Women’s empowerment is a key factor in determining success of development. Studies aptly indicate that women are suffering from various problems due to lack of education and information. The right information at the right time can empower marginalized women and protect them from several challenges.
A number of ICT tools such as radio, television, mobile phone and the internet are used to empower women about awareness, education and information, as this knowledge can create more opportunities.
In our Information and Communications Technology (ICT) era, half of women are suffering due to the gap between ICT and its use without needs assessment and participation of women living in poor communities. The international community comes together yearly to commemorate the International Girls in ICT Day to raise awareness about the gender gap in the technology sector.
With all these efforts, every year we continue to hear the same statistics: Women are 14% less likely than men to own a mobile phone. Moreover, 25% fewer women and girls are online compared to men and boys. In Africa, the gap is widening, with over 40%of women not able to effectively engage ICT tools for personal and professional activities.
Women in the developing world often do not have access to ICT information due to several factors. This limits their ability to enter the global economic market. Women usually face accessibility problems due to lack of training and adequate infrastructure. There are also socioeconomic constraints to owning ICT equipment, inconvenient location of community ICT centres and lack of confidence. Although there has been a steady increase in the number of female ICT professionals, a large number of women and girls still fear using ICT tools.
It is not just enough to enrol girls and women in education and training programmes; it is equally important that they receive quality education, in order to ensure appropriate learning outcomes. The application of ICT in learning enables girls and women to have equal quality education, which leads to personal development, allowing them to manage their lives. There is the need to instil confidence among women so that they can be as good as men in both using and improving technology.
Closing the usage gap between girls and boys is important for the promotion of the information society. As interactions between governments and society continue to rely more on information and communication technologies, it becomes crucial that the voices of women and girls are represented in the digital world.
Bridging the gender gap
The easiest way to solve the technology gender gap is by designing programmes that target girls. For example, interventions like WomenOnline4Dev and Social Media for Change by Young Urban Women Project seek to expose girls and women to the transformative power that technology and social media can have in their lives by building their ICT and social media skills.
Exposing young girls to technologies such as computers, smart phones and tablets allows them to gain familiarity with these technologies, and become active learners, as they get older. On the other hand, families and teachers that incentivise and monitor the use of technology have the potential to improve literacy and digital skills. Consequently, closing the technology gap becomes a community cantered effort that requires the support of schools, families and peers.
Best practices for implementing technology programmes for girls and women
According to the 2013 Intel report “Women and the Web,” enabling internet access for 150 million women would contribute an estimated $13 billion - $18 billion to the annual GDP across 144 developing countries. In this report it is clearly stated that increasing internet access in developing countries will improve education outcomes for more than 500 million women.
There are three basic principles to guarantee the inclusion of women and girls in ICT:
Create gender sensitive opportunities. The challenges associated with increasing girls’ interaction with technology are a reflection of existing social norms. Recognising existing gender biases in learning opportunities, and finding ways to address them improves the degree of interaction that girls have with computers.
Develop free content that is attractive to girls. According to Paul Gorski, founder of pro-education equity coalition, EdChange, the majority of the content, games, or instructional material that is found online is often designed by males, in a manner that excludes girls and women from the culture of technology. Consequently, it is crucial that programmes seek to promote technology access, develop and share free and open content that is relevant for girls and women. There should be more blogs that address issues that affect women, and create space for women and girls’ interaction (e.g. Girls Globe Blog) and women should have space for self-expression through blogging and self-publication.
Embed gender within all aspect of programs. Bridging the technology gender gap will not be solved by solely including more girls in programmes or by passively placing computers in schools, libraries and resource centres. Solving the technology gender gap is about building skills and changing mentalities. Programmes should aim to collect gender and age-disaggregated data to guide project implementation and to understand the real impact of these programmes in women and girls.
Knowledge of computers, tablets, mobiles and other information technologies is becoming more embedded into educational and vocational trainings. Given that girls and women have less access to technology, their educational and economic opportunities are greatly reduced. Developing programmes and initiatives that expose and teach girls to use computers and tablets from early stages is crucial for any development actor.
Action Aid Ghana partnered with Northern Sector of Action on Awareness Center (NORSAAC) and The Ark Foundation Ghana on the Young Urban Women Project, which is working with 2000 young women from the age of 15-25 years to promote decent work, sexual reproductive health and empowerment
The project has two youth resource centres- one in Tuutingli in the Northern Region and the other in Kpobiman in the Greater Accra Region. The Resource centres provide space for young women to meet regularly, mobilise and organise advocacy actions, reach out to other young men and women as well as members of the community. Most importantly, the centres have computers with access to the internet for the women to learn and improve their IT capacity skills, which would enable them to prepare for decent work and other personal development activities.
Most of the young women are now able to use the computers, connect online and use various social media platforms to raise awareness on issues pertaining to their development campaigns and advocacy work.
Northern Region Programme
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