ICT gender issues past, present and future

African Feminist Forum


As women living in Africa we have many things to confront: the process

of African enlargement and our participation in the globalised world,

the decline of national states, the dominance of market and

consumerism, growing poverty, social and political inequalities or

insecurities within Africa and outside in the face of neo-conservatism

and dominance of the United States.


Many gains made by women’s rights movements are under threat as the

state retreats and new forms of fundamentalisms appear in the guise of

appeals to the family and the care economy. We need to understand how

women from all corners of this large political and economic domain

called Africa live their lives, tell their stories and histories, fight

their struggles, and create the space for change, survival and

celebration. Can we today identify ourselves as African feminists?


Can we craft a dialogue that is multi-faceted, multi-cultural perhaps

even multi-political and inspire much needed economic and social

transformation in Africa? How are African feminists going to move

forward beyond the second phase of the World Summit on Information

Society (WSIS) Tunis?


Enhancing active participations of women Despite the entire advocacy on

gender and information and communication technology (ICT) issues there

is still a lot of imbalance in equal participation of women and men in

the development, usage and control of ICT. Many woman still view ICTs

as a male domain.


The WSIS Gender Caucus is a multi-stakeholder group of women and men

from national governments, civil society and non-governmental

organisations, the private sector and the United Nations system. It was

formed during the first African regional preparatory conference in Mali

2002.


The Gender Caucus mandate during the WSIS process was to enhance

women's participation in all aspects of WSIS and its outcomes and to

avoid serious gender bias or gender blindness in the documents and

implementation programmes of WSIS.


There were occasions, such as the African WSIS meeting, when a

significant number of women could be seen participating in WSIS and one

wondered what kind of participation they offered. In many cases they

were not speaking, they were there  only to give the event colour.


We also saw that being a woman does not make one gender sensitive, that

not all women have gender lenses.


Access to ICTs an issue for

development


Access to ICTs should  be considered a basic human right and

therefore an issue for  development efforts. The continent of

Africa has seen an increased growth and use of mobile technology in

comparison with  internet technology.


A mobile phone in Africa is a shared tool, it is not so private as in

developed countries. “Many people in Zambia can use a mobile phone on

the streets of Lusaka to make a call or send an SMS to their friends.

There are some people who can only receive phone calls on other

people’s mobile phones,” said Shuula Habenzu, CEO of the Communications

Authority of Zambia.


The rise in cell-phone technology usage can be attributed to the fact

that Africa is a  continent with many languages. Unlike the

internet, which is missing a local language interface, a mobile phone

enables people to talk in their own language.  


Furthermore, many women in Africa, who are illiterate due to gender

discrimination in education, prefer to use the mobile phone, 

which enables them to access most information via voice.


The community radio also provides  a unique space for  women,

where they can express themselves in the language which their

particular community can understand. Thanks to the convergence of

technologies some community radios are broadcasting on the internet and

helping women to  reach even broader audiences.


Thereby it is important to keep technology choices open for Africa, and

to let people choose what technology best fits to their needs.


WSIS process embracing gender issues?


The Geneva Declaration of Principles does acknowledge women as

important stakeholders in the information society and it states that:


“We affirm that development of ICTs provides enormous opportunities for

women, who should be an integral part of, and key actors, in the

information society. We are committed to ensuring that the information

society enables women’s empowerment and their full participation on the

basis on (sic) equality in all spheres of society and in all decision

making processes. To this end, we should mainstream a gender equality

perspective and use of ICTs as a tool to that end.” (Paragraph 12)


Beyond this paragraph of the declaration, which was long fought for,

the Plan of Action adopted in Geneva also contains a number of

paragraphs that address various concerns of girls and women. Among

these are women access to education, training and careers in ICT

related contexts; telework and entrepreneurship aided by ICTs; or media

literacy and balanced and diverse  portrays of men and women. In

addition it acknowledges the need to monitor implementation and to

develop gender sensitive indicators.


These provisions constitute real achievements of the gender advocacy

that has been undertaken in course of WSIS. Yet one decisive question

remains,  whether the overall framework and agenda into which

these references to women and girls were inserted is conducive for the

fulfilment of the outlined actions and principles, or whether it will

corrupt these gender related goals instead.


Think then


With a few gender advocates in ICT it is important that the WSIS Gender

Caucus evaluates various national ICT policies at national level and

also gets involved in preparing gender indicators and monitoring the

digital divide. Another priority should be the role of ICTs in economic

growth and poverty reduction.

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