United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women

Online discussion
"Information and communication technologies
and their impact on and use as an instrument
for the advancement and empowerment of women"

17 June to 19 July 2002

Week Two Summary

"ICT as a tool for women's participation in public life"

Participation in this week's discussion began much more slowly than the previous week. However, as the week drew to a close the pace picked up and 16 substantive and thoughtful contributions were received. Despite the small number of posts there was a significant quantity of information that could be gleaned from the contributions.

The participants, once again, were geographically diverse. Posts were received from Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America and the Caribbean. Yet, as the discussion progressed it became increasingly clear that there were many similarities in the experiences and the observations of the discussants.

Almost every contribution referred to the existence of both internal and external barriers to using ICT as a tool to increase women's participation in public life. The use of ICT in this arena cannot be divorced from the many difficulties that women face on attempting to get involved in public life. Both the barriers to public life participation and the barriers to ICT use must be understood in order to ensure realistic and holistic solutions.


The barriers to using ICTs in order to increase women's participation in public life relate both to the specific use of ICTs and the context in which one is attempting to use them to make women's voices heard. One participant describes an important reason why women running for political office do not use ICTs. Emem Okon from Nigeria states that "The issue of using ICT tools is overridden by fear."

But the use of ICTs does not enter women's lives in a vacuum. In addition to any internal blocks that women may have to using ICTs, there are many negative attitudes towards public life itself. Contributors from several developing countries describe a social context that is non-supportive of female participation in public life. They describe a low level of awareness and a high level of timidity in women towards entering the political system. Several posts refer to patriarchal social systems that make it difficult both for women to decide to participate in public life and for participating women to succeed. Once women have succeeded in attaining a political position there is little encouragement from the party machines to maintain connection with their support systems. With this hostile environment as the backdrop, it is not surprising that few discussants were able to convey a fully optimistic tone.

in Africa, not only common barriers like access, language and illiteracy are serious problems to overcome but the cultural attitude that prevents many women from standing up and expressing their views is even more tough to address.

Fatimata Seye Sylla, Senegal

From Costa Rica to Nigeria, from Senegal to Zimbabwe discussants repeatedly stated that the internal perspective of women made it challenging for them to envision themselves in the public sphere. The fundamental attitudinal changes that would have to be overcome in order for women to participate freely in public life must be taken into account when ICT policy is being designed to create positive change in this arena.


There are also external barriers that are specific to ICTs that must be understood and addressed. These barriers were described in both the posts from the developed and the developing countries. They include:

  • Difficulties with access - especially for disabled, rural and geographically isolated women. These difficulties include both physical barriers to access and software barriers to access.
  • Poor networks in rural areas so that ICT tools that may be an option in campaigns in urban centers become ineffective in rural areas.
  • The use of English as the primary language when using newer ICTs making it difficult for non-English speakers to access information
  • Limited financial resources for smaller NGOs to buy or maintain ICT tools
  • Time constraints faced in converting written information into ICT based information
  • Lack of ICT training for women


Despite these obstacles there have been some areas of success. The success stories are a testament to the creativity and commitment of those involved. Several discussants used their posts to detail the projects in which ICT had been used as a tool to increase women or girl's participation in public life. The projects include:

  • ' Piloting their future: training young girls and boys for citizenship, employability and leadership" - a project located in Argentina that uses ICT for empowering young people and for making them gender aware. This project was developed by the Centro de Estudios de la Mujer (Posted by Gloria Bonder)
  • A Polish project revolving around a website and bi-weekly bulletin titled 'Access.' This project is organised by the Network of East-West Women, funded by UNIFEM and is responsible for promoting gender and economic justice for women in CEE and fostering a better understanding and cooperation between the EU and other countries of Europe. (Posted by Malgorzata Tarasiewicz)
  • The Women's Political Platform located in Trinidad and Tobago whose objective was to train, support and encourage women to offer themselves for political office, using ICT to research and identify issues in what was referred to as " The Women's 10 Point Manifesto." A Campaign Training Manual was also prepared for the woman candidate to use from selection to end of election. (Posted by Gia Gaspard Taylor)
  • The Gender and Constitutional Reform Network in Nigeria which has used ICT tools to ensure that women participate in the ongoing constitutional review processes. (Posted by Emem Okon)

In addition to the self-contained projects discussed above, a Canadian contributor and a Nigerian contributor described situations in which ICT is being used as a tool in women's participation in public life.

Last week we had a two day meeting of representatives from some women's NGOs from across Canada. They will act as an advisory group to the preparation of 2 pilot domestic online consultations. Our federal government shows signs of preparing to use the internet for increased civic participation, and we feel the need to be prepared to participate in the interests of women's equality.

Jo Sutton, Canada

The introduction of the GSM cell phones in Nigeria has enhanced women's participation in public life. Most women now contribute to phone-in programs on television on national issue and international issues. Women who are full time housewives can participate on public debates from home. They can also register their solidarity with women NGOs from home.

Emem Okon, Nigeria

Discussants listed specific advantages to using ICT as a tool for women in public life. ICT can:

  • Give organisations access to more policy information than before; Allow women to combine traditional activities with participation in public life;
  • Give organisations exposure to what others around the world have done;
  • Speed up the transmission of information for NGOs in large countries or in neighbouring countries in geographically linked regions.


Several recommendations emerged from this week's discussion:

  • The internal barriers to women's involvement in public life must be addressed Women must receive greater access to ICTs
  • More research must be done on ICT use by women
  • Software development must aim to provide greater access to disabled women and to non-literate women
  • Organisations, such as gender-focused NGOs, must prepare themselves to use the newer ICTs for public participation
  • ICT tools must be developed that are easier to use

In sum, many of the same barriers that must be overcome when dealing with ICTs in other spheres are also present in the sphere of public life participation. A holistic approach must be taken to make ICTs truly useful tools. In addition to looking at the issues that are specific to ICT use, it is necessary to look at the structural obstacles that pre-date ICTs and that have not yet been eliminated. One participant sums up her vision in the following post:

ICT can and should be used with a purpose, with a meaning and in close articulation with the people needs and aspirations.

Gloria Bonder, Argentina

Thank you for your participation this week and for your detailed examples of successful projects. The information that we gather in this conference will bring us significantly closer to developing rational and engendered ICT policy and programs. Please feel free to communicate directly to me any thoughts that you have on this summary and any ideas that may help to improve it.

Gillian Marcelle

Go to summaries for week: One , Two , Three , Four
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Division for the Advancement of Women -- DAW

Website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations