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1. Rationale for Incorporating Gender Equality Issues in ICT Projects

2. Gender Equality Issues in ICT

1. Rationale for Incorporating Gender Equality Issues in ICT Projects

This section provides the rationale behind the development of the Engendering ICT Toolkit. It identifies and briefly answers some of the broad questions about the relationships among gender equality, ICTs, and development.

Why gender equality and ICTs?

ICTs are reshaping the nature of global economic, social, and political life. Given the centrality and importance of ICTs, men and women need to have equal opportunities to access, use, and master them. The arguments for engendering ICTs are based on: an approach to human rights that ensures the rights of all, including the right to communicate; a business case that shows that endeavors are more successful when gender is taken into account; the desire to eliminate poverty; and on the United Nations Millennium Development Goal_3, which promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Why a concern for gender equality in ICT projects?

ICTs are tools that transform the way that production is organized and information is shared around the world. They offer flexibility of time and space, a way out of isolation, and access to knowledge and productive resources. They are enabling tools for economic development and social change. Because of these attributes, they are highly valuable to women in developing countries, who tend to suffer most from limited availability of time, social isolation, and lack of access to knowledge and productive resources. Unfortunately, many women face constraints that do not allow them to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the new technologies. If the dissemination of information technology proceeds without taking note of women's particular needs, they will continue to be excluded from the benefits of ICTs.

Why do women need ICT?

Women need ICTs for the same reasons as men: to get more information to carry out their productive, reproductive, and community roles; to conduct their businesses; to work in the ICT industry; to find resources for themselves, their families, their work, and their communities; and to have a voice in their lives, their community, their government, and the larger world. In summary, they need ICTs to compete in a digital world.

How can women's opportunity to benefit from new technologies be ensured?

Information and communication technologies, as all other technologies, impact men and women in different ways. In other words, the impact of technologies is not gender-neutral. Unless special interventions are undertaken, it is unlikely that the majority of women will have access to ICTs. Therefore concerns about gender equality need to be part of ICT development efforts. The process needs to start with the rationale and design of the project, continue through participatory consultations with project stakeholders, and be included in project implementation and monitoring.

Technology projects have important social dimensions; they do not exist in a vacuum. Does the technology impact all sectors of society equally? Do both men and women have equal chances to access the technology? Is the technology designed so that men and women can use it with equal ease? Are there aspects of the social milieu that make the technology more suitable and more accessible to men than to women? These are just some of the aspects that make it clear that technology must be seen in its social context. Awareness of the social context of technology is the first step toward gender awareness and gender sensitivity in projects with ICT components.

Without special attention to gender, men and women will not have equal opportunities to enter the information age. Without explicit gender analysis and incorporation of the results into policy, programs, and projects, it is unlikely that the results will have a positive impact on women. The benefits of ICTs may bypass women even if their countries develop an adequate infrastructure for information and service delivery.

Success in integrating gender perspectives will require commitment of financial and human resources, capacity building, top leadership support and a change of agendas, practices, and attitudes at all functional levels. It will also be necessary to collect data periodically on gender and ICT trends, the impact of ICTs on gender equality, and women's participation in the ICT sector, including at the decision-making level. Trends must also be monitored closely.

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2. Gender Equality Issues in ICT

This section identifies eleven issues that illustrate the different impacts ICTs have on men and women.

2-1. Gender equality issues in accessing ICT

The most basic gender equality issue in ICTs is access, which is linked to the availability of the necessary infrastructure. Concentration of the ICT infrastructure in urban areas limits the accessibilities of new technologies for women because many poor women in developing countries live in rural areas. Internet connectivity is frequently available only within capital and major secondary cities in many developing countries, especially in Africa; but many poor women live outside these cities. It is likely that, in rural areas, there are fewer phone lines, no relay stations for mobile phones, and that there are no earth stations for satellites. As the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the United Nations University (UNU/INTECH) have noted:

Women, with their special responsibilities for children and the elderly, find it less easy than men to migrate to towns and cities. The urban bias in connectivity thus deprives women, more than men, of the universal right to communicate (UNIFEM and UNU/INTECH, 2000).

2-2. Know-how

Access by itself it not enough. Women need training to be able to use ICTs. Training in ICT skills tends not to be particularly gender-sensitive. Training methods are often not customized to women's needs.

2-3. Social and cultural issues

Women often do not have equal access to ICT facilities. Frequently, information centers or cybercafes are located in places that women may not feel comfortable visiting, or that are culturally inappropriate for them to visit. Because most communications facilities in developing countries are in offices or in shared public access points, women also have problems of time--given gender-defined multiple roles, heavy domestic responsibilities, scarce leisure hours, and public centers not being open when women can visit them. Even if the sites are open in the evening, women might still find it difficult to visit them and then return safely to their homes in the dark. The mobility of women (both in the sense of access to transport and their ability to leave home) is also more limited than that of men. For example, gender equality in access and use of ICTs for women can be achieved by modifying schedules to suit women's hours and providing female support staff and trainers.

Another cultural aspect is a gender bias in attitudes toward women studying or using ICTs. Throughout the world, there are problems in attracting young women to science and technology studies (see Education section). The problem is worst in Africa. Many (predominantly male) mathematics and science teachers in Africa hold outmoded views that girls do not possess scientific aptitude. Such views discourage female students (Hafkin and Taggart 2001). In many countries traditional cultural attitudes discriminate against women having access to education in technology. Girls are encouraged to enter the job market or get married rather than seek higher education. The presumption that ICTs are not for women is not limited to formal education. In a project for rural farmers in Peru, when women undertook ICT training with men, the men mocked them by saying that computers were for men, not women.

Sometimes gender-based cultural attitudes prevent young girls and women from accessing and using ICTs. In Uganda, girls did not get equal access to the limited number of computers installed in schools (under a WorldLinks Program) because of the sociocultural norm that "girls do not run." Boys ran and got to the computers first and refused to give them to the girls. The earlier curfew hours for girls at boarding schools further constrained their access. In India, aggressive boys pushed the girls away and prevented them from using the computers.

2-4. Education and skills

With two-thirds of the world's 876 million illiterates being women, it is fair to say that women in developing countries are less likely than men to have the requisite education and knowledge to use ICTs. Technologies that do not require literacy are being developed. For example the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has supported the creation of a sound and graphics CD-ROM on rural women in Uganda, but to date these are available in only widely scattered pilot projects. Compared with men, fewer women know the international languages that dominate the Internet. Given their limited access to schooling, women, especially those in rural areas, are unlikely to acquire computer skills. Information literacy essentially involves using information contextually, a skill that women often lack.

2-5. Financial resources

Almost all communication facilities cost money. Women are less likely than men to own radios and televisions, or to access them when they want to, even when the household possesses the technology. When it involves paying for information access, such as at a rural information center or a cybercafe, women may not have the disposable income to do so or may hesitate to use family resources for information, instead of for food, education or clothing.

2-6. Limitations of content

Much of the content available on the Internet does not meet the information needs of women or is in a form that women in developing countries cannot use. The amount of content in local languages, which women tend to need more than men, is minuscule. If ICTs are to be useful to women in developing countries, they must be relevant. Without this, ICTs will remain of little interest and value to many women in developing countries, particularly those who live in rural areas.

2-7. Use of ICT

There are gender equality issues in the way that ICTs are used in developing countries. To date, ICT use by women in developing countries has been mostly e-mail and sometimes listservs (e-mail discussion lists), generally in connection with advocacy and networking activities. The main reasons for this concentration are cost of access and limitations of time, bandwidth, and technical skills. Few women have used ICTs for business, for entertainment (the predominant use in the developed world), or for education, including education in matters related to livelihood and well-being (e.g., health and nutrition education). Promoting women's use of new technologies for business (including improved agriculture and agricultural products) and for education is an important undertaking.

2-8. Statistics and indicators

Our knowledge of gender issues in ICTs is hampered by the lack of reliable statistics. The major collector and disseminator of statistics on ICTs is the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). ITU has official statistics on female Internet users as a percentage of total Internet users for mostly developed countries and very few data for developing countries. In the absence of reliable statistics, those looking for data have to fall back on sources of dubious reliability. Many of the country studies that purport to show large numbers of women Internet users are marketing studies, conducted by or for firms that want to market products to women consumers. In other cases, the studies are limited country surveys, generally based on the subscriber lists of a few, small Internet service providers or e-mail services. In many countries, where public access is the dominant mode, subscriber lists may identify only a third or less of users. Few studies have kept gender statistics on the users of public access facilities by sex. In virtually all studies that have recorded such data, the number of women users is much smaller than the number of men.

2-9. Industry and labor

The patterns of work in the ICT industry are highly gendered. Women are found in disproportionately high numbers in the lowest paid and least secure jobs. Few women work at higher levels, particularly in hardware and software engineering and in management. Many women have been displaced due to increased automation and computerization of workplaces. Men continue to crowd women out of the training required for high-skilled work.

2-10. Power and decision making

Women are underrepresented in virtually all ICT decision-making structures, including policy and regulatory institutions, ministries responsible for ICTs, and boards and senior management committees of ICT companies. ICT decision-making is generally treated as a purely technical area, where civil society viewpoints are given little or no space.

2-11. Privacy and security

One of the negative aspects of ICTs is the use of the Internet for women's sexual exploitation and harassment. The pernicious elements include trafficking of women through the Internet, pornography, and sexual harassment. Increasingly graphic pornography is easily available to all who seek it and even to those who do not. In a number of recent cases, men have used websites to harass women and violate their privacy. Women need secure spaces online where they can be safe from harassment and exploitation. Legislation is needed to prevent ICTs from threatening human rights.

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