Gender and ICTs

Who benefits from information and communication technologies (ICTs)? ICTs have created new economic and social opportunities the world over. The positive changes brought about by ICTs, however, have not touched all of humanity. Their use continues to be governed by existing power relations where women frequently experience relative disadvantage. Amidst this inequality are individuals and organisations that are working to use these technologies to further gender equality. This Cutting Edge Pack considers the effect of ICTs on gender relations and consists of: an Overview Report outlining the main arguments and approaches in regard to gender and ICTs; a Supporting Resources Collection providing summaries of essential texts, case studies and tools, as well as a listing of key organisations; and a Gender and Development In Brief newsletter made up of three short articles on the theme.

Gender and ICTs Cutting Edge Pack - Overview Report

New technologies in the information and communications arena, especially the Internet, have been seen as ushering in a new age. And yet, access to new ICTs is still a faraway reality for the vast majority of people. The countries of the South, particularly rural populations, have largely been left out of the information revolution, due to a wide range of barriers including the absence of basic infrastructure and lack of demonstrated benefit from ICTs to address ground-level development challenges. These barriers pose even greater problems for women, who are more likely to be illiterate and not know English, and lack opportunities for training in computer skills. Moreover, although ICTs have brought employment gains for many women, patterns of gender segregation are being reproduced in the information economy where men hold the majority of high-skilled jobs, and women are concentrated in the low-skilled jobs.

Recommendations from the Overview Report

Far-reaching changes towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in the ICT arena are needed at every level – international, national and programme. Engendering ICTs is not merely about greater use of ICTs by women. It is about transforming the ICT system. This involves:

  • Governments building ICT policies with strong gender perspectives and engaging with civil society and gender and ICT experts on these areas.
  • International fora such as the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) being used to challenge northern and corporate dominance of the ICT arena.
  • Clear gender strategies being deployed through design, in the implementation and evaluation of ICT projects and programmes.
  • Collecting information with sex-disaggregated statistics and gender indicators on access to, use of and content of ICTs, on employment and on education.
  • Consideration of gender issues in: ICT/telecommunications policy; representation in telecommunications/ICT decision-making; and the differential impact of telecommunications/ICTs on men and women.
Gender and ICTs Cutting Edge Pack - Supporting Resources Collection

Mainstream perceptions of new information and communication technologies (ICTs), especially the Internet, are overwhelmingly positive, where they have only technical rather than social implications. The reality is that vast numbers of people are excluded from the benefits of these technologies, in particular people who lack the necessary infrastructure, skills, literacy and knowledge of the dominant Internet language – English. Women, poor and rural people are more likely to be among this group. Many attempts have been made to make the benefits of ICTs more widely accessible and to use ICTs to empower women and others. This collection of materials demonstrate such attempts and point to how to lobby for a more gender-sensitive ICTs policy, and how to implement ICTs programmes so that women can both use and benefit from them. It is made up of summaries of texts that give a flavour of the diversity of issues and how to tackle them. It provides broad as well as regional overviews, case studies, tools and guidelines and other materials. Practical materials which offer insights and guidelines for action have been chosen over more academic texts. The collection also lists useful web resources and provides networking and contact details of organisations working on gender and ICTs.

Gender and Development In Brief ‘Gender and ICTS’ – edition 15

In Brief is a six page newsletter that aims to stimulate thinking on a priority gender theme. This edition looks at the relationship between ICTs and gender equality. It comprises an overview with recommendations and two articles with case studies highlighting examples of innovative good practice.

The first article describes the work of Feminist International Radio Endeavour (FIRE), a women's Internet radio station that uses these technologies to promote exchange between women across the globe. Its feminist perspective is not simply about “women’s rights”; it is about raising women’s voices and perspectives on all issues – voices that are not only absent but are actively silenced and excluded from global debates. FIRE is not only “for” women, but is by women and about women, for a global audience.

The second article explores the work of the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) that uses ICTs for capacity-building provided of women living in remote areas. It runs programmes which develop women’s abilities in the use of computers, radio, television, video, the telephone, fax machines, mobile phones and satellite communication. It has shown that such technologies can support women working in the informal sector, bringing greater livelihood security to economically vulnerable households living in increasingly fragile environments.