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 Three Summary

"ICT as a tool for enhancing women's capabilities"

During the third week of the UN-DAW online conference the discussion focused on ICT as a tool for enhancing women's capabilities. Fifteen responses were generated with almost half originating in Africa and the other half coming from North America, South America, the Middle East and the Caribbean. Multiple subtopics, including health, education and information dissemination, fell under the general theme for the week making it difficult to find simple categories and make general recommendations. However, participants made several common observations:

  1. ICTs do play a positive role in the enhancement of women's capabilities. However, ICTs are not a tool of liberation in and of themselves. The impetus and motivation behind their use are very important. A contributor from Argentina describes the larger context in which ICTs are being used as a key to the results that will eventually be produced.

    ICTs are a tool and as such they can either be used to transform and liberate or to continue reproducing traditional ways of lives that exclude women. Therefore, I believe that ICTs will promote and enhance the capabilities of women if promoting and enhancing women's capabilities is part of the agenda. What I mean to emphasize is that political positioning will not automatically develop by using technology. (W)e must have our priorities and objectives clear so that we don't discriminate by omission.

    Gloria Bonder

  2. Female users may come to ICT with goals that fit rigidly within the confines of socially defined gender roles but it is possible that once they are exposed to ICT, they can undergo a process of empowerment. A contributor from Cameroon describes such a situation:

    A case which was very instructive and funny, was that women first of all went to ICT, because for them that was an easy way to get married and have a husband who can take care of them. Most of the time those women are illiterate. By going there every day and asking somebody to try to send message(s) for them, they were very interested... Finally an illiterate woman decided to learn how to use the tool. And finally, every morning she went there and sent message(s) for other women who couldn't do it.

    Leontine Babenti

  3. Older ICTs - telephones, fax machines, radios and television - are used much more frequently for capability enhancement than newer ICTs.


The older ICTs are the tools on which this summary will focus. Throughout the previous weeks of this online conference we have had little opportunity to look closely at older ICTs. It is clear from this week's discussion that these tools remain highly useful and must get adequate attention.

According to discussants, older ICTs have several advantages over the more recently developed ICTs because they are:

  • More accessible
  • Less expensive
  • Easy to use
  • Appropriate for multi-tasking situations
  • Familiar and less intimidating
  • An inexpensive means of information storage

Many projects easily use older ICTs with informal sector women because literacy is not a pre-requisite to participating in much of the older technology. In addition, the information that is transmitted on older ICTs does not require translation into more popular forms in order to be understood. Much of the information transmitted on the newer ICTs is not usable by informal sector women in its raw form. Gia Gaspard Taylor, a participant from Trinidad and Tobago underscores this point when she describes having to "dramatize through storytelling all the contributions."

Older ICTs can also serve an important role, when necessary, as a bridging point of access to the newer ICTs. One contributor describes a Telecenter project in Uganda that successfully developed " initiatives that appeal to the groups of women who had otherwise been intimidated by the thought of visiting the center. By providing content that they were familiar with and interested in, we were able to introduce them to other forms of ICT technologies." (Sandra Aluoch)

Despite the many advantages of using older ICTs let us not be naive that women have mastered them. Many participants registered that when addressing the older technology there still needs to be some progress made in:

  • Changing women's role from being consumers to becoming producers of the information
  • Continued strengthening of women's skills in using these ICTs
  • Advocacy to ensure that these tools are not used in a gender biased fashion


Discussants described a few specific projects in which ICTs enhanced women's capability. These projects focused on developing capability in different areas.

Information dissemination:
India: Rights and Wrongs - an e-mail listserv that culls Indian newspapers for human rights abuses and resources and reports a section on gender justice (contributed by Jana Everett)

Zimbabwe School net project - part of World Link for Development which runs telecentres in the peri-urban areas. The center is used for training and research by teachers, students and ministry personnel. (Contributed by Thembile Phute)

Development of decision-making skills:
Parenté Conjointe - a project implemented by ENDA using ICTs to promote gender equality specifically regarding legal capacities in terms of parenting. (Contributed by Marie Helene Mottin-Sylla, ENDA, Senegal)

Nakaseke Multipurpose Community Telecenter(NMCT),Uganda. The NMCT consists of a business center, library and computer center. The center was used for initiatives in several areas including agrictulture, indigenous health and ICT training. (Contributed by Sandra Aluoch)


The most frequently repeated recommendation during this week's discussion was the urging by participants for the establishment of centers (generally known as telecenters) where women can have access to both the newer and the older technologies. In addition, participants also made multiple subsidiary recommendations:

  1. There must be provision of access to the relevant ICTs - The starting point for this discussion and for the discussions in the previous weeks is that women must have access to both the older and the newer ICTs in order to use them. Older ICTs are still not universally accessible and newer ICTs are rare in many parts of the world.
  2. The technology being developed must take into account the limited free time available to many women.
  3. Content must be pertinent and in a language and environment that is comfortable and gender-sensitive.
  4. Women must have the opportunity to develop competency on all ICTs.
  5. Older ICTs are crucial in developing women's capabilities and must be an important focus of ICT policy and planning.
  6. Women need to be encouraged and trained to become producers on all ICTs.
  7. Clear engendered ICT policy need to be developed.
  8. Relevant areas of interest need to be developed to bring women to ICTs so that they can then use these ICT tools to enhance their capabilities.

Contributions to the discussion on ICT as a tool for enhancing women's capabilities continue to be received. These later contributions could not contribute to this summary but will indeed be used to generate final recommendations. I appreciate any feedback that you would like to offer on the weekly summary for this complex theme. Thank you very much for continuing to use your precious time to think and to participate in this discussion.

Warm regards,
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