The Women and Gender in International Development Discussion Series is organized by the Center for International Research, Education, and Development (CIRED) and is an InclusiveVT initiative of Outreach and International Affairs (OIA).  Students, faculty, staff and members of the community are encouraged to attend the discussions and bring their ideas and questions. 

Kelly Summers, a graduate student in the Department of Geography, is the next featured speaker in the WGD Discussion Series. Join us on April 18, 2019, for her talk on: Mobile phones, social relations, and the gatekeepers to gender equality in Maasai households. 

Abstract: While many scholars and development professionals believe that mobile phones can promote gender equality, some contend that mobile phones may also amplify inequalities for people who are not well-positioned in society. This leads us to ask, how has the diffusion of mobile phones in strongly patriarchal societies affected women? Integrating perspectives from scholarship on women’s empowerment, rural livelihoods, and social networks, we address this question by examining the effect of mobile phones on gender-based inequalities in agro-pastoralist Maasai communities in northern Tanzania. 

We conducted semi-structured group, stakeholder, and key-informant interviews in 2017 and 2018 to identify women’s and men’s perspectives on gendered phone-use, social organization, decision-making, and community participation. Through inductive and deductive qualitative content analyses, our findings indicate that women’s agency varies considerably and is not only a function of women’s individual characteristics, but often more importantly her husband’s characteristics. These results help us show how paths towards gender equality in patriarchal societies, which may be afforded by new technologies, are guarded by men and subject to their discretions. This highlights the importance of engaging men and women in discussions of and interventions surrounding women’s empowerment.

The WGD program has sponsored a monthly discussion series for over a decade. Thanks to the support of OIA, the program is able to bring international speakers as well as others from across the United States. We have also received support from the Women and Minority Artists and Scholars Lecture Series, the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Endowed Lecture Fund, Women’s and Gender Studies, the Department of Geography, the Department of History, the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Africana Studies and other programs and departments at Virginia Tech. The series offers an opportunity for scholars and development practitioners to share their research and knowledge surrounding gender and international development with the Virginia Tech community and beyond.

Please visit the Events page for the 2019 calendar.

Please visit our Past Events Archive for information on the previous Discussion Series and speakers

Next Speaker


Kelly Summers, graduate student in the Department of Geography

Thursday, April 18, 2019 

Kelly Summers is a graduate student in the Department of Geography at Virginia Tech. After receiving bachelor of science degrees in Forestry and Natural Resources Conservation from Virginia Tech, Kelly worked in Tanzania as a Sustainable Agriculture Extension Agent with the Peace Corps. During her time in Tanzania, she grew interest in amplifying the voice of marginalized members of her rural community, especially women and school children. Much of her work focused on creating opportunities for these groups to expand their capabilities and advocate for their needs. These interests followed her into graduate school where she studies processes of empowerment in agro-pastoralist Maasai communities.