Mainstreaming a gender perspective is considered essential in assessing the implication of any development program, project or policy on men and women. This holds true of the modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) as well, as research studies are showing a significant gap between men and women in their access to and understanding of ICT opportunities.
Social and institutional barriers were seen as major factors behind the ICT gender divide in research conducted by AudienceScapes in Pakistan, Ghana, Kenya and Chad. The ICT gender analysis conducted in these countries revealed that factors such as socio-economic roles, levels of education, literacy, language skills and mobility prevented women from accessing the same level of ICT opportunities as men. The study found that women were twice as likely as men to be illiterate. Knowledge of English or the national languages that are popularly used in modern ICT (internet, mobile and even TV or radio broadcasts) correlated with better opportunities, including higher education, which men in general surpassed women and rural women lagged further behind.
The AudienceScapes research findings also revealed that gender roles influenced the general attitudes, habits, topics of interest and choice of information and communication technology in men and women. This was especially true in rural households. A BBC survey taken in Pakistan showed that men were more inclined to consume news on current affairs, business, politics and sports while women preferred watching television or listening to radio shows pertaining to household affairs, health issues, art and religion. The urban-rural setting also influenced gender disparity in ICT use. For instance, internet use was largely limited to urban, educated men. And radio was the most effective means of reaching rural women.
The AudienceScapes research findings provide an interesting perspective because women’s access to and choice of communication and information technology may not just be influenced by lack of better opportunities or low literacy levels but also social roles and cultural norms. Hence, merely improving ICT access for women may not be the solution. It may be equally important to raise awareness on the merits of and the opportunities that these modern technologies provide to women. A gender mainstreaming perspective in ICT is, therefore, important in order to acknowledge that women and men may sometimes require different treatments because of different life conditions they live under and the varying roles they play.
Photo Credit: Frerieke (Flickr User)