Gender and ICT/Final Analysis and Conclusion
There is no way of creating knowledge that is not circumscribed by the oppressions of our times if we cannot imagine a better future, if we cannot dream of a way of life that does away with the domination that is part of our everyday realities, if we cannot envision other ways of being. Without imagination, we cannot search for the kind of knowledge that allows us to fully understand our divided realities in order to transcend them. It is the imagination that allows us to move from where we are to where we would like to be even before we get there. We must learn to liberate the imagination, to unleash the energy that so many of us dissipate, often without realizing, in upholding the intellectual barriers that divide us not only from one another, but also from ourselves and from other ways of knowing.
- Charmaine Pereira, at WENT2003 Symposium, Seoul, Republic of Korea94
Vulnerability of the Gender Equality Agenda
In some cases, gains made in integrating a gender perspective and analysis into policies, programmes and projects are a result of the existing global advocacies of gender equality and women’s empowerment advocates and, to a significant extent, donor pressure. However, such gains are more often than not rendered fragile, and extremely vulnerable to changes in their economic, political and social environments. The global social policy agenda now acknowledges that the division between economic policy, on one hand, and concerns for the social well-being of people, on the other, give rise to a false dichotomy that prevents the emergence of coherent policies to address pressing issues: responsive governance, socially friendly economic policies and universal provisioning of social services.95 However, it has also been noted that the translation of this awareness into effective policy and institutional mechanisms is yet to take place.96 The State’s role in social development continue to be the focus of debate, especially as institutions emerge with the potential to offer new services in social sector provisioning. In particular, the potential for partnerships with civil society and the private sector is being viewed as a way of addressing financing and management concerns, as the demands of social welfare provisioning increase and population’s age. An emerging debate focuses on whether social policy should promote universal services under a strong State-based regulatory framework, or whether the role of States should be reduced to preserving the minimal public provisioning of basic services targeted at the most vulnerable sections of society, thus allowing the better-off to secure their needs through private markets for health and education.97 Nations mistakenly think that it costs too much to enable women to access and benefit from opportunities in the private and public spheres – politically, economically and socially. What Nations fail to grasp for all these decades is the simple truth about the burden of dependency. Ensuring that someone remains dependent on you, means you are doubly burdened. You not only look to your own needs, but you have to ensure that other person’s needs are met as well.
Success in integrating gender perspectives will require commitment of financial and human resources, capacity building, top leadership support and a change of agendas, practices and attitudes at all functional levels. It will also be necessary to periodically collect data on gender and ICT trends, impact of ICT on gender equality, women’s participation in the ICT sector, including at decision-making level, and to closely monitor trends over time. The effort will be painstaking but the rewards will be enormous for the advancement and empowerment of the world’s women and their families. Imperative too are transparent, inclusive consultative mechanisms with civil society, particularly women’s rights-based NGOs. More substantial collaborations too need to be forged between governments and NGOs, such as the example of the Women’s Council of Brunei Darussalam, an umbrella organization of women’s organizations with over 2,000 members, has collaborated with government bodies in the establishment of a committee on social issues and in addressing women’s concerns.98
Policy Recommendations for Action
There have been many recommendations put forward especially in the last couple of years addressing gender issues in the area of ICT. These have been made at international, regional, and national fora. The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action was the first international policy framework that explicitly mentioned gender issues in relation to ICTs. It recognized that areas of computer technology, satellite and cable television held opportunities for women’s participation in communications.99 The 47th session of the Commission on the Status of Women held on 3-14 March 2003 drew up no less than 24 broad recommendations for action that would contribute to addressing gender.100 The UNESCAP Expert Group Meeting to Review ICT Policies from a Gender Perspective, held on 18-19 December 2001, recognized that current government policies refer mostly to IT rather than ICT, where the latter is normally used to only refer to the issue of convergence of computer, broadcasting and telecommunication technologies. This particular meeting highlighted, among other key strategies for a gender-sensitive ICT policy, the need for all stakeholders to consider the fact that girls tend to leave formal education earlier than boys, and hence IT skill training should be started at an early level of school; and that ICT tools should also be effectively deployed to help mainstream gender. For example, ICTs could be instituted in national machineries to advance the status of women and used to actively and systematically collect and disseminate sex-disaggregated data. The meeting focused its recommendations under the issues of access, capacity building, employment and entrepreneurship as well as what can be done to facilitate an enabling environment for women’s wider and fuller participation.101 In addition, the UN Division for the Advancement of Women Expert Group Meeting on Information and Communication Technologies and Their Impact On and Use as an Instrument for the Advancement and Empowerment of Women, held in Seoul, Republic of Korea, on 11-14 November 2002, drew up recommendations to each stakeholder, including national women machineries, while underlying the importance of an enabling environment and partnerships for the empowerment of women in all spaces.102
However, WSIS (Phase 1, December 2003), failed to further build on these recommendations and fell short of providing specific directions and action plans to effectively ensure gender justice within the new information society. In the meantime, the guidelines produced by the ITU Task Force for gendersensitive policy-making (see Box 16) can be used either as a checklist of issues to consider when making decisions or to provide ideas on how to mainstream gender in regulatory and licensing agencies.103 If governments are indeed committed to integrating a gender perspective into their national ICT policies towards women’s empowerment within the gender equality framework, then governments would need to:
- Acknowledge, protect and defend women’s rights in the Information Society;
- Fully recognize that gender equality, non-discrimination and women’s empowerment are essential prerequisites for equitable and people-centred development in the Information Society;
- Ensure that ICT governance and policy frameworks enable full and equal participation;
- Ensure that all ICT initiatives incorporate a gender perspective;
- Ensure that every woman has the right to affordable access;
- Ensure that all education and training programmes promote gender awareness;
|Box 16: Gender-aware Guidelines for Policy-making and Regulatory Agencies
Recommended by the ITU Task Force on Gender Issues
Source: Jorge, 2001.
- Ensure that women and girls enjoy the right to equal access to educational opportunities in the fields of science and technology;
- Consult women for their viewpoints, knowledge, experience and concerns in a more substantive manner and make these more visibly integrated into policy-making, programme planning and implementation;
- Ensure the preservation and promotion of women’s knowledge within the public domain of global knowledge; and
- Ensure that every woman and girl has the right to communicate and exchange information freely in safe and secure online spaces.
In addition, governments would need to pay special attention to issues of:
- Diversity in the ownership and control of content and the content itself;
- Free and open source software, technology development, copyright, trademarks and patents;
- Global information commons;
- Privacy and SPAM; and
- National governance of the Internet.
Table 4 below summarizes the key considerations in mainstreaming gender in the ICT sector.
|Table 4: Key Issues to Consider for Gender-equal Outcomes in the ICT Arena|
|ICT dimensions mediating access/use||Inclusive strategies for equitable access/use||Some dimensions for gender-sensitive design|
|Policy and Regulatory Frameworks||A balance between promotion of private ICT investment and strategies for addressing needs of low-income, customers in policy, entailing promotion of public investment where required;risk-sharing with private investment; and enforcement of Universal Service Obligations as licence conditions.||Gender representation at all levels of policy and decision-making; specific attention to rural areas; positive discrimination in training and capacity building for women; and gender dis-aggregated statistics, analysis and evaluation mechanisms.|
|Policy and Regulatory Frameworks||Where appropriate, strategic use of ICTs in social sector policies, e.g. health, education, and governance for wider, deeper and more locally-adapted reach of services.||Distinct goals and strategies with regard to women and girls in each sector, involving them as key actors and not only as beneficiaries.|
|Technology/Business Architecture||Technology mixes tailored to context for maximum value delivery at low costs.||Wireless connectivity, mobile telephony, free and open source software, multimedia, graphic/voice interface, offline applications.|
|Technology/Business Architecture||Viable business models that deliver affordable services, employing principles of sharing and aggregation.||Multi-service delivery models with an offline-online mix; telecentres as community access points; human interface, preferably with women managers at service delivery points; and piggybacking on existing facilities and institutions.|
|Content and Process Design||Information and communication delivery critical to basic needs, aspirations and rights of people, especially of socially disadvantaged.||Gender-specific content; participation of women in process and content design; content in local language specific to local culture; taking into account cultural factors impacting women’s access to community areas; and processes streamlined to account for women’s situation and needs.|
|Content and Process Design||Adapt content and process to the local
Final Note: The Right to Communicate
This e-primer asserts that the advocacy for a new information and communication environment should fully integrate gender concerns and women’s advancement. The challenge is to ensure that individuals, communities, nations, and the international community gain access to, and are able to use effectively, the information and knowledge they need to address their development challenges and improve their lives. At the core of this new environment is the democratization of people’s access to information and communication facilities and technological resources. Fifty years ago, the UDHR recognized the right to information as a fundamental human right. The assertion of this right has become even more urgent at a time when technological advancement in the production of information and knowledge is reshaping the organization of our societies globally. Equally important is advocating for the recognition of communication rights as part of human rights. The exercise of our democratic freedoms and the full and equal participation in current economic development is the basis for the assertion of our rights to information and communication. Within this context, fall women’s rights to equal and democratic access to ICTs. Gender equality, non-discrimination and women’s empowerment are essential prerequisites for equitable and people-centred development in the information society. Communication rights counter the current hegemonic ownership structure of national and global information networks. This advocacy is increasingly important to civil society worldwide who have very little voice in the national and international agreements and legislation to technological resources and information.
Rights related to access and use of the Internet and electronic communication infrastructure allows ordinary people to have their voices heard. The Internet has allowed the voices of ordinary citizens and organizations lacking strong financial resources to be heard. With over 200 million users worldwide and an estimated 1 billion users in 2005, the Internet provides a unique public sphere where decisions that shape people’s lives can be freely debated and considered. It allows small groups and individuals, women and men - previously working in isolation from one another - to communicate, network, share information and prepare actions in ways they have never been able to before. ICTs must be made available to all at an affordable cost and the development of infrastructure must ensure that marginalized groups are not further disadvantaged. This should be the strategic starting points for all concerned with gender equality and social transformation. In a globalized world that continuously undermines localized democratic institutions the Internet provides an essential means for defending and extending participatory democracy. The Internet and other ICTs can be used to strengthen diversity and provide a platform for a multitude of voices, a pluralism of ideas and opinions and a place for cross-cultural exchange. However, this can only be true if developments are driven by a desire to preserve and enhance local and regional linguistic diversity and civil society has a voice in the policy formations, which regulate control and ownership of ICTs.