“Women 2000 and Beyond” is a publication series produced by the UN. In September of 2005 they published an issue titled “Gender equality and empowerment of women through ICT,” which I found to be a great supplement to our discussions and reading for this week. According to their website, Women 2000 and Beyond brings to light “issues which have not been given adequate attention in global policy-making processes or addresses the gender perspectives of issues currently at the centre of global attention.” It is a very interesting resource to explore if you are looking for more information about the role that gender plays in development, especially in areas of development that you may not have previously considered to be ‘gendered.’
The issue of particular interest for this class, “Gender equality and empowerment of women through ICT,” provides an overview of gender inequality related to ICTs, and, in turn, how we can use ICTs to address gender inequalities. The article is 40 pages long, but in summary, the it states that ICTs have the potential to empower women by:
1) Increasing their access to health, nutrition, education, political participation, etc. Technology like SMS messaging definitely has the potential to improve maternal health, for example. The article highlights an example of a successful effort to decrease maternal mortality in Uganda where birthing attendants were equipped with high frequency radios and were alerted when women needed their assistance at home, or when the hospital needed them. In addition, with access to email and the Internet, women can more effectively fight for their rights by contacting local or national governments with their concerns.
2) Offering them a private place for to communicate with each other outside of the presence of men, their children, elders etc
3) Providing an outlet for ‘freedom of expression’ and the opportunity to address women’s rights and discuss issues relevant to women. For example, the issue mentions a radio station that was created by women in Uganda called “Mama FM” where women discussed, and the listeners learned about issues such as human rights, motherhood, governance, health etc
4) Expanding their access to producers, traders, markets, and…
5) Creating economic opportunities for women (especially in rural areas). Employment opportunities in the ICT sector itself would provide women with steady jobs in the formal labor force. In addition, having access to ICTs increases women’s abilities to maintain/ start small business endeavors/ entrepreneurship. With their own means of communication, women can often bypass a ‘middleman’ in business transactions and avoid exploitation.
The article goes on and on. But essentially, ICTs offer similar benefits to men and women, but many women in developing countries are currently being left behind, and are experiencing a poorer quality of life than men as a result. Just as there is concern that the digital divide may exacerbate the inequalities that exist between the rich and the poor, this article points to the risk that “ICT may exacerbate existing inequalities between women and men and create new forms of inequality” (p. 3). Luckily, great hope lies in the opportunity for ICTs to help women, as long as they are given the chance to use them effectively.