Gender and ICTs in Development
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CTA. 2002. Gender and ICTs in Development. ICT Update Issue 8. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57494
by Mercy Wambui Picture this. Anastacia Namusonge is over 70 years old, a grandmother and a farmer in Uganda. She has had no formal education but can confidently turn the ´pages´ of a CD-ROM on setting up small-scale businesses.
She has embraced her role in content dissemination to members of the Nakaseke community telecentre. In a continent that the North often views as ´blacked out´ of the information age, Anastacia demonstrates that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be an integral part of the development arena. Despite the many efforts to advance ICTs in Africa, many women remain marginalized from technologies that could make immense differences to their lives. This is not to say ICTs are a panacea for all of Africa´s complex challenges. To counter the cynics who do not believe that ICTs can help to alleviate poverty, their proponents need to showcase the benefits, and to find ways to scale them up to ensure that they make a difference. The marginalization of women from the world of ICTs epitomizes the gender relations in many developing countries, where women are socialized towards non-technological roles and career choices. Even so, some social networks and movements, such as the Association for Progressive Communications, Women´s networking Programme (APC-WP), have made tremendous efforts to provide ICT skills training for women´s groups. Increasingly, women are gaining access to relevant content and are utilizing online spaces to make their voices heard. There are many fascinating stories of women forming radio clubs, using video to inform policy makers and to develop content, and using cellular phones in remote areas. The story is not over yet. Many women who are disenfranchised - illiterate, intimidated by technology, balancing the demands of being a wife, mother and head of household - as well as living in poverty still face daunting challenges. Women subsistence farmers in rural areas are even worse off, in that their heavy workloads make it difficult for them to give priority to ICTs. Community access centres are useful for many reasons. They enable women to produce and disseminate their own content. They can be used by extension workers to improve the accessibility of technical agricultural content using a mixture of translation and ICTs such as radio programmes and CD-ROMs. To overcome the problem of language, technologies that combine broadcasting, print and new technologies, including touch-screen computers, or keyboards that support African languages, can also help to improve accessibility. For women living in rural areas the potential of ICTs is immense, but they need practical ICT-based solutions that meet their literacy and educational needs. They are interested in learning about business and marketing opportunities, and in networking to reduce their isolation. For example, GIS-generated scientific information on waterborne diseases, weather and soils could be crucial in enhancing food production and food security. However, women in the agricultural sector will not be able to reap the potential benefits of ICTs unless African countries resolve outstanding telecoms policy issues. Most state-owned monopolies do not keep up with technological advances and lack the capacity to cope with growing demand for telecom services. Consequently, their services are ineffective, poorly managed, and expensive. At the same time, private sector telecoms companies tend to ignore the market potential of rural areas and agriculture in general. Efforts such as the National Information and Communication Initiative of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) represent an important step forward in enabling women to stake a claim in the future of ICTs and to make their voices heard at the highest levels of decision making. underline About the author/underline : Mercy Wambui (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Reuters Digital Visions Fellow at Stanford University, and is focusing on an ICT project with women´s radio listening clubs in Sierra Leone. She is also on sabbatical from the Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) where she served as Publications Officer.