Women and ICT Policy

Anca Argescu, RITI: Policy project Manager Many developing countries are beginning to understand the beneficial role ICTs can have in reducing high poverty rates in both rural and urban areas. Using ICTs to create small and medium enterprises has resulted in numerous Internet cafés, phone shops and community radio stations. However, these small and medium enterprises are largely owned and operated by men.

Women are worst hit by high poverty levels. Access to ICTs provides women with economic empowerment, increased learning opportunities and improved market access for their products. Unfortunately, the majority of women in the developing world have limited access to ICTs, which hinders them from reaping the full benefits.

Focusing efforts into increasing women’s participation in policy, regulatory and advocacy issues is an effective and powerful way to achieve competitive and fair levels in the ICT sector. This has the potential to increase the role of women in community decision making, where they can influence policy issues at any government level. With increased participation, women can then ensure that gender issues are taken into account in ICT resource planning and administration.

Some nations, such as India, have been able to successfully empower the poor (who are mainly women and children) through increased ICT use. As a result of implementing ICTs at all levels of the Indian government, citizens now enjoy increased incomes, enhanced health care, improved education and training, and better access to job opportunities. ICTs have also improved access to government services, enhanced communication both within and without the countries, maximized private sector opportunities, increased agricultural productivity, and improved access to better markets.

In order to fully integrate women in the ICT sector (as both an actor and a decision maker), countries must enact deliberate and measurable strategies. This is particularly important in rural areas, where the majority of women reside. Compared to women in urban areas, women in rural areas take on more leadership roles in family and local governance issues. Using effective ICT rural integration strategies, which target these women leaders, will automatically address poverty alleviation and good governance.

Promoting universal access to telecommunication services – especially for underserved populations and regions – is a major goal for government regulatory bodies. Gender must be taken into account when working towards this goal; otherwise, ‘gender-blind’ policies can further exacerbate gender inequality.

There is a multitude of ways in which policy perspectives can increase women participation in the ICT sector:
  • ICTs can be used as a tool to promote broader equity issues by increasing women’s access to democratization and political resources, information and education tools, and business and income generation opportunities.
  • Gender equity must be an explicit priority for ICT policy. Gender awareness should be built into the entire policy process – from development, to implementation, to evaluation.
  • There must be a recognition that ‘gender-blind’ does not mean gender-neutral. In fact, policy that does not take gender into account may have significant and unanticipated negative impacts. Policy makers need to be aware of the different contexts in which women and men live. Data collection systems also need to be in place to measure the disparate impacts based on gender. Gender equity in ICT goes beyond women’s access to ICTs and telephony. Women must be equally represented in economic opportunities, developing new innovations, as well as in decision- making.
The dot-GOV Cooperative Agreement has recognized the challenges facing true gender equity in implementing ICT policies in the developing world. Our consolidated experience has allowed us to evaluate effective ways in which regulators can promote gender equity.

Increase women’s involvement in ICT policy through democracy and advocacy
ICTs can be a tremendous engine for increased participation in democratic processes by women – if their participation is sought and encouraged.

a. Greater Women Representation: By increasing the number of women decision makers (members of regulatory bodies, senior managers and owners of private sector companies, civil society leaders), women’s participation can be increased.

b. Information Dissemination Focus: Change traditional focus of e-government from infrastructure/applications development to increased information dissemination and exchange. E- Government can be a powerful force to increase participation by women.

Increase women’s economic opportunities using ICTs, both as users of ICTs and operators of ICT businesses
One of the primary focus areas for ICTs in developing countries is its role in economic development and income generation. Women have many new opportunities offered by ICTs, and many challenges in using ICTs for economic benefit.

a. Location Neutral: Location-neutral ICTs can offer women tremendous opportunities for work without leaving their communities. However, without related employment law on telecommuting and teleworking, as well as needed training, women will not be able to take advantage of this opportunity.

b. Credit and Digital Payment Facilities: Women business owners need more opportunities for credit and digital payment systems if they are going to be able to take advantage of online businesses.

c. Women focused campaigns: Training and public awareness campaigns need to target women business owners to learn about business opportunities.

Increase women’s capacity to contribute to new ICT innovations and research
Women’s capacity to contribute to the brain capital of countries and communities needs to be increased right from primary schools. They need to be able to innovate new uses of ICTs and share those innovations with others.

a. Gender Component in Education: Many countries actively promote the use of ICTs in schools as ways to encourage the next generation to learn these technologies. However, education policy must include a gender component to use of ICTs in classrooms and educational systems. Are ICTs used in all classes, or only those traditionally taken by men? Are boys and girls given equal access to computers and applications? Are there female role models in training materials and instructors?

b. Numerical indicators of increased female participation (such as quotas and, affirmative action programs), targeted training and professional development programs can help countries increase the number of women working in ICTs, especially in senior management level roles and regulatory bodies.

c. Scholarships, training, and grants rewarding innovative uses of technology can encourage women’s participation.

Increase women’s access to ICTs
Increasing women’s access to ICTs and telephony is defined not just by physical location. Financial, cultural, and societal access also needs to be taken into account.

a. Universal service obligations/universal access: The move from a focus on universal service (i.e. number of telephone lines per household) to universal access (i.e. number of inhabitants with access to publicly available ICTs) supports broader gender inclusion. However, the differences between men and women (such as appropriate distance to travel for telephony and appropriate costs for access) need to be taken into account when determining who has access and who does not.

b. Data collection: Sex disaggregated statistics are essential for monitoring the short and long term impacts of policies by gender.

c. Improvements in licensing, interconnection, spectrum management numbering, and other traditional telecommunications systems can have a positive impact on women, especially where women’s usage of telecommunications is taken into account. For example, in communities where women have low literacy and movement, radio is a highly effective way of communicating. Licensing of community radio stations can support uses of the spectrum that promote the development objectives and involvement of women.

For More Information, Contact:
Sarah Tisch, Ph.D.
Chief-of-Party, dot-GOV
Internews Network
Tel: 202 833-5740 x 203

Mary Muiruri
Resident Advisor, dot-GOV
Internews Network
Tel: 240-498-0419

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