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Frequently Asked Questions

What is gender?

Gender is used in this toolkit to refer to the socially constructed roles and socially learned behaviors and expectations of women and men in a particular society. These relations and the roles that women and men assume are culturally defined and institutionally embedded. Whereas biological sex (being male or female) is not easily altered, gender as a social identity changes over time (historically) and space (geographically). Gender roles of men or women in one society may differ from another. In many cultural contexts it will be difficult to convince men to allow, or encourage, their daughters or wives to receive training or to invest in ICT unless men can see that they and the whole family will also benefit. Gender considers both men and women and the relations between them.

Why is gender equality a development issue?

Research has established the business case for gender equality: development projects that take gender relations into account are more likely to achieve their objectives than those that do not (Murphy 1997, PDF 7.2MB). Progress towards gender equality is directly correlated with the alleviation of global poverty. Social considerations, however, are not easily incorporated into policies, laws, markets, and organizations. It is particularly difficult to incorporate them into technical projects. The process of incorporating gender equality considerations into development institutions, projects, and programs is often referred to as "gender mainstreaming." Studies confirm that without direct intervention, mainstreaming of gender equality concerns will not occur (Kimani 2000IFPRI 2000).

What are ICTs?

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are the hardware, software, networks, and media used to collect, store, process, transmit, and present information in the form of voice, data, text, and images. They range from telephone, radio, and television to the Internet. Given the focus on using ICTs to reach women and men equally in developing countries, particularly those in peri-urban and rural areas, this toolkit looks at the full range of ICTs and not only at the more advanced technologies. Decisions about which ICTs are appropriate have gender equality implications.

ICTs have tremendous potential for promoting and achieving sustainable development that is also gender-equal. This potential is yet to be realized. The purpose of this toolkit is to identify opportunities, highlight innovative projects and activities, and suggest how the World Bank and other agencies can use ICTs to help realize the potential for gender equality.

What is Engendering ICTs?

The standard meaning of engender is "give rise to." In recent years, gender advocates have adopted the word and given it an additional meaning-"integrating gender into development work." This new connotation of the word was used for the first time in the World Bank report Engendering Development (2001) which provided empirical and analytical evidence of the links between gender equality and poverty alleviation. ICTs can be used to help alleviate poverty as well as gender inequality. To do so, existing gender disparities that are related to the digital divide need to be identified and removed, and the potential of ICTs to empower both men and women must be exploited in full. Therefore, "engendering ICTs" is the process of identifying and removing gender disparities in the access to and use of ICTs, as well as of adapting ICTs to the special needs, constraints, and opportunities of women. Any such adaptation should take advantage of women's special knowledge and their strong informal networks and support systems that may make it possible to combine electronic communication with traditional communication systems.

Why a concern for gender equality in ICT projects?

Globally, ICTs transform the way production is organized and information is shared. ICTs 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. These attributes make ICTs a valuable resource for women in developing counties, who often suffer from limited availability of time, social isolation, and lack of access to knowledge and productive resources.

Why concentrate on women if we are talking about gender?

When the underlying concern is gender equality, we frequently find ourselves talking about the situation of women because the existing gender inequalities in access to vital rights and resources generally affect women and girls more negatively than men and boys. These inequalities include disparities in basic human rights, in political participation, and in access to resources such as schooling, credit, and jobs. In the case of ICTs, areas in which girls and women suffer such inequalities directly affect their access to and use of the technologies.

However, women in the developing world do not belong to a single homogeneous group. There are highly variable political, socioeconomic, and cultural differences that affect the lives of both men and women across different regions of the world. Not all women are disadvantaged (for example, middle-class women will usually have much greater access to ICTs than most poor men). There are also major differences based on age, health, and ethnicity, and substantial regional variations in the relations between gender and ICTs. Whereas in some parts of the world, girls shy away from computer science, it is often regarded as a women's field in some countries of South and West Asia.

Why do women need ICTs?

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, as a service of employment and 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 that shares their issues and problems. In summary, they need ICTs to function in a digital world.

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