Think pink

Local student Chloe Cornish joined our team this week on work experience. She spent a lot of time working with our resident story-gatherers and has garnered glowing reports from all quarters. As part of her role this week, Chloe has been transcribing materials from Oxfam’s Pink Phones project, an initiative set up to support women in Cambodia to become community and business leaders. The pink mobile phones not only make it easier for women to connect with useful networks, but the colour tends to deter men from using them too. We’ve found that pink is traditionally a controversial colour when communicating about women, so it’s really interesting to hear Chloe’s take on it. Which she has summed up below…  pink

“Think pink. Do you think Barbie? Sickly cupcake icing? Ballerinas? Nigella Lawson in cashmere sweaters? Or does female empowerment come to mind? Probably not. Pink has been smeared by many as anti-feminist, a colour culturally assigned to women when they’re in baby-rompers whether they like it or not. This is commercially reinforced: in the eyes of business, pink products are what a girl wants. Every Christmas technology companies reincarnate their latest gadget in female friendly form, dolled up in fuchsia or salmon or light marshmallow (and twenty quid more expensive for their pains). Such pinkifying tends to make me self-righteous and feminist and downright huffy.

Or at least, it did. Because the Oxfam Pink Phones project has forced me to radically evaluate my distaste for the colour. There’s nothing frilly or fluffy about the work that the rosy technology is doing for women in Cambodia. The ladies from the remote communities involved now have communication and information at their finger-tips, putting them on a level playing field with men.

The role of pinkness in this is ridiculously simple and totally ingenious. Harnessing all those stereotypes which I was breathing fire about earlier, it prevents men, concerned with maintaining an appearance of masculinity, from walking off with the handsets. So the phones stay with the women, allowing them to maximise the technology’s potential.

In one village in the Kampong Tong district, three women in a community of around 150 people have the pink mobiles. That may not sound like many, but the power of the grape-vine is extraordinary. Vital farming information, such as weather warnings and market prices for produce, is being shared amongst the community, previously cut off from such knowledge by their remote location. Now they can bring in as much harvest as possible before the rains hit, recently acting fast to gather ten tonnes of vegetables before conditions got bad. It used to be that the community relied on the traders to give tell them the prices for their crops but nearly always this led to them being underpaid. Now everyone is better informed because they have mobile phone access and can drive the best bargains for crops. Today the women are leading their community and can barter with traders from a strong position, rather than trusting them to come up with a fair deal.

This means a bigger crop, a fairer deal for selling that crop, and ultimately more cash for feeding their families and educating their children. One lady was particularly proud of the fact that she had made enough money to buy school uniform for her daughter, and was saving up for her higher education.

The phones don’t just bring economic benefits. The mother of a sick child can now get life-saving help and medicine for her son, fast. In the past she had to make a long journey to the nearest health centre. And another lady is using her phone to report cases of domestic violence, working to make her community more harmonious, and protect other women.

Pink: the unlikely new hero in the fight for gender equality. Who’d have thought?”

Thanks again Chloe for all your hard work!