Revolution in ICT infrastructure: Hope for the Ghanaian woman

Despite several attempts to adopt ICTs (information and communications technologies) into Ghana’s developmental agenda, it was not until 2003 that the government developed the nation’s policy document to guide the implementation and use of ICTs in the country.



Some African countries such as South Africa are way ahead of Ghana in the development of infrastructure, accessibility and the use of ICTs. However in the West African sub-region, Ghana is reported to have advanced faster than most countries, especially in the area of telecommunications, where Ghana is likely to achieve a teledensity of 50 percent, well ahead of the target for the
UN Millennium Development Goals[1]

According to Major (rtd) John Tandoh, Director General of the National Communications Authority (NCA), Ghana achieved a teledensity of 25 per cent above the 15 per cent target set by the government at the end of 2006. He adds that according to statistics released by the National Communications Authority, the figure sits at 27 per cent at the end of the second quarter of
2007.



The most recent undertaking by the government is the commencement of the fibre optic backbone construction, expected to aid the deployment of ICTs, reduce the cost of bandwidth and facilitate easy access, especially to the internet.



At 2007’s World Telecom and Information Society Day, Deputy Minister of Communicatons, Dr Benjamin Aggrey Ntim, said the fibre optic backbone currently constructed through cooperation with China will also reduce call drops and aid in the speedy deployment of over 200 Community Information Centres (CICs) being established by the government in partnership with UNDP to educate
and inform local communities[2]. The UNDP supported the operationalisation of the CICs and facilitated the training delivery at 40 of the centres located at district capitals, which represent the government’s authority at the local level.



Other physical infrastructures have been developed to create the right environment for the private sector to spread ICTs through wireless, satellite and broadband facilities.



The major challenges to the deployment and access to ICT infrastructure remain as the non-existence of electricity in rural communities (where women are largely illiterate), inadequate infrastructure and device, lack of connectivity, skill and content.



Though some rural communities rely on solar power, the absence of other facilities has slowed the pace of ICT development.



In situations where the private sector is able to construct broadband, wireless or satellite platforms, the bulk of the facilities lie idle because they are unable to extend them beyond the urban centres.



The government developed the national ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4D) Policy Document in 2003 to guide in the implementation of developmental programme with ICT as the facilitator. In addition, the government derived other documents - including the Strategic Document on Gender and ICT from the ICT4D - to emphasise the importance attached to those areas. In designing the document, the government of Ghana thought it necessary to give concern for gender issues, with the inclusion of the Strategic Document for ICT and Gender.



The gender document highlights areas in the economy that women are mostly involved with/play leading role, and also identifies areas where ICTs can be applied. These areas form part of the 14 pillars contained in the national ICT document, but impact particularly on the day-to-day activities of women. The areas, namely the agriculture, health, education, maternal and child health care and human resource development, can either lead women out of poverty and vice versa.



According to the document, women form about 60 per cent of the total estimated population of 20 million. Their major occupation lies in agriculture, although women tend to be more focused on providing for the family than anything else. Education therefore is not a priority and most parents favour boys more than girls.

The Ghana Strategic Document for ICT and Gender recognised that there are many aspects to the relationship between ICT and Gender in the country. Page 8 of the document states, “issues of the gender gap in the digital divide and the impact of new technologies on gender and in particular, on the economic and political spheres of women’s lives are of major importance. We, as a nation must appreciate the fact that ICT has become the threshold of national development and it is therefore important we involve all citizens to avoid any technological divide between men and women.”



The Strategic document also acknowledges that most women in Ghana are disadvantaged in the use of ICT.



“If access to and use of these technologies is directly linked to social and economic development, then it is imperative to ensure that women and children in Ghana understand the significance of these technologies and use them. If not, they will become further marginalized from the mainstream of the country and the world. Many people may not appreciate the concern for gender and ICT in Ghana on the basis that development should deal with basic needs first. However, it is not a choice between one and the other. ICT can be an important tool in meeting the basic needs of all and can provide the access to resources lead, especially women out of poverty,” page 9 of the Strategic Document for ICT and Gender. 



There is currently unreliable statistics on access to the use of ICT among men and women in Ghana. The standard indicators are not disaggregated by sex, and the available data is not very reliable or comparable. However, it is clear that the numbers are small and the distribution limited.



In an interview with genderIT.org, Clara da Costa Vroom, Business Process Outsourcing Consultant, agrees with the factors identified by experts as obstacles to especially women’s access to ICTs. These include literacy rates and education, language, time, cost, geographical location of facilities, social and cultural norms. Computer and information search and dissemination skills constrain women’s access to ICTs.



She says this is a big issue in the whole of Africa, to the extent that women’s participation in all other sectors of employment is quite devastating. “Ghana is not left out and illiteracy remains the biggest barrier to women’s development in ICTs. This is an area that needs much attention,” she said and added that there had been wise attempts made to involve women in education and ICTs but demands from husbands and children continue to be a hindrance.



Mrs da Costa Vroom says the current generation of women in Africa is not ICT-oriented and remains limited by access, but they cannot do without ICT because the facility now evolves around every aspect of their lives. She reiterates that ICTs have been identified to be vital in food research and disease conditions among other issues that affect women such as maternal and child health, but it takes more than a document to make these a reality.



Statistics in the strategic document indicate that between 2001/2002 and 2003/2004 an average of 19.3 per cent of enrolment in the polytechnics were women and 30.7 per cent of the total enrolment into the university education between 2000/2001 and 2003/2004 are women. Adult illiteracy is pegged at 30 per cent.



Mrs da Costa Vroom stated that head count of visitors to Busy Internet, the biggest internet café in Ghana, indicated that women constituted about two per cent at any given time. The environment sometimes looks daunting to women, and therefore, they are unable to venture into such places. She cites time, cost, culture and social responsibilities as reasons for this phenomenon.



She draws an example from Uganda, where the World Bank has funded the establishment of an ICT centre to aid in education, but due to inadequate facilities, the computers are used on first-come-first-serve basis. However, girls are disadvantaged because Ugandan culture does not allow women to run. As such, boys are able to move ahead to secure and use the computers while the
girls waited.



But Mrs da Costa Vroom believes that the proliferation of internet cafes has done some good, since some women do go to the café and “little by little, ICTs will become a tool for women’s empowerment, and not a utility”.



In her present employment, Mrs da Costa Vroom teaches more women than men to work in three major areas. They include data entry, call centres and medical transcription and billing, which seem to be catching up as areas of business process outsourcing.



She is of the view that areas highlighted by the strategic document on gender for the application of the ICTs are in the right direction since it has the ability to impact on agriculture, education, health, accelerated human resource development, women in decision making, private sector development, deployment and spread of ICTs in the communities and attracting foreign direct
investments.



The government recognises the opportunities inherent in ICTs for women and believes ICT can contribute to the political empowerment of women as tools for networking to perform social and political advocacy. The government’s strategic document therefore inculcates key aspects of the 14 pillars of the national ICT4D document in the gender strategic document since
they are crucial to concerns of gender.



They are policy and decision making, infrastructure, education and private sector development, which particularly recognises they role of women in all sectors of the economy, especially at the micro-levels.



The document also states that workers in the informal sector are usually not protected by labour laws and conventions or social security schemes, but the authorities believe that ICT can facilitate the development of this sector to also ensure that women are not marginalised. It is acknowledged that about 55 per cent to 60 per cent of women are the worst hit by poverty in
the country.



Other areas highlighted are human resources development, the strengthening of research and development and ensuring health for all. Ghana finds it critical to be part of the current revolution by African countries towards stability of the continent, by restructuring, redefining and rebuilding to maintain competitiveness for investments.



Stakeholders recognise that there is little chance for African countries - including Ghana - to develop without their incorporation into the information age. In view of the fact that many have argued that new technologies are gender-neutral, and that gender is not a consideration in the use of ICT, others have argued that many aspects of ICT involve women, who are actually more adept at their use.



The third ordinary session of assembly of heads of state and government held from 6 to 8 July 2004 reaffirmed that the “digital divide between the North and the South, men and women and the role of information and telecommunication technologies (ICT) in the advancement of the gender issues as stated in the e-gender Forum Declaration of Tunis, May 2004 in preparation for
World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) 2005” be considered seriously.



This affirmation falls in line with the Ghana Gender Strategic Document which says that the gender gap in the digital divide is of increasing concern.



The document says: “If access to and use of these technologies are directly linked to social and economic development, then it is imperative to ensure that women in Ghana understand the significance of these technologies and use them. If not, lack of access to ICTs would become a significant factor in the further marginalisation of women from the economic, social, and political mainstream of Ghana and the world.”



However, Clara da Costa Vroom notes that efforts by governments and decisions for women’s empowerment in politics, economics and poverty reduction strategies have often been made by more men than the women themselves.



For example, she states that most of the workshops and programmes she has attended are saturated by men, and that she is usually the only woman amongst male resource personnel. Therefore she believes that as much as the regional and country efforts are in the right direction, the brains behind them are men and urged women to make things happen for them.



She also called for more forums, educational platforms and radio sponsored programmes to involve women in ICT related programmes. Mrs da Costa Vroom has more female students than men and they are able to pick the programmes thought faster than the men.



She believes therefore that there is a new breed of women who are willing to support others to come out of poverty and be able to bridge any kind of divide despite the empathy for children, responsibilities to husbands and social and cultural barriers.


Notes


[1] Goal number 8 enjoins countries to achieve telephone lines and cellular subscribers per 100 population,  personal computers in use per 100 population, internet users per 100 population by year 2015. The Millennium Development Goals and targets come from the Millennium Declaration, signed by 189 countries, including 147 heads of State and Government, in September 2000



[2]Ghana achieves 27% telephone penetration in the first quarter”, The Statesmen, 18 May 2007

Responses to this post

Thank you for the analysis of the above topic, congratulation. I was the resource person for the development of the Gender and ICT Strategic Document and I am proud to be associated with issues concerning women.<br />Take care<br />Bye for now
Posted on 08/15/2007 - 16:27 | Reply

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