The Gender Evaluation Methodology for Internet and ICTs, or GEM, is a powerful tool developed by the Association for Progressive Communications to help evaluate the gender differential outcomes and impact of development work in information and communication technologies. GenderIT.org editor Sonia Randhawa interviews GEM research and services coordinator Angela Kuga Thas about GEM’s latest round of application in the field and how it has been refined through these field trials.
Sonia Randhawa (SR): Could you tell us a bit about what GEM is?
Angela Kuga Thas (AKT): It’s basically to help women’s rights groups and people who work on the area of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to understand the impact of what they’re doing that can be different for women and men. The methodology came about because APC had been working in communication rights and on issues of gender in this field for a long time, but there was no tool out there that spoke about these issues.
There were methodologies that spoke about a gender framework, but nothing that spoke about technology per se, and members wanted to know if their work was making any difference, so to evaluate that work - to learn from mistakes or the right things that we were doing - we needed a methodology.
As early as 2000, we began exploring this, working with groups that were working on the ground, in community radio, training, even ICT training with politicians and then looking at what they look for when writing their reports, what they actually say.
From this, the team came up with a draft methodology and then had groups take it to the ground to test it and see if it worked. There were more than 10 groups that tested it, from around the world. Together, we then revised the methodology, and came up with very specific steps on what a user of GEM (GEM practitioner) would have to do.
While some academics may say it isn’t really a methodology, because of these very specific steps, there is still a lot of flexibility built into the methodology and how we approach these steps. Depending on the depth of knowledge and understanding of gender and ICT issues, you are able to adapt and use the methodology, using it more effectively as you gain more experience.
In terms of people using the methodology, there were some challenges for communities on the ground, due to the way that the manual was written up. It had three different frameworks, learning for change1 was one framework; ICTs for social change2 was one framework; and women’s empowerment3 was yet another framework. So you have these three intersecting frameworks, and sometimes people find it difficult to get their heads around these and how exactly they relate to the steps of the methodology.
In the second phase of the project, we asked people to actually document what they did, in terms of using the methodology with different groups such as telecentres, rural ICT for development projects and in terms of policy advocacy and localisation initiatives, meaning that you make the technology more viable and accessible to people who don’t speak English, through software development and so on.
For this phase, we tried to make the methodology less theoretical, presenting case studies and lessons learnt and actual tools used on the ground which complement and strengthen the use of GEM. For each particular step of the methodology, we presented examples of how people used it, what people looked at, what became challenges at that particular step for them and that’s what we’re trying to finish up right now—the four GEM thematic adaptation guides. We’re hoping that these will work well for people on the ground.
SR: Could you give us an example of one of the projects on the ground and how GEM has been used.
AKT: For example, we had an academic Dr Anupama Saxena in Chhattisgarh, which is one of the poorest states, if not the poorest state, in India. The state government had implemented the use of Simputers4, hand held affordable computers, to support the political participation of locally elected representatives. And because they have reserved representation not just for women, but also for those from tribal and scheduled castes, this was putting technology into the hands of poor women in rural areas. This technology was supposed to facilitate them speaking with leaders in government on the needs of the provinces or the constituencies they were working with.
Dr Anupama, based in Guru Ghasidas University, decided these objectives were really good, although they were silent on the issue of gender, and she wanted to assess to what extent it had facilitated locally elected women leaders’ participation in governance.
What she found was that technology doesn’t really work so well. First, the women were only given a one-day training. They don’t have the same previous exposure to technology as men, due to their lack of mobility, while men pick things up through talking with other men etc, so a one-day training wasn’t sufficient. And they found that often they had to go to the one-day training in the presence of a male family member or the sachiv, the secretary to the council, who was always a male.
Other issues included that the Simputer used a high level of Hindi. While this is a local language, generally the women who were elected into these positions from the scheduled tribes and castes spoke Chhattisgarhi, so couldn’t understand the Hindi on the Simputer.
The women also often ended up with Simputers that didn’t work – a male elected representative was more likely to get a Simputer that worked, and even if they didn’t, the places to service the Simputers was often very far away, which meant that women were less likely to be able to take their Simputers to be serviced.
The research raised many different issues showing that you can’t just introduce technology, which shows that GEM has a lot of value added – people see technology as just a tool, and they don’t see the complexities that go into the design of such technology.
If the designers themselves don’t consult the people who are going to use the technology, particularly in rural areas where the technology has the potential to effect so much more good. The users may have needs and wants that are different from those the technology has been designed to accommodate. And compared with someone in an urban area, there are many more benefits for the rural communities, in terms of basic communication, or even entertainment or pleasure which can help to expose them to different ideas and issues.
These discussions never took place. You had private sector software developers in one corner, the state government in another corner and the content developers in another corner... and because in India these things take place on such a huge scale, the tendency is just to say okay, it didn’t work, and so drop it and move on to the next large-scale project. What we are trying to say is that there is a need to just change things, to improve on this project which has so much potential, because it is putting technology in the hands of women.
These stories, brought out through the use of the methodology, help to illustrate the intersectional, the different factors that help to contribute to all the complex dynamics in terms of empowerment, what you think development should be, it all comes out when you use this methodology.
SR: Perhaps we could look at the upcoming meeting for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the theme is technology and development. How could the GEM be used to feed into discussions and broaden the debate for this year’s CSW?
AKT: In the past two to three years, we have been working much more closely with the Association for Women’s rights In Development (AWID)5. In the last AWID International Forum on Women's Rights and Development there was a much higher visibility of gender and ICT issues, because we organised the Feminist Tech Exchange6 for women's rights advocates and activists from around the world,. Since then there have been a number of smaller Feminist Tech Exchanges, and digital story-telling workshops, training on privacy and security issues... so there has definitely been an increase in terms of women’s groups’ awareness of gender and ICT issues.
How exactly GEM can influence the discourse at the CSW, I think it is really to challenge the notion of development, or at least how governments understand it. I wouldn’t say this is a new area: people have been talking about people-centred development for a while. What I think is added value is that when you use GEM that you get a good understanding of processes from an evaluative perspective.
Part of this is realising that turning evaluative thinking7 into effective processes (in terms of effecting development) is not just saying that this is the goal of development that we want, and thinking that you are going to get there by working in isolation from the affected people.
A lot of times there is no consultation with the people, especially when it comes to technology, and there are so many issues, such as infrastructure, the role of the private sector, which plays a huge role in the distribution of technology, the affordability of technology. These all have implications for people who are in rural areas. And people do want technology, particularly when they see it relevant in their lives, but it is a matter of letting them define development for themselves and that is where GEM contributes.
A lot of people don’t see access to information as part of poverty. But it can actually cripple a community when they don’t have access to knowledge, because they don’t know where the opportunities are, they don’t know who to speak with, they don’t know how to effect a better realisation of their rights when they claim their rights. I think GEM can contribute a lot towards that.