By Shyn Yee Ho-Strangas
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the way we live, work and interact with one another, from self-driving cars to voice/chat assistants to generative AI. Technology giants like Microsoft, IBM and Google have been investing in and developing AI-powered technologies that have the potential to revolutionise societies. The advancement of artificial intelligence over the recent years has led to conversations around its potential impact on some of the most pressing issues such as gender inequality in Southeast Asia, which remains a significant challenge.
The region’s gender gap
Gender inequality is a widespread and systemic issue that impacts women’s opportunities, rights, and access to resources. Lower income levels, limited access to education and healthcare, and reduced political representation are some of the consequences women are unfortunately enduring.
According to a report co-written by UN Women and the Cambodian government as chair of ASEAN in 2022, the percentage of women in managerial positions increased by just 2 points from 39% in 2000 to 41% in 2020. In the middle and senior management roles, women accounted for only 26% in the region.
Despite the region’s economic growth and progress in many areas, women’s representation in various sectors paints a sombre picture of gender equality. As an advocate of gender equality and technology, I believe that AI can play a vital role in transforming women’s lives by promoting more equitable gender representation.
How AI can help
We are seeing several noteworthy developments in the application of AI to improve gender equality. For instance, by leveraging AI, we can address gender bias in recruitment, selection and promotion processes to create a more level playing field. AI can analyse vast datasets to identify patterns of gender-based discrimination and provide insights on how to address them.
This approach can help not only to increase the representation of women in leadership roles across various sectors, including business, politics and academia but also increase their participation in the labour market.
AI-powered chatbots can offer more timely support to women who face domestic violence or abuse, such as easier access to legal and medical services, and connection to support groups. AI can also promote women’s economic empowerment by offering AI-powered financial services to ensure financial inclusion.
For example, in Cambodia, a mobile payment platform uses AI to analyse customers’ transaction data for credit assessment and offer personalised financial products to women entrepreneurs. With the assistance of artificial intelligence, women can potentially face fewer barriers in accessing credit – barriers such as a lack of collateral to grow and expand their businesses.
AI at home and school
It is a well-researched fact that working mothers still take on the bulk of household chores and caregiving, even when they are the primary breadwinners of their families. Facilitated by technology, home services such as those provided by Sendhelper are now readily available to alleviate the burden of home management, thus enabling working executives to focus on more quality time with their families.
AI has the power to play a crucial part in advancing gender equality in education too. AI-enabled educational resources can offer customised learning experiences that cater to the unique requirements of each learner. This can help reduce the disparity in education between genders by making high-quality education and training available to girls and women. Additionally, AI-based language translation tools can overcome language obstacles, making education more inclusive for women from various linguistic backgrounds.
The use of AI in promoting gender equality is not without its challenges though. AI can help identify and reduce the impact of human biases, but it can also worsen the situation by reiterating and deploying biases at scale. AI systems are only as intelligent as the data they are trained on. This situation raises the necessity of AI capabilities built using fair and representative gender inclusive data.
Another challenge is the digital divide, which can prevent women from accessing AI-powered services and resources. In Southeast Asia, women in rural areas are less likely to own or access a smartphone or a computer compared to men. In countries like Myanmar and Cambodia, this is compounded by a gender gap in access to internet connectivity. To tackle this issue, a comprehensive strategy is necessary, including the enhancement of digital infrastructure, advancement of digital literacy, and facilitation of affordable access to technology.
Artificial intelligence (AI) holds the capability to significantly improve gender parity in Southeast Asia. To fully capitalise on this potential, I believe there needs to be concerted effort from policymakers, partnerships from the private sector and heightened awareness and mindset shifts in civil society. AI tools should be designed with fair and representative data to ensure that women’s voices are included and that they are not left behind in the digital transformation of our societies. Through a collective and concerted effort, we can create a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous future for all.
About the author
Shyn Yee is the head of the data and software solutions and services (DSS) business unit including Sendhelper at Property Guru with over two decades of experience in enterprise SaaS and marketplace technology. She is also passionate about social issues, including gender equality, economic empowerment, access to education and sustainability.
The views expressed are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Expat Living.