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.