How Cell Phones Both Help and Hurt Women Abroad

What Women Really Think
July 13 2011 9:31 PM

How Cell Phones Both Help and Hurt Women Abroad

114958189
Getty Images

As a recent article on The Atlantic’s website reports, your cell phone is probably co-financing rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The same goes for pretty much any electronic device in your household, since nearly all of them--from your old TV to your fancy new iPhone--are part of a massive supply chain of what are known as “the 3 Ts”: tin, tungsten, and tantalum. Tantalum is essential in the production of electronic goods such as mobile phones. It is also essential in financing armed rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which supplies approximately 15 percent of tantalum used globally.

More than eight years after the official end of the civil war in the DRC between rebels and government army forces, the two sides continue to fight one another. Those who suffer the most are civilians, in particular women and children, who often become targets of war-related sexual violence. As The Atlantic article notes, the United National Population Fund reported almost 16,000 cases of sexual violence in the DRC in 2008 and has continued to report many thousands more ever since.

Advertisement

American consumers’ complicity in this situation is not a new dilemma, the article continues. In 2010, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which requires U.S.-listed companies to disclose whether the minerals they use in their products were extracted in the DRC. Activists from the Enough Project are lobbying for an even stricter, multi-lateral, and independent certification system against the import of so-called “conflict minerals.” The regulations have already shown effect: Congo tin sales are down by 90 percent and prices on technology-related minerals are on the rise.

However, those who push for further regulation should proceed with caution, lest they end up undoing one good to preserve another. While we are preventing women from being harmed in the DRC by drying up the rebels’ minerals exports, we might be making it more difficult for women in the DRC and all over the developing world to acquire the kind of communication technologies that have been extraordinary in fostering economic and political women empowerment in the past. Cell phones have helped women to learn how to read and enabled them to claim more financial independence and decision-making power in household expenditures. If technology production becomes more expensive due to restricted imports from the DRC and neighboring countries, the products themselves will probably become more expensive as well. These economic restrictions may very well simultaneously save and endanger women’s freedom.

“Give me a one-handed economist!” a frustrated President Truman once demanded. “All my economists say, ‘on one hand…on the other.’”

But the bitter truth is, there are always two sides.           

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?