Innovative clean energy technology does not reach the underserved population of rural Kenya. Even though solar systems or efficient cook stoves are frequently found in cities, families that live in rural parts cannot access them because the established distribution system do not serve them. Gender roles play a crucial role in designing business plans to achieve a high ecological and social impact. The inclusion of women’s perception and life realities are increasingly seen as the key to the implementation of clean energy in individual households in the countryside of Kenya.
The GI Solution:
Bidhaa Sasa addresses inequality on several levels by providing access to education, financial resources and also by conquering the lack of infrastructure in rural areas. As the role of women often refers to staying at home, products are delivered directly at the front door to overcome limited mobility. However, the main barrier is and remains the financing of clean energy. That’s why Bidhaa Sasa implemented group payments with easy mobile money payments. They offer so-called nano-credits which are a very small but significant amount to ensure the procurement of clean energy for families with low financial income. Giving women access to finance means therefore that women make up 69 % of all clienteles. Client acquisition is organized through peer-to-peer learning and primarily performed by women. Bidhaa Sasa uses a gender sensitive approach solely by creating products to improve the domestic situation. The majority of the employees are once again women who have known the mentioned challenges all their lives and therefore are best at identifying and addressing the respective needs.
Co-Creation and Participatory Research:
By targeting to bring social change through research and product design, Co-Creation and Participatory Research demonstrates an excellent method to apply regarding sex and gender analysis. While its concrete methodology varies, Co-Creation and Participatory Research relies on diverse group constellations including a variation of interest groups and research participants. However, designing a fair and overarching research approach in terms of the large variety of different identities entails numerous (in)tangible obstacles. Therefore, right questions must be asked in order to provide diverse and inclusive concepts and products.
The GI Solution:
Dr. Anita Thaler’s research illustrates an outstanding example of how detailing Co-Creation and Participatory research concept can look like, if one exquisitely focuses on the life realities shaped by sex, gender and beyond. She leads the Project VITAPATCH at the Interdisciplinary Research Center for Technology, Work and Culture (IFZ) which takes part in the FEMTECH Program created by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). FEMTECH Programs aim to promote and strengthen gender in Research & Development, Technology and Innovation by bringing gender ‘as a topic’ into research.
VITAPATCH works on a vital patch to monitor body processes provoked by movement. The researchers focus on a wearable patch which processes the user’s vital signs while moving. Until now such a complex health analysis based on a necessary high quantity of data, only had been possible to achieve in laboratories. This means that research participants had to stay in one place until enough data was collected which presumably requires a lot of time. The project’s research design combines several expertises in one project as it engages with physical therapists, psychologists, cardiologists, engineers, and social scientists. In light of this, VITAPATCH not only demonstrates a variety of participants but, moreover, implies a variety of perspectives in its product design process. Anita Thaler points out that her way of designing the patch was different from the others’ expectations, as she drew attention to an intersectional gender dimension and therefore to the user’s identity from the very beginning. This allowed the researchers to create specific user scenarios in which they identified particular consumers in order to prevent a generalization and interchangeability of users. By targeting user-defined and more equitable design, Co-Creation and Participatory Research has the potential to include diverse perspectives in its making.
Engineering Innovations Process: Exoskeletons for all
Innovative Technologies like exoskeletons are designed to improve one’s life after surgery or in terms of body disabilities. However, they are mostly designed for the average person. Designers tend to use the one-size-fits-all approach – a design choice that illegitimates differences in age, gender or body size which then discriminates end users. As it is common in various working fields mechanical and robot technology were historically seen as part of a distinct male sphere, and the criteria used today to develop new technology still didn’t change that much.
The GI Solution:
Exoskeleton users come in a wide variety of height, weight, or genders etc. Therefore, an intersectional lens on engineering processes to address society in all its facets is needed. Several studies show that exoskeletons lead to significant medical, technological, and social improvements within clinical treatment. Roger Andre Søraa* and Eduard Fosch-Villaronga published a study named “Exoskeletons for all” in 2019, which argues for inclusive technological design choices. By considering height, weight, correlated conditions, capabilities, gender, cultural and inclusivity aspects, they’re trying to draw attention to the fact that individualized technology must recognize the world in its diversity.
Gender sensitive medicine
Next to all the great achievements of modern medicine like antibiotics, artificial respiration, dialysis, pacemakers and so much more, medical research and practice too often still disguises and reproduces health care disparities. Since these disparities prevail for centuries by now, they led to disadvantages of marginalized groups and thus biological women. As long as health care systems or clinical views disregard the world in its diversity, patience will not entirely receive the comprehensive treatment they deserve as human beings.
As an example, a study conducted in the United States showed that women are 27% less likely to receive CPR from bystanders in public than men. The study contextualizes this circumstance to restrictive social perceptions and stigmatization of the female body, in this case breasts. While the absence of breasts on CPR dummies demonstrates a reproduction of the standardized male body, including female dummies could be seen as one solution to fight a medical disparity with deadly impact. A similar example illustrates a specific case of drug development in the United States. In the 1990s, ten drugs were withdrawn from the US market while eight of them showed greater health risk to biological women than men. In this sense, women actually died because the respective drug tests were predominantly conducted on men. The reason can be found in a stigmatization and disregard of female menstruation. Women were mostly excluded from tests due to the possible interference of their menstruation cycle in the testing or research. By these means, researchers disregarde of biological sex differences which led to the death of several women.
The GI Solution:
By these means, sex and gender sensitive research is a key element for improving medical research and drug development. This requires scientists who bring the importance of a diverse society as well as medicine to the forefront. Prof. Dr. Sabine Oertelt-Prigione is one of the pioneers on gender-sensitive medicine and holds the only professorship in this field in Germany. One of her main concerns is the best possible care for patients, which she understands as acknowledging differences in sex, gender, age, body size etc. Two research examples that illustrate her work are the analysis of the impact of sex and gender in the Covid-19 pandemic (1) or the sex-differences in symptoms and functioning in cancer survivors (2). For instance, this has led to findings like the increased mortality rate of biological males during the Covid-19 pandemic.
(1) European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Oertelt-Prigione, S., The impact of sex and gender in the COVID-19 pandemic: Case study, Publications Office, 2020.
(2) Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, Belle H. de Rooij, Floortje Mols, Simone Oerlemans, Olga Husson, Dounya Schoormans, John B. Haanen, Lonneke V. van de Poll-Franse, Sex-differences in symptoms and functioning in >5000 cancer survivors: Results from the PROFILES registry, European Journal of Cancer, Volume 156, 2021.
Inclusive Crash Test Dummies
In car design, the medium-sized male body (175 cm; 75.5 kg) has been taken as the norm—making cars safer for these men but leave out woman, obese or elderly people and put them to a greater risk and danger. In a comparable car crash a woman has 47% higher chance to sustain severe injuries. Moreover, conventional seatbelts do not fit pregnant woman properly and motor vehicle chrashe are the leading cause of fetal death related to maternal trauma.
The GI Solution:
In order to enhance automotive safety devices such as seatbelts should be designed for all people. “Linda” by Volvo, is a virtual pregnant crash test dummy that models the effects of high speed impact on the womb, placenta, and fetus.
Rethinking Language & Visual Representation: Lumberjanes
Rethinking Language and Visual Representation might be one of the most known strategies to further develop inclusion. Choice of wording, representative graphs, icons, or images, therefore, entail the power to apply perceptions of individuals which underly social categories such as sex, gender, race or age just to name a few. Thus, product designers and researchers also partly own a role of content creators who transfer the power to shape societal imagination of individuals in public discourse. Language and visuals are, in this sense, useful tools to implement an inclusive and diverse view of sex and gender.
With regard to visual representation, for instance, think of tampon advertisement in which blood is always pictured blue. Albeit this does not represent the bodily process of menstruation, which affects more than half of the world's population, but rather symbolizes the societal taboo of monthly bleeding. Furthermore, across languages there is much more gendered swearing that is conceptually directed at biological women than biological men. By these means, society constitute negative connotations towards the biological female body while carrying out conflicts disregarding its gendered dimension.
The GI Solution:
Such inscribed aspects of human existence like language and visuals are difficult to change while societies’ daily action of communication keeps reproducing discrimination and stereotypes. It is nearly impossible to become detached from narratives on stereotypical sex and gender norms which we inscribe from the very second, we enter society – that is why we need to change narratives so urgently. Shannon Watters is one outstanding artist who devoted her work to rethinking sex, gender and sexuality as her award-winning comic series Lumberjanes shows.
Osteoporosis Research in Men
Medical research often treats men as the norm and builds reference models on data that is not representative for women. However, in osteoporosis research reference models until the late 90s were mainly based on data from young white women. Their bone mineral density was used to create a reference model for diagnosis. The problem was obvious: The reference models did not represent male bone mineral density adequately and were thus not applicable enough to men.
The GI Solution:
Considering sex differences helped identify risk for men and this is what researchers continue to do: They identify sex-related factors that may increase the likeliness to suffer from osteoporosis and metabolic bone disorders. Gender and sex analysis helped to uncover the sex bias in the reference models and led to considerable improvements.
Mobility is rapidly changing: Cities are trying to adapt to the growing demand for smart mobility options to reduce CO2 Emissions. Urban transportation is increasingly offering those options underpinned by information and communications technology (ICT) platforms designed to ease access to transportation services and to personalize modern transportation
But in Mobility patterns one can still observe gender norms. Gendered care work – such as running errands, caring or relatives, taking children to work – conduct a different mobility pattern than commuting to work. But these mobility pattern and gender are largely ignored but the developments in smart mobility.
The GI Solution:
The innovative concept “mobility of care” reveals significant travel patterns otherwise concealed in data collection variable. The researchers unconventionally collected care trips under one category instead of collecting it in numerous small categories (such as errands, health, social). The Data showed that Care-Related-Work Trips (29%) are almost an as big part of the researched cities mobility as employment (33%). This allows transportation engineers to design systems that work well for broader segments of the population. The reconceptualizing data collection is important because women perform a relatively large share of accompanying trips. They make more short trips and more chained trips than men. Women also tend to prefer shorter distances between home and the workplace.