“ICT as an instrument for the empowerment of young women and girls”
The Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) organized the Global Forum on Youth and ICT for Development: "Youth and ICT as Agents of Change", from 24 to 26 September 2007 in Geneva, Switzerland. The Forum was aimed at helping to harness the creativity and dynamism that the youth has in exploring and exploiting ICT for their own benefit and for the benefit of their peers and communities in advancement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Forum aimed at actively engaging youth in debates and discussions with their peer representatives, policy makers, private sector, technology and thought leaders and others in exploring ways to empower the community and to participate more fully in society through the appropriate and responsible use of ICT.
As part of this Forum, the Division for the Advancement of Women organized a roundtable on the theme of "ICT as an instrument for the empowerment of young women and girls", in partnership with the Women’s Networking Support Programme of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC/WNSP) and the International Women’s Tribune Centre (IWTC), to ensure attention to the needs, priorities and contributions of girls and young women, as well as boys and young men, at the Forum.
The Beijing Platform for Action calls on governments to promote women’s full and equal participation in, and access to education, training, employment, programming and management, in all areas and levels of media, including ICT.
The Plan of Action, adopted at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), called for the removal of gender barriers to ICT education and training and provision of equal training opportunities in ICT-related fields for women and girls. Early intervention programmes in science and technology should target young girls with the aim of increasing the number of women in ICT careers.
At the 51st session of the Commission on the Status of Women, it was agreed that, work must be done to promote and support increased access of girls to ICT, particularly girls living in poverty, girls living in rural and remote areas and in disadvantaged situations.
While the potential of ICT for stimulating economic growth, socio-economic development and effective governance is well recognized, the benefits of ICT have been unevenly distributed within and between countries. In the context of the “digital divide” - the differences in resources and capabilities to access and effectively utilize ICT for development that exist within and between countries, regions, sectors and socio-economic groups - a “gender divide” has been identified. The capacity of young women and girls to exploit the potential of new ICT as tools for empowerment is constrained in different ways.
Young women and girls need ICT for the same reasons as men and boys; to access information of importance for their personal development, educational achievements, employment opportunities, roles in the community and other contexts, and as a means to obtain additional resources. Access to ICT can enable women and girls to gain a stronger voice in their communities, their Government and at the global level. ICT also offers flexibility in time and space, which can be of particular value to young women and girls who may face social isolation, particularly in developing countries. It can also be effectively utilized for the peer networking which is critical to empowerment of adolescent girls.
In addition to physical access to the technology and the ability to utilize it, access also refers to the ability to make use of the information and the resources provided. The factors identified as constraints to access and use, i.e. poverty, illiteracy, including computer illiteracy, and language barriers are particularly acute for young women and girls. Most poor young women and girls in developing countries are further removed from the information age than the young men and boys in similar situations. Socially constructed gender roles and relationships play a key role in determining the capacity of women and men to participate on equal terms in the information society.
While ICT is being increasingly applied in education in both developed and developing countries, continuing gender gaps in education, due to domestic responsibilities, lack of mobility and socio-cultural practices that downplay the importance of education of girls, restrict their access to basic computer literacy. In addition, ICT implementation policies and resource allocations in education are often gender-blind and, as a result, the special needs and priorities of girls are neglected. Even where public access spaces, such as cybercafés and telecentres, have been created for easy access to ICT, the location of and arrangements around public access centres are decided without considering the constraints for young women, such as inappropriate opening times (including evenings), security issues and lack of transport.
Even when physical and technical access is secured, it is important to ensure that the content available through ICT meets the priorities and needs of young women and girls. Repackaging and augmenting content (downloading, simplifying, adapting information to local contexts and translating into local languages), and documenting and uploading local-origin information, are critical steps for enhancing the relevance and use of ICT for girls and young women.
This roundtable will explore the “gender divide” and the options available for working to ensure that access to ICT, and the ability to make productive use of ICT for development, is equally available to both young women and young men. It will provides concrete examples of initiatives taken to specifically address the constraints faced by young women and girls and to proactively use ICT as an instrument of empowerment. It will outline some of the key challenges which need to be effectively addressed.
Moderator: Mr. Sarbuland Khan - Executive Coordinator, United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development.
2. Ms Mridula Swamy (India)
3. Ms Dayana Torrico (Bolivia)
4. Ms Lerato Legoabe (South Africa)
5. Mr Jesenko Osmanagić (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Rapporteur: Ms. Mavic Cabrera Balleza