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A quick look at gender and ICT

November 16, 2009  »  ICT PolicyOne Comment

ictwomanAfrican women’s participation in the global information society is hindered by many challenges and barriers, such as infrastructure deficiencies, policy misdiagnoses, and the structural and cultural features of African societies. As such, it is difficult to quantify the discrepancy between male and female participation in the ICT sector. However, empirical findings suggest that in developing countries, relatively few women use the Internet or receive an education based in the sciences. In the year 2000, less than 20% of Zambian Internet users and only 12% of Senegalese users were women. The fact that men earn more income per capita than women need not cause a discrepancy in the gender of those touched by information technology. Neither should the observation that the technological side of computing tends to interest more men than women. A recent study and white paper by European Schoolnet, commissioned by Cisco, finds that women who have a great interest in ICT and excellent ICT skills often choose non-technological careers. There must be a way to carry the interest through school and into the workforce. South Africa has multiple organizations dedicated to the cause.

The first step to restore gender equality is to define an agenda:

  • allocate ICT development resources to women
  • provide and improve telecommunications infrastructure
  • facilitate and encourage the involvment of women in technological innovation
  • create culturally resonant content
  • design and deliver appropriate training mechanisms
  • increase effective demand for ICT products and services

In order to fulfill the above agenda, we need:

  • to define goals and objectives in dialogue with local definitions of gender
  • to change agents must make realistic assumptions about the required resources
  • strong leadership

Examples from 2000-2004 (Source: Nancy J. Hafkin and Sophia Huyer, Cinderella or cyberella?: empowering women in the knowledge society. Kumarian Press, Inc., 2006, 77-8.):

  • Benin: Official ICT policy and strategy includes increasing women’s capacities to use ICT and to use ICT to promote women’s concerns
  • Guinea: National policy recognizes gender awareness as a part of human development
  • Ghana: The national ICT policy explicitly mentions the goal of eliminating gender inequalities through ICT. Furthermore, the policy addresses a gender balance in training
  • Kenya: Women’s groups took part in the national ICT policy debates
  • Mozambique: The policy attempts to include a gender dimension
  • South Africa: Gender-specific language was used as early as 1996 in legislation
  • Uganda: Policy goals were to take care of gender balance and ensure gender mainstreaming in ICTs
  • Zambia: A draft policy references the need to mainstream youth and gender into policy design
  • Tanzania: There are a handful of mentions of women in the ICT policy

*Please let me know if a source of current statistics on ICT gender distribution in Africa exist. Hopefully, the Gender Action Plan (GAP), which places emphasis on women’s access to infrastructure as a key to their economic empowerment, will provide a better benchmark in the near future. The GAP has so far allocated $1.3 million to the Africa region, including funding for a regional study to better understand gender, infrastructure and time use.

  • Kathleen Diga

    if you want African sex disaggregated data on ICT usage / accessibility, check out : Research ICT Africa (www.researchictafrica.net). They don’t have all the countries, but collected through random sampling, nationally representative and being analyzed by African economists. They use household collected data versus ITU’s supply side (from operators) data. The data from the survey is in the public domain and available for use by anyone under a Creative Commons ShareAlike NonCommercial licence.