Gender, Women, Information Technology, & the Web

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In January 2013 the U.S. Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and UN Women had the first International Forum on Women, ICT, and Development (WICTAD) . Maybe these two organizations are having their first forum but people have been involved with women, ICT and development for years. Technologies have changed but issues remain the same. At the conference Intel released a report Women and the Web, a “groundbreaking report” unveiling“concrete * on the enormous Internet gender gap” in the developing world and the social and economic benefits of securing Internet access for women.

How groundbreaking is it, I wonder.

The first report that I recall reading about technology and gender within the development context was Gender, Information Technology, and Developing Countries: An Analytic Study. (Ironically, serendipitously or just plain weird, it was produced under a USAID contract with the organization that I eventually went to work for.) It was written by Nancy Hafkin and Nancy Taggert, published in 2001. Nancy Hafkin who has been inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame (how cool is that?) has been working for years on technology and gender and contributed to Women and the Web. When I read that study, Women and the Web, I thought about the first report I read about gender and technology over 10 years ago.

A random observation, thought, note, and an “interesting” take-away from re/reading them…

Statistics on gender use are in urban and peri-urban areas. The statistics in both reports are within urban and/or peri-urban areas. That is useful but only to a point. How do we take the rural populations more into account?

Benefits on use of tech: No need to keep extolling on how wonderful technology is for access to information, learning, economic empowerment, social participation, etc. DUH!

Instead, share great stories. Focus on how. Mentor. It is wonderful when a teacher that you used to work in Zambia years ago asks to friend you on Facebook or now sends you a link to great teaching resource. I used to say that I wanna be a tech person. (At one time I carried a crimping tool around with me.) Now I wanna be an AfrixChix, a group of women technologists in Kenya. I am in utter, total awe of them.

The Women and Web report called them barriers. The Gender and IT report called them obstacles.
• Literacy/Language of the web
• Education
• Digital, Information & Media Literacy Skills
• Social and Cultural Norms
• Cost
• Access: devices/infrastructure/safe points to access
• Policy

The bottom line? The more things change, the more they stay the same. The work continues…

“Interesting” Take-Away
The most fascinating statistic in Women and Web report for me was that with 600 million women and girls empowered to be online within three years it predicted a market opportunity of USD 50 to USD 70 billion in new sales of Internet accessible devices and network plans.

More demand, more business. I get that. But what will really be the sales? And how do you disaggregate the sales of data plans and devices by gender? Are the sellers in the market disaggregating their phone sales by male and female?

In any case as more women and girls use technology and the web, they will not be using their boyfriend’s, husband’s, brother’s, friend’s device or phone.


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