Gender and Information & Communications Technology

Creating Opportunities Through Technology
Through programs such as Grameen Phone in Bangladesh, téléboutiques in Senegal and Morocco, and phone shops in Ghana, women in developing countries are discovering new business opportunities through Information and Communications Technology (ICT). ICT enables creation of niche markets that require low capital investment where women can often establish or enter into businesses on their own. In the ICT field, women can provide a variety of services at multiple skill levels, from outsourced call or data entry centers to more training-intensive software engineering and geographic information system (GIS) jobs. Photo: USAID/Jessica Morse The women who work at Iraq’s first independent radio station are redefining their community’s understanding of freedom as they broadcast music and talk shows championing the rights of women. Read more >.

Access to Information
ICTs help to empower women by improving their ability to access information, education, and services, such as market prices for crops, professional development opportunities, and tools to promote their and their families’ health. ICTs also help empower women by improving the availability of information important to their lives. Through technology (alongside and in partnership with other development efforts), women can have a voice beyond their local community, allowing them to network with other women around the world and better advocate for greater government responsiveness and transparency, greater economic opportunity, greater equality, and greater recognition and protection of their legal and human rights.

Addressing Biases
However, care must be taken that investments in ICT do not exacerbate existing inequalities. Technology is no different than any other intervention; gender must be taken into account when developing any program – otherwise, women and girls may be (unintentionally) excluded, especially if there are deeply held beliefs about technology being a traditionally male field. The following are some areas where gender discrimination can inhibit women’s access to new technology:

where a computer would be a very costly investment. and video programming. film. Training materials. Cell phones have become an increasingly important tool for women. government benefits. restricted to senior staff. • • • Capitalizing on Opportunities However. if women have access to technology within their traditional physical spheres.• • In many parts of the world. Women access information on reproductive and child/family health. most of whom are still men. or "expensive".” pictured above. However. Literacy has become less of an issue with the use of radio. send money. manage small businesses. Technology information is especially restricted to these top world languages. creating both a lack of training opportunities and of exposure to technology. Women also often have less offering them access is another free time. Women worldwide still have significantly higher rates of illiteracy. Having a computer in an office is still seen as a mark of status. disposable income to use on “extras” such as visiting a cybercafé. especially for women conducting business or family affairs. Many occupations traditionally held by women also do not offer them access to computers. Women often access the Internet and computer technology through gatekeepers often male family members who use the technology to communicate. a high percentage of Internet content is still textbased – especially on cell phones and for low bandwidth environments – and much of that text is in the major world languages: English. there are still deep-seated traditional biases against women and technology. especially entrepreneurs such as this Internet public access points such as telecenters and cybercafés are sometimes Nigerian “phone lady. Women use ICTs to organize remittances. “high status”. Technology may be seen as "male". not seen as appropriate places for women In addition. and lower levels of woman. and research information at the direction of women. television. and marketing often reflect this discrimination. and Japanese. and schooling information. Most female small businesses are trade-based. Spanish. assuming that women are Photo: USAID/Judy Payne not interested in learning about technology beyond basic computer usage. it can give them access to critical information for key topics. "scientific/mathematical". locations. Telephony continues to be in high demand. especially without their children with them. Chinese. times. Such attitudes can inhibit women from learning new skills or even accessing technology. women are more likely to rent telephone time if the person and girls. sell . Even telephone access is sometimes restricted through a male family member or community member. especially in major world languages.

(VCDs). and quality of reuse or on-demand content via podcasts.products. the exclusion of women from this transition further disempowers them. CISCO technology training offered through the Women in Technology training program was able to train over 2000 women by explicitly targeting and marketing to them. Ways to Improve Access By understanding the above gender implications of ICT for development. communications The LearnLink project designed a pilot technology. an essential step for the women to become regular telecenter users. such as radio and TV – still project to demonstrate how distance prime communications channels for learning could be applied to improve broad audiences – by offering content the impact. who need access to credit and capital to invest in a cell phone. their families.” targeting women specifically by offering content of interest to women in the area. the Child Welfare Participant Training video on demand. Photo: AED Newer ICTs can expand the use of traditional. When training programs directly target women. And. most importantly. the overall global economy is more and more reliant on ICTs in everyday life. Projects such as Grameen Uganda and Bangladesh ("Village Phone") have demonstrated that women are more likely to rent telephone time if the person offering them access is another woman. efficiency. As more and more cell phones offer MP3 and MP4 (audio and video) playback capability. and seek new economic opportunities for themselves. and their communities. low literacy. Some examples include: • Cell phones have become an increasingly important tool for women. which they used to obtain basic computer training. or video compact discs Program in Romania. Addressing the social and financial barriers that potential female clients face works to give increased access. The CLICs also offered “open days. training rates increase. ICTs can greatly expand the opportunities women and girls have to participate in development objectives. especially women entrepreneurs. even in areas with no radio/TV coverage. users can replay programs at will. The Mali Community Learning and Information Center (CLIC) project distributed vouchers for free computer time to individual women and women’s organizations. • • • .

spreadsheets. the Info for Health project supports the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Implementing Best Practices Initiative website. such as accounting systems. The Programa Para o Futuro ICT training and employment project for disadvantaged youth in Brazil directly addressed gender equity in training. interrelations between men and women.• Addressing gender equity also works to allow women to enjoy the employment benefits that ICTs can bring. and email. Also. Using ICTs for distance learning and ongoing training can address the issue of women being less available for travel or evening/weekend meetings due to household responsibilities or safety concerns. For example: • Small business training for women should include training on using small business management tools. Low income women have successfully used ICTs to form peer networks through employment interest groups such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India. • • . which offers peer-to-peer best practice capturing and exchange and has an extremely active midwifery discussion forum made up of women primarily from developing countries. For example. integrating ICTs into other development activities can extend the impact of those activities and allow additional benefits. and underlying biases in the workplace. The Macedonia e-BIZ project made gender equity a priority by asking all of its eBIZ ICT centers to explicitly target ways to help female entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

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