Capitalising on ICT to promote gender equality

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Dakar, Senegal

Over the past 25 years, trade openness and the spread of information and communication technologies (ICTs) have expanded economic opportunities, including the increase of female workers in the export and ICT-enabled sectors across countries, according to the  World Development Report 2012.

“At the same time, improvements in ICT technology have allowed women  around the world to access markets in growing numbers by lowering information barriers and reducing the transaction costs associated with market work. Because time and mobility constraints are more severe for women than men, women stand to benefit more from these developments,” the report added.

“These new developments not only help improve the lives of women, but also shows the extent of what the explosion of ICTs can do to take gender equality to another level,” marriage counsellor and feminist Mariam Ba told Biztechafrica.

“I strongly believe that whenever an ICT job is filled by a woman or an ICT business opportunity that would normally go to a man is taken by a woman, the gender equality arrow goes up, and it’s a good omen for woman’s empowerment,” Ba said.

“Women – educated or uneducated, computer illiterate or literate – have been suffering the same fate, especially in gender-suppressed sub-Saharan Africa, where men have the monopoly of grabbing all the better jobs and business opportunities.”

Ba said African governments needed to increase investments in the ICT sector to help create more jobs and business opportunities for women, and at the same time use ICTs as a tool to promote gender equality.

“Very little is being done in terms of using ICTs to fight gender inequality,” she lamented.

“Traditional media, mostly led and managed by a bunch of conservative of men in many African countries, do create awareness about gender equality, but only selectively and periodically.”

The World Development Report 2012 said the focus here is on cellphones and the Internet because they are the two most commonly available ICTs outside the workplace, and their coverage is expected to continue to rise rapidly.

“We are talking about the mobile explosion in Africa, but is there any special content targeted at promoting gender equality? It’s time to go back to the drawing board and see if we are really taking advantage of the ICTs explosion for the full benefit of women.”

Ba added: “My wish is to see governments around the world, especially in the underdeveloped world, create digital portals to promote gender equality, and technology companies get involved by continuously creating digital spaces and designing mobile applications aimed at encouraging women’s empowerment and integration.”

She said women all over the world pay a heavy price due to what she called ‘discriminatory’ policies enacted by gender-discriminatory policymakers meant to block women’s empowerment by all means.

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