Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing

This blog post I’d like to draw attention to WIEGO, or Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing. WIEGO is a “global action-research-policy network” seeking to improve the status of the working poor in the informal economy, especially women. The concept of “informal economy” is defined as a diverse set of economic activities, enterprises, and workers that are not regulated or protected by the state, leaving them vulnerable to rights abuses and unsafe working conditions. The informal economy constitutes half to three quarters of the non-agricultural labor force in developing countries. When agriculture is incorporated, that number rises to as high as 90% of economic activity in certain African nations. The core of WIEGO’s mission is to empower these workers, under the belief that equal economic opportunities and rights should be available to all.

After hearing Keshet Bachan’s lecture on the impact of ICT’s on adolescent girls in developing nations, I began to realize how vulnerable women in particular are to injustice and malpractice in the informal economies they generally occupy. While informal economies are linked both with poverty and economic growth, human rights regulations are incredibly necessary in these fields to ensure that abuses do not go overlooked, and exploitation can be avoided.  WIEGO’s particular focus on “waste pickers”, or those who do the primary collecting and sorting of waste materials in developing countries, provide a great example of laborers who suffer in the “informal economy”.  While waste pickers provide widespread benefits to their communities, municipalities, and environment, (in many countries providing the only form of solid waste collection), they face low social status, poor living and working conditions, and little support from their local governments.

 


Gender Neutrality in ICT4D

It is well established that, properly planned and implemented, ICTs can help improve educational outcomes for youth and also empower girls. They help increase access to information, improve communication, and allow for new methods of learning. For girls, they can reduce barriers to access in receiving important information about things they might not be able to ask their families or elders about, such as birth control. ICT initiatives in education, therefore, can be enormously beneficial in development. 

However, many of these programs are gender neutral. They don’t make specific distinctions between the needs of boys and of girls. In many parts of the world, gender neutrality inherently favors boys. For example, one Cameroonian school has five working computers for 1000 students, and there is a great deal of competition among students to use them. This means that boys are usually the ones who gain access, thinking “why should [the girl] be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day [she] will be hold a baby’s napkin?” Boys will often restrict their girl classmates’ access to ICTs by monopolizing the available tools and ridiculing girls who are trying to learn how to use them. 

ICT4D initiatives, then, should not and cannot ignore gender. Boys and girls have different needs, different levels of access, different positions in society. For ICT4D initiatives to succeed and have a truly innovative impact, they must factor in these differences. Safe public spaces, such as libraries, with access to ICTs could help improve girls’ access. Also, schools could separate “computer time” by gender so that girls would be better able to access the tools and feel more confident using them. Initiatives focusing specifically on girls could also be helpful. Whatever the solution, though, ICT4D initiatives need to make specific concessions for girls or the programs will be biased against them.


International Girls in ICTs Day: April 24th

Started in 2010 by the International Technological Union (ITU), the International Girls in ICTs Day is centered around the idea of celebrating and promoting female involvement in the international technology sector. While ITU itself does not put on any events for the day, it encourages all ICT related organizations and stakeholders to be involved, stating on their website, “these are events where girls and university students are invited to spend the day at the office of ICT companies and government agencies so they better understand the opportunities the ICT sector holds for their future.” The website also provides various resources and promotional materials for general International Girls in ICTs Day events and profiles of female role models in the technology industry from around the world. Additionally, they provide archives of current and past events for the day to encourage groups around the world to become involved in the cause. 

One event put on last year in Swaziland brought two communications companies in the nation together with 160 high school girls from around Swaziland in the first annual Girls in ICT Communications Installations Tour. The groups visited national and regional communications stations and viewed presentations from sector female and male professionals among other things. 

While the gender gap in the ICT sector around the world is far from solved, events and celebratory days like this are crucial to encouraging and promoting the involvement of women and girls in ICTs. The growth of events like these and the idea that girls and women can and should have equal roles as men in the technology industries play a large role in the path towards gender equality, access, and education.


A Frightening Future: Tech and Self-Image

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A recent observation combined with current ICT4D discussion in our classroom has sparked my interest in the relationship between self-image and access to technology. It’s hard to escape the boundless pictures of babies on social media sites like Facebook or Instagram. This generation now has every moment of their lives documented. From the moment they are able to figure out a camera, they know what they look like instantly. Every bad day and every life phase are instantly sealed in time. The impact marketing and media have on girls’ self-esteem is a messy and popular debate in American society. What have we done? Added even more to that loaded conversation. I started thinking to myself, what will happen to a generation that grew up with such easy access to photos of themselves?

When I was little I don’t remember ever looking at pictures of myself, most likely because it took so long to get them developed and they were only reserved for special occasions like Christmas pictures. Now, any child within reach of a smart phone (or usually what’s worse, any parent within reach of a smart phone) has access to countless snapshots of trivial day-to-day activities. They get to stare at pictures of themselves daily. Will this create a bigger issue than we realize? I am totally willing (and hopeful) to accept the fact that this will just be another thing kids don’t really “get” and they will not internalize it. But on the other hand, knowing how you look and judging yourself on how your pictures turn out from the day you’re able to comprehend what you look like is a little frightening. We see so many blogs dedicated to baby fashion or every mommy blogger taking photos of their children and uploading them daily. Are we going to have a bunch of baby narcissists? Who grow up to be worse, big people narcissists? It’s not only that we should be concerned with. It creates a micro-world that takes focus off bigger issues than a girl’s day-to-day “selfie” appearance.

We have a long running debate now about how much media confuses girls’ identity and relationship to themselves. We worry about whether Facebook makes us have FOMO or feel insecure. We worry that in seeing pictures of ourselves it sticks with us and shapes our perspective on our appearance. What if little girls (and to expand the narrative, little boys)  are constantly looking through the pictures they have of themselves wondering if they like what they see?

It all depends on which school of thought you belong to or which dataset you decide to fall back on. But, none of us can ignore the fact that there is always going to be something a little off with being too attached to appearance and technology has made this even more challenging.

I see this affecting more than just the developed world. We like to focus on the perks of technology for developing countries, but there’s a chance they could learn in advance from a few of the faults. While we use social media and technology to feel “up to speed” or “in the moment” it has actually done the opposite. The natural motion of life has been disturbed and our image along with it distorted. Before fully adapting technology into daily life, this should be considered in retrospect.


Technology contributing to VAW

All too often we view ICT4D projects as a means to empower women and minimize the gender divide, and overlook how technology can exacerbate gender issues, such as violence against women (VAW). While ICTs can decrease/stop VAW, it can also be seen as a facilitator, as technology can provide additional platforms for violent action. In order to understand how technology can exacerbate VAW, it must be understood that VAW does not simply include physical violence, but also psychological, economic, and sexual abuse. The MDG3: Take Back the Tech program, which was a project created in 2009 to strengthen women’s rights activists to use technology tools to prevent technology related VAW, categorizes technological violence into 5 broad categories including online harassment and cyberstalking, intimate partner violence, culturally justified violence against women, rape and sexual assault, and violence targeting communities. There are several ways in which violence is committed with the use of technology:

  • Mobile Text Messaging and calling
  • Intimate Photos and Blackmail
  • Mobile Phone Tracking
  • Manipulating Photographic Images
  • Use of Internet to Fake Recruit victims
  • Violation of Passwords
  • Listening and Recording Phone Conversations
  • Monitoring Web Browsing

According to a paper from the Association for Progressive Communications, men are misusing mobile phones to harass and threaten their partners, and even track their partner’s phone to know her location at all times. Technology has added another dimension to the issue of privacy, as men try to gain control of their partners by tracking and monitoring their every move. Additionally, in several developing countries husbands are using intimate/pornographic photos of their partners to blackmail them and gain control. Men have even been known to use fake advertisements to lure women into forced marriages, guess partner’s passwords, and disrespect their privacy by listening to phone conversations.

Technology related VAW is a dangerous and growing problem as technology enables violence by allowing anonymity, automation, affordability, action from a distance, and propagation. Technology does not only provide an affordable and detached way to harm women, but has also made it easier for the offender to remain anonymous, to stalk and monitor their partner, and to create damage that can follow their women around forever. While technology is a promising way to improve gender equality, I think we must not ignore the growing and serious issue of how technology can exacerbate VAW. After reading this paper, I question how we can protect women from technology related VAW.


FEWS NET: A Famine Early Warning System

Ever since the Indian Ocean tsunami in December of 2004, there has been a push for early warning systems of all types. One system in place even before this natural disaster is FEWS NET, or Famine Early Warning System Network. According to their website, FEWS NET was developed in 1985 by USAID. They saw a need for an early warning system to detect food insecurity after famines in East and West Africa. Now, FEWS NET allows agencies to plan for and respond to food insecurity disasters.

Check out this video about FEWS NET. Jim Verdin from USGS says that FEWS NET is “an activity that boils down to simply paying attention”. He further explains that FEWS NET is in place to ensure that devastating famine no longer occurs in the developing world.

One current example of how FEWS NET functions as an early warning system involves the drought in Haiti. Because FEWS NET tracks the weather patterns, agricultural production, and food prices in Haiti, Haiti was able to offset the effects of the drought and the spread of the drought by arranging for food rations from sources such as the United Nations’ World Food Programme.


GENDERIT.ORG: A FORUM FOR DISCUSSION ON GENDER POLICY AND ICT

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Yesterday’s guest speaker got us all thinking about the different kinds of obstacles faced by younger women in the developing world. Young women have the potential to truly impact their communities in the long run provided they are given access to the appropriate tools. Information and Communication Technology can be used in unique ways by and for women to help them become more participatory members of their communities, to help them overcome gender-barriers, and be more able to take care of their families. However, policymakers and implementers must proceed with caution. As with all development projects, the framework and goals of the project must be aligned with the needs of the stakeholders. Policy discussion and implementation methods are vital to the success of a project. While researching ICT4D and women, I came acrossgenderITorg. This blog-style website was developed by theAssociation for Progressive Communications Women’s Rights Programme. According to the site its aims are:

*To develop an information resource/knowledge sharing site for gender and ICT advocates, civil society organizations and policy makers that wish to be active in gender and ICT policy.
* To raise awareness among civil society organisations, specifically in women’s movements, regarding gender and ICT policy issues.
* To empower women’s organisations and networks in collaboration with other civil society actors to take action on ICT policy issues and develop ICT policy that meets their needs. To encourage them to lobby for an information society that builds social justice and human rights, at the national, regional and global level.

It classifies, interprets, monitors, and analyzes the ICT policies of countries in Latin AmericaAsia-PacificCentral Eastern Europe, andAfrica. Users can find information by country, policy issue, or specific organization (most of the content is available in English and Spanish). The site also has a glossary of terms frequently used in ICT and gender discussions. While the site isn’t as flashy or smartly-arranged as some of the other development websites we’ve seen- the amount of information is staggering. Furthermore, the site allows for interaction between users to discuss policies and project ideas.

See their twitter feed here!


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