Gender Strategies in dot-ORG Projects

What do dot-ORG projects in Mali, Brazil, Macedonia and Uganda have in common beyond the fact that they all involve the provision of some form of information technology? They have all designed strategies that take gender into account, strategies that ensure that women have the same opportunities as men to access and utilize information technology.

This article discusses a selection of four dot-ORG projects from a gender perspective. In Mali, the CLIC project is helping to address a range of issues affecting women’s ability to take advantage of IT opportunities, including infrastructure, skills and access for poor women. In Brazil, Programa para o Futuro focused more specifically on providing IT employability training to young disadvantaged men and women and stressed gender awareness throughout the program’s development and implementation. In Uganda the Village Phone project replicated the success of the Grameen Village Phone model of Bangladesh, allowing more than 1,000 women to become small entrepreneurs through phone rental services.

Mme Maharafa A Gender Perspective on the Mali CLIC project
The Mali CLIC project established 13 Community Learning and Information Centers (CLICs) providing access to ICT and locally relevant development information. The monitoring and evaluation tools that were developed have enabled the project to collect gender disaggregated data.

The data collected shows that thirteen percent of CLIC clients are women. Clearly, the challenge of increasing women's access to the CLICs remain. While efforts must be increased to raise the percentage of women clients, additional care must also be taken to ensure the validity of the data collected and interpretations of such data.

We know from simple observation that a significant percentage of CLIC clients are expatriates working for NGOs and tourists using the CLICs to sent messages home. Since no data has been collected on the number of tourists and expatriates using the CLICs that would allow us to separate them from the rest of the users, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the number of Malian women who have used the CLIC.

In addition, upon conversations with the CLIC managers (50% of whom are women), it becomes clear that measuring women’s access to the CLICs’ resources by counting CLIC clients is inadequate and underestimates the real impact of the CLICs on local women. Anecdotal evidence suggestions that, at times, women send young boys or men to use the services of the CLICs instead of going themselves. For example, a woman’s organization may send a young boy to the CLIC to get a copy of a document or to have a handwritten document typed by the CLIC’s staff. The young boy acts as an intermediary and is counted as a male in the CLIC’s monitoring journals but the real users are the women who sent him and who, without the CLIC, may have had to travel long distances to obtain the same service.

Even if women had a lot of time on their hands (which they don’t), they face several other obstacles with regards to access and utilization of information and communication technologies.

One of the key challenges women face is low disposable income. To address the challenge of affordability, the CLIC project distributed vouchers to individual women and women’s organizations. These vouchers allowed a women to access the services of the CLIC for free. In most cases, the vouchers were used to obtain basic computer training, an essential step for the women to become regular CLIC users.

Another challenge for women is the relevance (or lack thereof) of available information to their daily lives and priority concerns. The availability of information that is directly relevant to women’s lives, concerns and interests, in local languages and in formats accessible to rural women with limited literacy skills is also critical. A lot of the content that is available at the CLICs is available in audio and video formats that are accessible to rural women. The challenge, though, is to let the women know that this information is available at the CLICs and that they do not need to be able to use computers to take advantage of many of the CLICs’ services. Some of the CLICs have organized “open days” specifically for women, working with women’s organizations to disseminate information about the CLICs services to women in the community.

Ensuring Gender Awareness in Brazil’s Programa para o Futuro
Programa para of Futuro developed and implemented a 9-month IT employability training to 50 disadvantaged Brazilian youth, half of whom were young women. Even though women in Brazil have equal rights with men guaranteed in Brazil’s Constitution, and there are more women doctors and engineers then men, many women are still paid less than men and often suffer from sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination. The Programa para o Futuro design team realized that most young men and women were unaware of gender issues and unprepared to work effectively in a mix gender environment. At the same time the team knew that the instruction staff would have no capacity to include a gender perspective into the training program. For these reasons, the design team included funding for a half-time gender specialist to with the instruction team and youth on building gender awareness skills.

At first, both the teaching staff and the youth thought that the time spent on gender awareness activities was a waste of time. Gradually, however, both groups started to realize the magnitude of gender related problems in society and the workplace. The gender specialist also helped the teaching staff to design the learning projects and other classroom activities so that boys were not favored over girls. During classroom observations, the gender specialist helped teachers become aware of when they were treating boys and girls differently, and she helped them achieve greater gender balance.

This focus on gender equity in teaching and learning was done to ensure that the girls in the class were given an equal chance to participate in all learning activities and excel. Over time, it became second nature for teachers and students to organize groups so that there was gender balance and to make sure that each student, regardless of gender, had an equal chance to participle. When pairs of youth were selected for public presentation, a boy and a girl were always selected. When group activities that required a team leader were organized, the students and staff routinely made sure that both girls and boys were equally selected to lead the activities.

Over the course of the program, the behavior and attitudes of the teachers and students toward each other noticeably changed. At one level, the girls and women were treated with greater respect while at the same time girls became more assertive and visible in the classroom. It is unlikely if these changes would have occurred if the program had not have included the gender specialist and not have made gender equity an important objective.

The program’s emphasis on gender equity also went beyond training activities. In Brazil, especially in the northeast region, companies seeking applicants for ICT related jobs generally prefer young men to women. When companies approached the Program to ask for resumes of our male students, staff suggested that the companies also consider our young women candidates who were equally qualified. Gradually, some companies started considering the resumes of our young women and invited them for interviews.

Unfortunately, the bias against women in the ICT sector resulted in companies hiring youth men to fill more positions than youth women. It is critically important that employability training programs both recognize that disadvantaged girls and young women face greater difficulties and barriers in finding employment in the ICT and other sectors than men and to take action to mitigate these problems.

Uganda’s Village Phone Ladies
In Uganda, the Village Phones are having an impact similar to that observed in Bangladesh. The village phones provide income generation opportunities for women while at the same time serving the communication needs of rural communities. For many of the village phone ladies, the phone is a second or third small business that complements other income generating activities. Income from the phone services allows them to accumulate the capital necessary to start other small businesses or to pay for school fees. To be successful in this small business as in any other small business ventures, the women must learn to operate as small entrepreneurs. To support the women in becoming successful entrepreneurs, dot-ORG sponsored "Making Cents", a DC-based firm specializing in small business training, to provide training to the village phone ladies.

Macedonia’s e-Biz Project
The e-BIZ Project aims to create more jobs through strategic "high impact" ICT applications. It begins with demand: identifying ICT applications that will quickly have a major impact on the competitiveness of entire industries/clusters; then co-invests with local entrepreneurs to create commercially sustainable e-BIZ Centers that offer the high-impact ICT services. Seven e-BIZ Centers have been established, serving the apparel industry, shoe manufacturing, tourism, engineering firms, and a range of SMEs in the Polog region, as well as providing online management training to companies throughout Macedonia.

The project has explicit goals and measures to attract and support women as e-Biz Center owners. It was challenging to achieve these goals because there are no businesswomen's associations, no widely recognized women's networks, and the barriers to women's entrepreneurship are largely "invisible," i.e., the popular notion is that opportunities for women are equal to those of men and specific assistance for women is unnecessary. Yet women own very few companies and the project has yet to identify a women-owned IT company. The project used media outreach and networking to attract women entrepreneurs, and worked closely with women prospective e-BIZ owners to develop viable business plans. Of the seven centers, two have women e-BIZ owners (note: two of the seven centers are owned by institutions rather than individual entrepreneurs) and three have women General Managers.

To ensure that the e-BIZ Centers serve women-owned SMEs equitably, the e-BIZ project is working with all of the e-BIZ Centers to create discount programs, as needed to encourage and enable businesswomen (and other selected groups of entrepreneurs) to utilize the e-BIZ Center services. In addition, the project is developing a gender strategy for each Center to identify and implement approaches to ensure that women entrepreneurs benefit equitably from the Center. The project monitoring and evaluation plan gathers gender-disaggregated data to track services provided to women and to men.

The e-BIZ Centers focus not only on increasing jobs but also on helping SMEs offer higher value- added products and services, in turn generating higher value-added jobs that should garner higher wages. Three of the e-BIZ Centers are focused on industries – apparel and shoes – in which women constitute the majority of employees. As these companies build market share in higher value-added niches, the women employed by those companies should gain higher wages.

The Project is also working closely with SEA, a USAID project focused on improving secondary school education. Through this collaboration, the e-BIZ Center that provides CAD/CAM services to apparel manufacturers is offering hands-on experience to secondary school students. e-BIZ and SEA communicate closely to ensure that young women participate equitably in this opportunity.

Concluding Thoughts
  • Monitoring and evaluation frameworks must not only gather quantitative data related to gender, but also qualitative data that may help to elucidate what numbers can't explain or what numbers don't tell;
  • In spite of increases in training and capacity building to ensure that women acquire the computer skills to compete in the modern economy, many employers continue to demonstrate biases that prevent women from competing fairly against men in the same job market;
  • Whether a project directly targets women as beneficiaries or develops and implements strategies to ensure that women are not excluded from its positive impacts, a project operates within a broader socio-economic and political context that it does not control. Targets for women's participation in project activities must be realistic and based on this broader context.

For More Information, Contact:
Michael Tetelman
Acting Director, dot-ORG
Academy for Educational Development
Tel: 202 884 8856

Related DOT-COM Activity
Brazil - Strategies for Sustaining and Expanding Computer Clubhouses in Brazil

Macedonia - e-BIZ - ICTs for Local Economic Activity Development

Mali CLICs- Establishing Community Learning & Information Centers in Underserved Malian Communities

Uganda - Village Phone Uganda (VPU) Project
Related DOT-COMments Newsletter Articles
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Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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