The relationship between gender and ICT use is interesting to me because it shows how ICT4D can both promote and detract from progress. In one section of Beyond Access to ICTs: Measuring Capabilities in the Information Society, Erwin A. Alampay discusses this relationship. He first discusses how ICTs can be beneficial for women in the developing world. In most developing regions, women are expected to take care of the children; if something happens to a child, it is the mother’s job to deal with it. ICTs can make this job a lot easier, as they can allow a mother to call for help in an emergency situation. Alampay also talks about how the introduction of ICT4D created more jobs for women. For example, Grameen Bank’s microcredit program “became a springboard to using women as village phone operators” (Alampay, 13), thus providing many more women with employment. Finally, he mentions that ICTs are beneficial because they allow working women to check on their children while they are at work. I particularly liked this point because it is so relevant in the United States as well. As a working single mother, my mom had to figure out how to take care of her kids while having a full time job. She still talks about how getting a cell phone made it all possible because it enabled her to contact us when she was at work, and work when she was home.
Alampay then talks about how women often have fewer opportunities to access ICTs than men do. While he merely mentions this in two sentences, I think that there is much more to be said about this divide. First, he doesn’t provide a sufficient explanation of why women have less access to ICTs than men do. He says that women don’t get equal access because they are expected to stay at home, while men begin to use ICTs in the workplace. This is true, but it isn’t the whole story. Alampay fails to consider other obstacles that might prevent women from getting the same access to ICT use as men. For example, lets say an ICT4D project decides to install computers in a school and teach kids how to use them. If there were a gender gap in education, as there often is, fewer girls than boys would get to use these new technologies. This is just one of many potential examples, and I think Alampay should have gone further in investigating this topic.
Furthermore, Alampay doesn’t address how ICTs can sometimes be an obstacle for development in terms of gender equality. If, as he suggested, women do not have the same access to ICTs as men do, wouldn’t this increase the gender gap overall? ICT use can be a vital job skill. If men gain these skills while women lag behind, don’t the chances of women being employed get even lower?
While overall I think ICT4D reaps more benefits for women in the developing world, it is important to consider disadvantages as well. Alampay’s analysis is interesting and valid, but it is incomplete. Many more arguments can be made for both the positive and negative effects of ICT4D on women’s development, and I think Alampay’s two paragraphs don’t do the topic justice.