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Using Information and Communication Technologies to Empower Women in the MENA Region


Mahnaz Afkhami, President of the Women's Learning Partnership

Samia Melham, Senior Informatics Specialist, Global Information and Communications Technologies Group (GICT), the World Bank Group


Chaired by: Shaha Riza, Senior Gender Specialist, MENA Region, World Bank


Text contributed by Sarah Nedolast


The seminar began with a portion of the video "Cultural Boundaries and Cyber Space: Women's Voices on Empowerment, Leadership and Technology," which was produced by the Women's Learning Partnership, NGO, Washington, D.C. This video presented the voices of women as they described the importance that ICTs have had on their lives and the potential benefit they can bring to women all over the world. They explained how ICTs are being used within their cultural context as a vehicle of cross border communication and have enabled them to assume leadership roles.


Mahnaz Afkhami, President of the Women's Learning Partnership, explained how in the context of current gender disparities in poverty and illiteracy rates and women's lack of political empowerment, ICTs offer an extraordinary vehicle of knowledge generation and exchange. This in turn enables participatory approaches, increased democracy through enhanced accountability, and more sustainable development. Ms. Afkhami articulated the challenge that lies ahead is to ensure that the materials made available are meaningful and compatible to the circumstances on the ground. This means there is a need for local content-based materials and more multi-lingual websites. It is also important that ICTs be seen as a vehicle of encouraging not only north-south exchange but also south-north and south-south exchanges. Furthermore, Ms. Afkhami stressed that women need to be seen not only as consumers of, but also as producers of knowledge.


Next Samia Melham, Senior Informatics Specialist, Global Information and Communications Technologies Group, presented some of the current initiatives underway to bring access to ICTs to women in the MENA region (see the PowerPoint presentation for a list of these initiatives). She offered suggestions for addressing some of the barriers to access and expressed a need for more targeted interventions. Ms. Melham described women as an undertapped resource for technology and content development. She proposed that an important area to start with is the education and training of girls to ensure they are not left behind and to help bridge the gender divide. Finally, Ms. Melham offered some suggestions on how the World Bank can help bridge this divide, which include: having a gender section in the annex of the forthcoming "World Bank Group Information Communication Technology (ICT) Sector Strategy Paper: Bridging the Digital Divide;" doing full-fledge ICT projects which account for gender disparities; giving grants to projects which promote women in ICTs; and introducing IT education for girls/women as a component in the education portfolio.


Following the presentations the discussion centered around the political climate towards ICTs in the MENA Region and on promoting women's inclusion. The general feeling was that governments in the MENA Region have not yet realized the potential that ICTs bring since many technologies are not widely available. However, it is important to show these governments the benefits that ICTs bring to dispel any fear or discomfort they may have with them. Women in the MENA Region often face exclusion due to their inability to access services, available resources being spent on men and boys, and seclusion from public space. To overcome these barriers, efforts need to be made to provide centers that are comfortable and non-threatening for women, target training and education to girls and women, encourage cultural shifts that allow women to enter this domain, and gather the support of male allies who are willing to push for these changes.


Woman and ICT, Samia Melhem Sr Informatics Specialist, The GICT Group (PowerPoint 31Kb)

Related Links:  The Women's Learning Partnership

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