 10 simple gadgets that transform the way women live and work around the globe.

1. Solar suitcases

Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit dedicated to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother. In 2013, the organization gave a grant to We Care Solar to build solar powered suitcases because so many doctors and midwives give birth in the dark. A documentary, called Seda's Light, was made about it. Seda is a midwife in Malawi, and would deliver babies in the dark. Sometimes, he couldn't see that women were bleeding until the sun rose, and it was too late. With these suitcases, 40 rural clinics in Malawi — where 25% of health centers have no electricity access — now have light.

2. Infinity Oven

According to the World Health Organization, three billion people use open fires or stoves to heat their home and cook food. And four million people die from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with those fuels. The Infinity Oven is a low-cost, solar powered oven that empowers people to cook by harnessing the power of the sun. The oven, made from recycled oil drums and other local materials, can reach temperatures up to 220 degrees.

3. Panasonic's water purifier

Women are most often the ones who have to fetch water for their families. And most of the time, that water is dirty. A simple water purifier has the ability to completely transform their lives, as well as everyone else's in the community. Panasonic developed a solar powered water purifier. It uses titanium oxide and zeolite as a photocatalyst, and when that is exposed to UV rays, it quickly removes toxic substances. The main market for Panasonic will probably be India, where more than half the population lives without access to clean drinking water.

4. The Venus washing device

Developed by an Indian entrepreneur, The Venus is a gadget that clips on the side of a bucket to make clothes washing easier. Millions of women around the world still wash clothes by hand, and this invention makes that process much faster. It uses a motor that connects to a belt to turn a wheel and churn the water. It has to be plugged in right now, but a battery version should be available soon.

5. Breast milk banks

FoneAstra is a smartphone-based device that monitors temperatures during milk pasteurization. It was developed for breast milk, which millions of children lack access to because of premature births, HIV infections, or because they are orphans. It works like this: A sensor is placed into a hot water bath and then the donated milk is heated by sitting in that water. The device connects to a mobile phone with Bluetooth and guides the user through the process of the milk being heated. Commercial machines can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and this kit is less than $1,000.

6. WaterStep's purifier

One in ten people — 748 million people — live without clean, safe water. Collectively, women in sub-Saharan Africa spend an average of 200 million hours per day collecting water that may or may not be safe to drink.

Simple water purifiers can help solve this problem. WaterStep, a Louisville, Kentucky-based nonprofit, built the M-100 chlorine generator, which is small enough to fit in a carry-on suitcase and powerful enough to provide thousands of people with clean water. The generator uses salt and a 12-volt car battery to produce chlorine gas. The gas is injected into contaminated water and kills pathogens to produce safe drinking water.

7. Mobile technology

Mobile technology is gaining ground in every nation, and manufacturers like Huawei are making phones that are cheaper and more suitable to conditions in developing nations. And mobile technology is very powerful when it comes to keeping women safe, giving them the ability to message or call for help and report incidents on their own without having to rely on others. In developed nations, startups are developing apps to make women safer and to help prevent violence against them, but simply having access to an affordable phone can make a huge difference for millions of women around the world.

8. SunSaluter

This simple tool helps communities meet their needs for clean water and electricity. Using the weight displacement of water passing through a filter, the SunSaluter rotates the solar panels throughout the day to optimize energy collection by up to 40%. It cuts down on time and allows families to have electricity and drinking water.

9. 3D printed water sensor

Detecting pollution and toxic chemicals in water is virtually impossible for women around the world. Systems that can do it are very expensive. But with a low-cost 3D printed sensor made for developing nations, water in lakes and rivers can be more easily and consistently monitored. The sensor, developed by engineers at the University of Bath, contains bacteria that produces electric current as they grow. When they come into contact with toxic chemicals, that current drops — it works like a canary in a coal mine.

10. Infant warmer

Infant mortality rates are exceptionally high in many places around the world. Embrace Innovations developed a simple infant warmer, a portable, low-cost incubator, that can save lives in developing countries. It's $300, compared to traditional incubators which cost thousands of dollars. It can be powered by electricity, a generator, or alternative energy sources, but it can work for long periods of time without electricity access and reheated with boiling water.

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About Lyndsey Gilpin

Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.

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