"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
"Integrating gender perspectives into ICT policy-making"
Greetings to all. For the past week we have been discussing 'Integrating gender perspectives into ICT policy-making.' This topic generated lengthy discussion and many posts - 29 in all - full of detailed information and innovative ideas. The weekly summary was prepared to ensure inclusion of as many of these contributions as possible.
The week started with a heavy predominance of posts from individuals with extensive policy experience, mainly individuals based in North America but with some representation from Asia. Many important concrete initiatives were described and suggested. However, towards the latter part of the week and into the following week the discussion shifted - both in content and in diversity. Community-based women joined the discussion, contributed their thoughts and brought an interesting perspective to the online conversation on policy.
recommendations can be divided into two main areas which intersect but
which are helpful to look at separately:
All the postings received throughout the week clearly expressed and demonstrated how vital a gender perspective is in developing ICT policy. Respondents wrote that in addition to other more specific actions the following should be implemented:
1. ICT Policy must address issues of access in a gender aware fashion.
Once again the issue of access, which we have already addressed several times in this conference, was an important focus for participants. However, it was emphasized more strongly this week that the issue of access is more complex than just an issue of connectivity. Discussants expressed frustration at how governmental decisions that are made without an awareness of gender concerns can have major implications:
Unfortunately, policy makers tend to think that by bringing connectivity to the country, that its benefits will reach everybody without further intervention. I think all of us can cite chapter and verse to show that this is not the case. Governments make decisions that seem technical, but that have tremendous impact on whether information infrastructure reaches women- e.g. on cost, on bandwidth, on location of systems.
Nancy Hafkin, USA
In numerous women's groups, we feel it is not good at all that the government is orienting his way of getting feedback from citizens mainly through electronic consultations. This is why women's groups in all Canada are getting together to know how it works and to improve their capacities to use these tools for their own issues and agenda.
Colette Lelievre, Quebec, Canada
2. Language access must be addressed as a serious barrier to gender equity on the international ICT policy level. A contributor from Argentina discusses this issue:
'Most of the documents, articles, books dealing with (these)issues are also in English and even very positive initiative(s) such as this one have the same restriction. (see how few women from Latin America are participating in this forum) I believe that language options ha(ve) to be taken as a political issue, an issue that must be in the center of policy decisions ,specially for international organizations.'
3. ICT policy must rest on the understanding that technology must be adapted to fit the needs of women.
The key issue is that the technologies should be adapted to suit women rather than that women should be asked to adapt to suit the technologies. It seems to me that most policymakers are proceeding on the second premise. If we can encourage them to think and act in terms of the first premise then we will ensure that ICTs become more "women-friendly" in terms of cost, access, applicability in different fields, etc.
4. Gender disaggregated data must be collected to inform policy decisions
5. Women from developing countries who are in positions to influence ICT decisions must be supported and
6. Correct pricing must be identified as an important way to reduce the gender digital divide.
A good synopsis of these and additional goal-oriented strategies suggested was detailed by this post from India:
I believe that focusing on what policy areas need attention will go a long way in engendering the policy process. More specifically: telecom sector liberalisation and competition (more private players to supplement or free up public investments, thus forcing down end user prices and making access more affordable), independent regulation, reducing cost of infrastructure and operations (such as fees for licenses and radio frequency spectrum), lowering taxes and duties on equipment (such as PCs and mobile phones), encouraging public domain software (such as Linux), ensuring convenient access (keeping women's needs in mind), content (what do women want?), and intermediation (between information source and illiterate women).
PROCESS-ORIENTED RECOMMENDATIONS -Training and Transformation
The discussion of recommendations did not remain focused on the goal-oriented options. A post by a US participant sparked off an interesting discussion on the role that training and transformation can play in bringing gender perspectives to ICT policy. Sonia Jorge of the USA wrote:
'The most important barrier to engendering the (ICT policy) process is lack of knowledge and training. Most policy makers and organizations involved in the policy process … don't see the gender dimension until someone makes a very strong case for it (and even then there is some resistance)… very few policy makers are trained to think from a gender perspective and unless they are educated on how to do so at all steps of the process, we (will) not get gender integrated into policy. I believe that training of policy makers (both at the country level and international organization level) on how to engender the policy process is of the utmost importance.'
The approach to training as a way to engender ICT policy generated multiple opinions. Few argued that training was critical but there were additional questions raised and addressed about who should be trained, why should they be trained and in what context the training should occur. Several of the salient posts are presented below:
'Nor have the overall results of over a decade of "gender training" and "gender analysis" etc in the field of development brought the hoped-for benefits for girls and women. Change has not been shown to be a direct result of training of policymakers … Let us target our training first and foremost at girls and women themselves and help them form or strengthen organizations where they can be activists and advocates for needed change in ICT as well as in every other area that affects their lives.'
Pamela Collett, Kenya
From this perspective, it is obvious that, while training policy makers may be a useful tactic to help strengthen the arguments of those supporting change, or to break down resistance of those opposing it, as a strategy in itself, it will never be sufficient without building pressure from a broader constituency.
Sally Burch, Ecuador
I agree … that training needs to be directed at women and girls themselves. (F)or most women in Africa that training needs to be at a very much more basic level than the use of ICTs. When a woman does not have running water or electricity … (i)t is far more important to provide her with the skills to generate sufficient income to attain these basic necessities… (including) training her to recognise and use resources in what most people regard as unusable. As women and girls learn skills that allow them to add value to the quality of their life styles ... they develop the necessary confidence to stand up for themselves and to learn more complex skills.
Sheena Freeman, Zimbabwe
Training is mainly useful when it is part of a goal of transformation … When information and training are conducted with a goal of transforming the perspective of the individuals and the institutions as opposed to simply informing them then the results have a much bigger impact than what is done in the limited projects. A transformed individual/organisation will produce the new engendered goals and projects themselves as opposed to having to be told what to do.
Gillian Goddard, Trinidad and Tobago/USA
In addition to training the empowerment of activists was also seen as an essential component of ensuring that policy reflected gender concerns. A participant from Nigeria gives a frank outlook on why activists are important in this process:
Policy makers, such as we have in Nigeria, will not willingly and readily engender the process without some people being on their neck.
Emem Okon, Nigeria
THE CONFERENCE PROCESS
The events of the week were a superb example of the active engagement which can take place when a variety of views are presented in an interactive online discussion. The voluntary nature of participation in online conferences means that it is difficult to ensure that diverse perspectives are present. In this week's case, the limited diversity in the initial days of the discussion led to a stimulating series of posts which themselves provided rich material from which we were able to learn more. The discussants were able to address one of the complex problems in the field of engendering ICT policy - that of limited participation by a specific sector on an important topic - and to richly analyse this problem and provide recommendations.
Thank you for your success in grappling with the week four topic. Your engagement with this issue resulted in some rich material for us to use in the EGW meeting. Please feel free to respond to me with any comments on this summary including any corrections of errors that were inadvertently made through editing. We were very liberal with the length of the posts this past week but perhaps we could ensure that our posts for the upcoming period fit within the recommended framework. It is difficult for Participants to fully engage with lengthy presentations.
Once again, thank you for commitment to this conference.
Division for the Advancement of Women -- DAW
Department of Economic and Social Affairs