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Role of Information and Communication Technologies in the Development of African Women, The

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Author: 
Jennifer Radloff
Natasha Primo
Alice Munyua Wanjira
Affiliation: 

APC-Africa-Women (Radloff), Women'sNet (Primo), and APC Africa ICT Policy Monitor Project (Munyua)

Publication Date

August 1, 2004

"Unless gender issues are fully integrated into technology analyses, policy development and programme design, women and men will not benefit equally from ICTs and their applications. And unless there is an awareness of the potential of new technologies to further entrench differences, ICTs will reproduce existing social injustices."

Commissioned by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), this 50-page paper explores the strategy of using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to foster women’s development in Africa. The key premise of the paper is the following: "Access to information (read knowledge and power!) is critical for social transformation and development. Not only is it a basic human right, it also provides a tool for mobilization and participation in decision-making processes." To that end, the authors focus on ICTs as a key tool for social change, exploring obstacles to African women's access to this tool, recommendations to civil society organisations (CSOs) on how to create an enabling environment for women to access and use ICTs, and examples of good practice (both in the policy realm - internationally and Africa-specific - and "from the field").

The authors begin by laying out their central argument: ICTs could give a major boost to the economic, political and social empowerment of African women. But, the authors suggest, that potential will only be realised if the gender dimensions of the information society - in terms of users' needs, conditions of access, policies, applications, and regulatory frameworks - are understood and addressed. To that end, they outline various barriers to African women's access to ICT, which include issues of technological infrastructure and socio-economic environment (e.g., poverty, illiteracy, lack of computer literacy, language issues) as well as socially and culturally constructed gender roles and relationships.

Despite the many barriers, the authors suggest that CSOs and other stakeholders can play - and have played - a significant role in policy, strategy, and action related to the use of ICTs to foster African women's development. They claim that one of the most critical areas in which CSOs have been effective in is carrying out awareness raising, education, training, and skills development. The reason that this is so crucial, they explain, is that it is not enough to simply ensure access to ICTs; that, in itself, will not contribute to women’s advancement and social development. Instead, "emphasis needs to be placed on promoting awareness of the organisational applications of ICTs - for instance, for research, networking, lobbying, and conferencing and to demonstrate the role that ICTs can play in advancing gender equality - through trade, agriculture, health, governance, education and so on." Combining ICT access with social empowerment, content creation, and convergence of "old" and "new" technologies are other strategies explored here - with illustrative examples.

ICT advocacy is explored in detail within the report. Strategically, the authors stress that it is not enough to just add the terms 'gender' and/or 'women' to an otherwise gender-blind policy statement; instead, the participation of women and individuals with expertise in gender issues is essential at all stages of the policy elaboration process. A variety of current policy processes are examined to illuminate this strategy. In short, the authors stress that lobbying, advocating, and campaigning - e.g., for the inclusion of gender targets in the final World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Declaration - is of critical importance to promote deeper engagement and spur wider access.

Drawing on these types of approaches (and despite the imbalance in ICT access and provision), the authors note that African women are indeed "creating local content, creating space for their own voices, promoting their own knowledges and beginning to 'redirect' the North to South information flow. Participatory methodologies and women training women have created safe and nurturing environments where women can engage with the technologies rather than the prejudices and exclusionary environments often created in mixed learning spaces."

Source: 

APC website on October 12 2005.

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