Tag Archives: gender

A Frightening Future: Tech and Self-Image


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.



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!

Adolescent Girls in Development

In a unique class experience we skyped with Keshet Bechan, a specialist in women’s empowerment in International Development. Gender is a concept that seeks to challenge people especially in the developing world where social relations are a huge concern, especially when it comes to gender inequalities. Keshet highlights that in many cases adolescent girls (between the ages of 10-19) are left out of political, social and other aspects of society, despite the fact that they are the majority of the population, roughly 500 million. Through looking through this gender lens it becomes clear that in the application for ICT4D we must understand the forms of discrimination they face and in order to find ways to overcome them. Adolescent girls are virtually invisible in most large-scale development programming and by not addressing this there is a great opportunity being missed to break this cycle of poverty and discrimination. Women are an integral part of the family structure and in order to ensure their livelihood and prosperity we must include them in the development process.

To draw connections with my country of interest for this past semester I found this article https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/01/21/indonesia-rights-rollback-religious-minorities-women

which highlights the extreme discrimination that women faced in Indonesia just last year (2013), and since then the government has made great strides to enforce laws protecting women’s rights in and religious freedoms. According to the report, Indonesia’s official Commission on Violence against Women reported that the both the national and local government had passed “60 new discriminatory regulations in 2013”. There was too much negative attention on the government in Indonesia for all of their human rights and women’s violations, prompting various human rights organizations to stand up. Its situations like these that help propel progressive thinking unto governments that are stuck in a poor mindset that women are not equal to men. Due to the highly religious customs of the Muslim country, women have been historically uneducated and discriminated but its with the help of women’s rights and international development organizations that one day this will be a thing of the past. 

ICT4D’s Forgotten Factors

In class discussion we have been noting that we cannot always take data or opinions for face value. We  have to delve deeper to see what fallbacks, flaws, or gaps are in the information presented. Most data is presented on a very broad scale, largely paying attention to region or country. This is understandable considering the noted difficulty in acquiring information and specific data from so many countries with different measurement standards, languages, and capabilities. What this leads to is a lack of full understanding of the issues at hand and what specific groups may have more difficulty accessing ICT. In Alampay’s article “Beyond Access to ICTs” we find subgroups such as gender and age that have an important role in understanding the digital divide. I believe this is very important in understanding the full scope of a nations digital atmosphere. These particular factors make portions of the population more challenged than our general understanding of the ICT capabilities of a country. If we do not examine these factors in a case-by-case manor, we may apply the same solutions to countries with similar rankings while we don’t understand the root issues on a micro level.

We discussed the challenges gender and age have in our own Western, primarily American, technology culture. These revolved around whether women are less skilled or just less exposed to technology, whether age is a absolute factor affecting access and skill. If these are so rampant in our own society, what makes us believe that these aren’t even more challenging in developing countries? By addressing these shortcomings we can better modify our approach to closing the digital divide.

Q&A Best Practices

We were asked to write a short 2 or 3-paragraph post about one of the following questions. But of course, I didn’t follow the directions carefully and wrote a paragraph for each question. I learned more about my future involvement with ICT4D, and you got more information than you asked for. Sorry I’m not sorry.

a) What do you think are the most salient lessons to be learned in ICT4D?

The several important lessons to be learned in ICT4D are 1) Seek out what medium of information dissemination already exists in that region or sector. Only use ICTs selectively to improve the efficiency of, or expand the current information path that has already been carved out. I saw this worked with the success of Telemedicine, where the path from doctor to specialist was already forged, but technology was needed to improve diagnostic time. 2) Richard Heeks’ strategy of think back-office not the front office: improve a country or sector’s ICT capacity from the inside out. Do not introduce or update a technology if it isn’t needed. Usually it is, but you must first assess the current status of information exchange and research the appropriate technology to sustainably grow a sector. I discovered the Ministry of Health in Turkey failed to research the appropriate technology to implement a nation-wide electronic health records system in 2003, making the system more inefficient and inaccessible to nurses and doctors than before. 3) You can’t always trust an open source platform. Corruption and transparency, inaccurate or incomplete information, and the expectation of results can cause problems in achieving a truly open source online platform. I learned this in the Harassmap case study and the 9 Ethical Considerations in Participatory Digital Mapping with Communities.

b) Reflections on something specific that you have personally learned this semester that you think would/will help you as a development professional.

What I have personally learned this semester is the beneficiaries need to be involved in every step of the ICT project design. From start to finish, the information has to better their lives, as does the skill of learning a new technology. With my interest in Gender Studies, I am learning how to improve social conditions without replicating existing frameworks of patriarchal power. One information medium I have seen that is empowering for women in marginalized spaces is storytelling and preserving indigenous knowledge. If the process or stories are relevant to them, giving a voice to underrepresented information through mediums like participatory video, amateur radio, or Usnet forums, gives empowerment  to people’s life experiences. Through people taking their lives or livelihoods into their own hands, such as in Farm Radio in Africa, we have seen concrete improvements in their life conditions. Furthermore, using ICTs in empowerment processes builds confidence in using technology in general, and increases the chance of learning how to use a new technology medium in the future. Technology skill building is key for sustainable growth of ICT4D. Many ICT projects have failed because they required too much external facilitation and support, such as in Facilitated Video Instruction in Low Resources Schools. Incorporating the beneficiaries and their opinions at every stage would prevent this from happening.

c) The most useful theoretical concept or framework we’ve discussed that can be used to think about and implement ICT4D.

The most useful theoretical frameworks we have discussed to implement ICT4D are to the barriers to access and supply-driven versus demand-driven paradigm. Examples of barriers to access to seriously consider when introducing an ICT solution  are the country’s previous technological investment and/or capacity to develop the infrastructure necessary to support this new technology. Inter-generational illiteracy, cultural stigmas preventing trust of the information or technology delivering it, and the lack of ownership issues are the most challenging barriers to accessing technology for development. I have learned in other development classes that if a beneficiary does not invest something of her own other than her time, she has no incentive to keep it. Therefore, promoting ownership is especially important for ICT solutions because technology is expensive and information needs to be driven by demand, not supply. That is why the second most important framework is the top-down/supply-driven vs. bottom-up/empowerment focused framework. In Connecting the First Mile, Talyarkhan researched existing knowledge systems and created appropriate materials based on thee relevant issues and information needs for the target group. The way I see it, researching the barriers to access for participatory development could take you years, but the impact and longevity of your idea/project could last lifetimes.

I want to take this impersonal online moment to say thank you to my highly intelligent and hilarious classmates this semester. It wouldn’t have been this much fun learning about technology without you. And never last, the coolest nerd in school, and our trusted leader Jessica Ports. Best of luck on your dissertation, and thank you for all the laughs and memories. The Red Cross will be lucky to have you!

P.S. D for D!

Female Broadcasters Unite Against Sexism in Nicaragua


In “Why Radio Matters,” Mary Myers outlines numerous applications of radio which she believes to be extremely effective if applied correctly in a development setting. Her emphasis on the ability of radio to educate and empower reminded me of a small UNESCO-funded conference I heard about recently from a friend in Nicaragua who works for AMARC (Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias). Last October, female radio broadcasters from all around the country convened in Matagalpa to discuss sexism they face in their everyday lives as well as the most effective and empowering ways to discuss sexual violence on the air. Among the things highlighted by the workshop were linguistic techniques to avoid assigning blame to victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse and the importance of using “vos” rather than “tú’ whenever possible in such discussions.

The workshop followed the enactment of Nicaragua’s recent Law 779, which was officially enacted in June and essentially provides the country with a far more modern, protective set of laws surrounding issues of sexual violence, spousal abuse, and women’s rights as a whole. While the law has been seen as an impressively comprehensive step towards sexual equality in Nicaragua, it has drawn resistance from native tribal populations, such as the Mayagna Indians, who see it as a threat to their existing tribal laws. The female broadcasters at the conference discussed tactful ways to encourage sexual equality in such situations without imposing judgment on existing cultural standards. Another interesting dimension of the conference was a discussion of the problems caused by the particularly odd work hours experienced by radio broadcasters. Many of the women ended or began work at odd hours in the morning and different radio stations had various ways of ensuring that they were at least somewhat protected while walking to and from work on deserted streets.


I recently learned about a subset of the Federal Communications Commission called WISENET: Women in ICTs Shared Intelligence Network. The network exists entirely online and aims to aggregate knowledge, experiences and data related to women in ICTs. In their own words,

WISENET (Women in ICTs Shared Excellence Network) is a convening platform that aims to leverage the experience, resources and connections of the international ICT community to better the situation of women, their communities and their countries. The platform will include the redesigned blog, news, events, and research.

WISENET is a key part of the International Bureau’s Women’s Initiative: Going Mobile and Connecting Women. Through the Initiative, we hope to collaborate on how to best use ICTs for development and motivate women to pursue careers in technology.

One exceptionally useful feature of the website is a oft-updated congregation of news links regarding women in ICTs—a topic which receives far too little media coverage. I’ve had a difficult time in the past finding news articles or current events relevant to our class discussions, and the first few links I tried here were great. The WISENET site also features a blog with posts from high-ranking administrators at various NGOs and government offices. Finally, there’s an impressive compilation of research on gender and ICT-related issues. More than anything else it looks like a way for English-speaking development workers to share ideas rather than a hands-on consumption-side ICT tool, but it’s still an incredibly useful resource. I have no way to tell how much traffic the site gets, but I hope someone out there is making use of it.

ICTs and the Achievement of the MDGs, and Goal 3 in Particular

One certainty is that there will be no adequate measurement or tracking of the relative status of women without the application of ICT… Moreover, it is only by the application of ICT that there is any hope of adequately unravelling the complex casual patterns in gender discrimination and of planning effective public gender policies”.

As discussed previously in both class and on this blog, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set out to eradicate poverty by 2015. Goal 3 is to “Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women”, and more specifically to eliminate the gender disparity in primary and secondary education. This is important because gender equality is fundamental to international development and poverty eradication. However, in his article, ICTs and MDGs: On the Wrong Track, Richard Heeks points out some of the main issues with MDGs, most specifically that they don’t use or address ICTs.

Since the creation of the MDGs, there seems to be a consensus on the idea that ICTs can help women achieve equality (despite the current inequalities in ICT access). One report by the UNDP’s Central and Eastern Europe Office titled Bridging the Gender Digital Divide analyzes the relationship between gender and ICT and makes a series of recommendations for the UN. One of their main recommendations is to “Deepen knowledge on the link between ICTs and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals”, specifically relating to Goal 3. The report says that ICT “can serve as an invaluable tool for those striving to meet the target and to improve their performance for these indicators”. Moreover, they would like more attention to be given to integrating gender with Goal 8 (Develop a Global Partnership for Development), which would mean ICT benefits for everyone.

Other recommendations include a “gender-focused ICT assessment” to identify which technologies are most user-friendly, commonly used, and accessible for women. For example, older technologies are often cheaper and therefore more accessible for women. Both this report, along with another report by Nancy Hafkin and Sophia Huyer, discuss that the main problem is the lack of gender ICT statistics available. The UNDP article writes, “The lack of data is a fundamental constraint for evaluating the gender impact of ICTs and women’s position in the ICT sector”. Therefore, they recommend a more extensive assessment to discover which strategies can be used to eliminate gender inequality through the use of ICTs.

Azerbaijan Technology Gender Differences

This week, our class discussions have been focused on barriers to use of ICT– mainly gender , and the potential equalizing effects ICTs may have on gender inequality. As I looked for some statistics on Azerbaijan specifically, I came across this blog written by Katy Pearce that provides research on ICTs in the Caucasus region. Pearce explains that the overall focus of her research is the adoptions and use of information and communication technologies in diverse cultural, economic, and political contexts. Specifically, she researches the barriers to ICT use, often socioeconomic in nature, but sometimes political or cultural. Pearce provides an enormous amount of technical statistics on the Caucasus region on her blog, one of which is a graphical breakdown of ICT use in Azerbaijan by gender.

Azerbaijan technology gender differences

To access the full size image, click here 

Pearce’s report explains that, unlike neighboring Armenia and Georgia, women in Azerbaijan are much less likely to own and use technology. Here are some reasons Pearce offers as to why these discrepancies occur:

  • Azerbaijani women may lack the economic and educational resources which would make them more likely to use technology.
  • Azerbaijani women may lack the temporal resources (due to household responsibilities) to have time to engage with technology.
  • Culturally and religiously, there is some evidence that Azerbaijani families discourage women from using the Internet because of fear of emancipatory activities or meeting men.
  • Many Azerbaijanis use Internet cafes for access and these, like in many countries, are places that are inappropriate or not safe for women.

Many of these reasons have come up in other reports and analysis for other countries. While I would be cautious to generalize to all countries and ICT use, I think that under the right circumstances, there are cases where a country profile may provide insights for other countries.