In the last two decades, a number of events have greatly changed the way people all over the world work and live, and these are the widespread use of the personal computer; the Internet together with the expansion of the World Wide Web and the rollout of mobile communications. This is what we refer to as Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
A photo shows female students taking part in ICT
All over the world, ICT has transformed the way production, market access and distribution of goods and services are organized, leading to changes in the way enterprises relate to consumers.
In sectors like trade, education, health, banking and agriculture, technology developments have made it possible for people to receive and share information in various ways and over boundaries. Even in Uganda, more and more people use the Internet daily to communicate and carry out business.
Indeed, ICT plays a major role in all aspects of national life. For this reason the Government of Uganda recognized that ICT has become key in the economic and social transformation as articulated in the National Development Plan 2010/2015, where ICT was identified as one of the primary growth sectors.
Because of its strengths, ICT presents a window of endless opportunities for women in Uganda, and the developing world as a whole. ICT has the potential to reduce some of the barriers faced by women, such as illiteracy, poverty, time inadequacy, hindrances of mobility and cultural and religious taboos.
ICT is also able to give a voice to the voiceless, offering them a way of expressing themselves without having to be seen.
“As an advocacy method, ICT can help empower African women to demand true reform that will bridge the gap between their legal rights and their enforcement. It gives women the opportunity to communicate their needs in their own ways, in real time and on a massive scale. Online technology also offers anonymity, which is absolutely essential when speaking out on sensitive issues might endanger a woman’s safety. ICT is a limitless platform for women’s grassroots organisations so they have a collective voice in public, thus enabling them to make their voices heard more clearly.” Rainatou Sow, founder and executive director of Make Every Woman Count.
Most of the women in the developing world are engaged in the informal sector, without formal jobs, so ICT offers them an increased ability to work from home. And given that many women are not able to work or choose not to work in order to take care of children, working from home gives them a chance to earn an income and develop their skills. Self-generated income from ICT can give women greater power to close the gender wage gap, as it is a means of production that allows for some control and determination on the price of which women can sell their labour.
ICT also presents improved employment opportunities for women in the growing information technology sector; improved global market access for craftswomen through e-commerce; improved access of women, especially rural women, to distance learning and distance work programs and improved ability for the sharing of experiences among women’s organisations concerned with the economic well-being of women in the informal sector.
In spite of all these opportunities presented by ICT, few women enrol for education programmes in the field and even fewer take up ICT-related jobs. The reasons are mainly grounded in society. There is still a belief that ICT is mainly a man’s world, so girl students do not usually apply for it as a course at college. Parents, too, rarely encourage their daughters to take up such a course.
Although teenage girls are now using computers and the internet at rates similar to their male peers, they are less likely to consider a technology-related career. Science and technology are viewed as more suitable for boys and men. This may lead girls to shy away from studying computer science or adopting new technology.
The existing sociocultural norms have so far restricted girls and women’s access to education, training and employment. Poor grounding in math and science subjects at primary level, and the lack of exposure to technically-oriented subjects determines their performance in these subjects at secondary level and their access to technical programmes at tertiary level.
Furthermore, the degree of interest in the field of computing for young women is comparably lower than that of young men. Women also lack role models and mentors. These support systems not only help women develop talent and opportunities for career advancement, but they are also needed to promote women senior roles.
The competitiveness in the field is also said to put women off, while those who have ventured there find it hard to re-enter after taking off time for child-bearing.
Poverty is another factor. Women nationally and even globally earn less than men for equal work and have less access to financial assets such as land, or to credit. This limits their possibility to use all forms of technology, including ICT, because to do so one must be able to possess a gadget along with Internet access/data.
Low literacy levels also limit women’s access to ICT. Women and girls make up nearly two-thirds of the world’s illiterates. This limits their use of ICT. Closely related to this is the language issue – language is a barrier to internet and mobile use. In rural areas and among ethnic minorities, where women and girls often have lower education and less exposure to the surrounding society and international arena, they may only speak a local language or dialect. Thus they face hindrances when accessing the Internet and using mobiles, as the predominant language is English.
How do we solve the problem and enable women to benefit equally as men from the ICT revolution?
One possible solution is to make the efforts of female computer scientists more visible through events that allow women in the field to meet, collaborate and present their work. In addition, there is need for the provision of improved ICT access for women in the informal sector; training of women in the use of ICT for record keeping; linking of ICT organisations with women’s rights organisations and the establishment of rural ICT centres.
Other strategies may involve the improvement of ICT access to support business linkages; the provision of improved e-mail access for rural women and the use of ICTs to create markets for the products and services of rural women.
If gender dimensions of ICT are identified and addressed, ICT can be a powerful catalyst for political and social empowerment of women, and a tool to promote gender equality. Without access to ICT, women are at greater risk of being left behind as agents of change and leaders in a rapidly changing global society. We must ensure that women, as well as men, at all social levels in Uganda, can access and use such technology.
Intern. Public Relations & Communications Department
Action For Development.