Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Gender “digital divide”:World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2012

“If we educate a boy, we educate one person. If we educate a girl, we educate a family and a whole nation.” African proverb

Today is World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2012. The theme for 2012 is “Women and Girls in ICT.” Gender equality is a basic human right enshrined in the U.N. Charter.  The United Nations designates May 17 to remind the world each year of the benefits that the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) can bring to societies and economies worldwide.
Talking to female student teachers in Bushenyi on role of  ICT4Eudcation

May 17 also marks the anniversary of the creation of the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communications technologies. Along with other activities, the agency strives to improve access to ICTs to underserved communities worldwide.Access to ICTs, the United Nations says, empowers women and girls to take their rightful place as equals in the world. 

“Despite the obvious benefits, many girls never even consider a career  in ICTs.  There is a lack of awareness among students, teachers and parents on what a career in ICT could offer.  Attitudes can change when girls are invited into companies and government agencies to meet  ICT professionals and see what life is like on the job”.

For this reason, ITU members agreed to recognize Girls in ICT Days on the 4th Thursday of every April in ITU Plenipotentiary Resolution 70 (Guadalajara, 2010)
Information Communication Technology (ICT) has the potential to transform social, economic, and political life globally. ICT presents unique and timely opportunities for women and girls. It promises better economic prospects, fuller political participation, communication with the outside world, easy access to information, and an enhanced ability to acquire education and skills and to transcend social restrictions. ICT is especially important to poor women because it can provide increased access to resources, the absence of which defines poverty. Hence, ICTs are tools that facilitate access to a variety of development resources.

However, the uneven distribution of ICT within societies and across the globe is resulting in a “digital divide” between those who have access to information resources and those who do not. Women’s lower levels of literacy and education relative to men as well as negative attitudes towards girls’ achievement in science and mathematics, contribute to the gender dimension of the digital divide. In addition, women across the world enjoy a lower degree of economic security than men and face gender-related constraints on their time and mobility. Without access to information technology, an understanding of its significance, and the ability to use it for social and economic gain, women in the developing world will be further marginalized from the mainstream of their communities, their countries, and the world (Nancy Hafkin and Nancy Taggart 2003) [1].

According to the MDGs established in 2000 at the United Nations Millennium Summit and signed by 189 heads of state around the world, a list of eight overarching goals for developing countries to achieve by 2015 is outlined. Among this list, Goal 3a is to ‘eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015’. Indicator 9, to measure the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women, is the ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education.

Boys too need the ICT skills. I spoke to some at a youth  camp-2011
However, the targets set by MDGs and other global foras have largely been missed on the African continent. According to Peninah Mlama, Executive director of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), “A lot of girls are dropping out of school or not being sent at all because of the poverty of parents. Traditional cultural attitudes are still very strong, especially in rural areas. The little money parents have to scrounge for sending children to school is seen as too big an investment to risk on the girl child” 

The uneven distribution of Information and communication Technologies (ICTs) within societies and across the globe has resulted in a ‘DIGITAL DIVIDE’ between those who have access to information resources and those who do not. Women’s low levels of literacy and education relative to men as well as the negative attitude towards girls achievement in science related fields contributes to the gender dimension of the digital divide. Women still have a low degree of economic security than men and face gender related constraints on their time and mobility. They are therefore less likely to access, use and participate in shaping the course of ICTs compared to their male counterparts
In Uganda more men than women access/make use of ICTs because most ICT infrastructure is in the urban areas or townships, whereas majority of the women/populations live in the rural areas. 
Given women and girls multiple roles and heavy domestic responsibilities, their leisure hours are few and therefore need tools that can effectively reduce the “distance” between them as individuals and institutions thereby making sharing of information and knowledge easier and more effective. ICTs come in handy.

[1] Nancy Hafkin and Nancy Taggart (2003), An Analytical Study on Gender, Information Technology and Developing Countries, Office of Women in Development, USAID, Washington DC.

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