Feminist reflection on internet policies

Changing the way you see ICT

Gender issues at all levels – from policy formulation to implementation

Graciela Selaimen
Graciela Selaimen on 18 March, 2006
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   women and ICT policies, universal access, gender and ICT advocacy, governance
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Graciela Selaimen – In your experience as a consultant, what have been the major challenges for the adoption of a gender iperspective in the formulation and implementation of ICTi policies?

Sonia Jorge - Before I get into challenges, it is important to distinguish between policyi development and implementation. This is critical from a gender perspective, because in some cases where gender has been considered in the policy documents (referred to or addressed specifically), the implementation process failed to consider gender issues at all levels. For example, in Mozambique, where the ICT policyi considered gender in many respects, none of the projects and programs resulting from the policy have addressed women or gender issues.

This is an area that needs attention from gender advocates. The challenge will be to ensure that the efforts of gender advocates don't simply live within the printed pages of policy documents, and rather that they result in practical solutions that address gender equalityi in ICT for developmenti.

So, the challenges are numerous, but I would say that the main challenges are still:

1) lack of capacity on the part of policy makers and implementing agencies to address gender considerations and conduct gender analysisi;

2) failure by most institutions to integrate gender experts in all policy and regulatory teams (even when there is a generally accepted need to consider gender as an important area). And I want to emphasize that having women ICT professionals is important, but not a sufficient condition to ensure that gender analysis will be conducted. There needs to be a serious commitment to gender in ICT work and all capacity building programs need to reflect that.

G.S. - In a general way, are governmentis open to the adoption of a gender perspective in ICT policies?

S.J. - In general, and if there are informed stake-holders or gender experts involved in the process, who can bring the issues to the table, governments tend to be open to recognize gender as a cross cutting issue and even to address it within certain contexts (such as universal accessi programs). However, they are normally not able to make the link between gender and the need for gender analysis in many other aspects of ICT policy, including pricing and affordability issues, network development, universal servicei funds selection criteria, licensingi, etc. And again, even in those cases where gender has made it to the policy level, we still need to ensure that implementation will reflect a gender perspective and work towards gender equality objectives.

G.S. - How do you evaluate the participation of the feminist and women's movements in advocacyi activities regarding ICTs? Is this an issue incorporated by these movements?

S.J. - I think that Karen Banks provided us with a good analysis of the work conducted by gender advocates in the ICT field, specifically within the WSIS context (Karen's paper on the wsis process in genderit). In general, I believe that most of the advocacy has been done by gender advocates that already worked in the ICT field and had a better initial understanding of the array of issues, which may seem quite complex at first. Even these advocates have gone through a long learning process and their advocacy work reflects incremental improvements.

With a few exceptions, I really don't think that the women's movement has taken ICT and ICT policy as a field of concern. But the use of ICT to perpetuate and facilitate violence against womeni and girls and trafficking has increased awareness by the women's movement on the importance of ICT policy and regulatory issues. More work is now being done in this area and hopefully this will create stronger collaborations among gender and ICT advocates and gender advocates in general.

G.S. - Which do you think that shoul be the main strategies for more women activists to understand ICTs as a field of political struggle, more than simple tools?

S.J. - I think that what is happening in terms of ICT and violence against women, child pornographyi, and trafficking will awaken an interest in policy as a struggle area. And that will highlight our current reality, that we still need to mainstream gender through all ICT for development work (and here we can learn tremendously from other fields on development work).

In terms of specific strategies, I recently wrote a chapter for a book [1] being edited by Nancy Hafkin and Sophia Huyer, where I argue that in the short term, gender advocates need to develop a plan to focus on and influence universal access policy (including universal access/service funds), since that is the area with most immediate impact on most women, particularly women in developing nations (access to and use of ICT). And such a strategy should focus on pricing policy, network deployment, community access points, licenses, subsidies, project and selection criteria, content development and capacity building. This is not to say that other areas are not important, but if gender advocates want to have an impact then they need to prioritize and equip themselves to work effectively in one or a few critical area (at least in the shorter term).

G.S. - It's common to see the approach by governments and even multilaterial organisms that support ICT projects to include a gender component when it comes to activities related to content and training. How to include the gender perspective in policies and projects in all its aspects, starting from the discussions on infra-structure and regulatory frameworks? What is the impact of this approach to women?

S.J. - Your stateiment may be true, but my experience is that there are extremely few capacity building and content development projects in ICT, and unfortunately even fewer focusing on training policy makers and regulators, those who would make decisions on infrastructure development, regulatory frameworks, etc. And when I mean training and capacity building, I am referring to programs developed to meet the needs of the specific audience, including hands on training to assist them in dealing with the complexities of ICT policy and regulationi on a day to day basis (something that is easily forgotten).

I would suggest that capacity building programs for policy makers and regulators integrate a gender perspective, provide gender sensitization and make it clear the need for gender expertise in policy in regulatory teams (including by bringing gender and ICT experts that can clearly make the links and provide evidence of how gender analysis can make an impact). If gender experts are part of the teams, they can contribute to the discussion and decision process on the various ICT issues, both from a policy development and implementation perspective.

Once gender is finally addressed, then the impact would be great. And this is an area where governments could greatly learn from civil society organizations and women's organizations, which are the only ones making a serious impact. The large number of ICT projects focusing on gender and women's issues reflect innovative and dynamic work by those organizations. The several gender and ICT awards and their recipients show exactly that and governments can learn from these experiences, both to develop their own programs as well as to support existing civil society programs.

G.S. - You've bee working as a consultant in different countries, in the global level. Are there differences between regions, in regards to the inclusion of a gender perspective in ICT policies? How do you see the situation in Latin America in this matter?

S.J. - Yes, there are some clear differences. For example, in Africa, where the UN-ECA has played a critical role in supporting countries in the development of national ICT strategies for development ( as part of their NICI process - National Information and Communications Infrastructure), most national ICT policies developed with ECA's assistance reflect some gender considerations. In Asia, a number of countries have started to address gender, but Korea is the only one that has successfully addressed gender both from a policy and implementation perspectives.

With the exception of Dominican Republic, where the ICT policy (E-Dominicana, Sept 2005) establishes clear goals towards gender equality in ICT for development as well as specific gender projects and programs, gender issues are not addressed in any of the ICT policy documents in Latin America (unless something happened recently; and I've looked at the policies of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, and the Quito Action Plan, which provides the regional policy guidelines for the Connectivityi Agendas [CITEL]). Some of these address poverty reduction and needs of rural populations, but never refer to gender as an issue to be considered.

G.S. - What recommendations would you make to women who work towards the gender equityi in the field of ICTs for a better interference in national processes and in their relation to governments?

S.J. - Advocacy is important and gender advocates need to continue to be involved and be innovative in their advocacies. As I said before, they also need to prioritize and focus their efforts where they can have the most impact. However, to ensure that gender considerations are truly included in national ICT policy, both in the development and implementation processes, more than advocacy is needed. We need to ensure that more professional experts in both gender and ICT issues are involved at all aspects of ICT development. Even with more gender aware policies, such as in Mozambique, Dominican Republic or South Africa, the occasional participation of gender and ICT experts will not guarantee gender-aware implementation at all levels, but simple in those where those experts happen to have been involved. Policy making and regulatory agencies need to work with or employ gender experts. The experience in Korea, where gender equality has been addressed at all levels of ICT development, and where the Ministry of Gender Equality has played a critical role, shows how the collaboration among experts from different Ministries and Korean women organizations has resulted in positive gains towards gender equality in the ICT field.

[1] Nancy Hafkin and Sophia Huyer, editors. Cinderella or Cyberella? Empowering Women in the Knowledge

Society. Kumarian Press, 2006. Chapter 3 (Sonia Jorge): Engendering ICT Policy and Regulation: Prioritizing Universal Access for Women's

Empowermenti.