Gender Inequalities for Use and Access of ICTs in Developing Countries

Gender Inequalities for Use and Access of ICTs in Developing Countries

Sushil K. Sharma (Ball State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-949-6.ch033
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Internet, wireless, mobile, multi-media (voice, video, 3D), broadband, and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) are rapidly consolidating global communication networks and international trade with implications for people in developing countries. Extensive literature suggests that use of ICTs have a great impact on society for improving their economic means and life styles. However, various studies conducted in different regions of the world indicate that the advantages of ICTs have not reached all sections of society, particularly rural communities, and women. Women face many obstacles before they can harness the benefits of ICTs (Accascina, 2001; Alloo, 1998; The Commonwealth of Learning, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001). Information and technology development, adoption, and access are far from adequate in developing countries. Large scale illiteracy and disabling environments, including uncompetitive markets, restrict opportunities to harness ICTs. For example; in India only 0.6% of the population uses the Internet and the penetration rate of the personal computer is only 1.2% (Hafkin & Taggart, 2001; Nath, 2001; World Bank Report, 2002). Information chasms follow socioeconomic divisions, particularly income and education disparities, separating well-connected elites from the less privileged who remain detached from information access and use. Most women within developing countries are on the lowest side of the divide, further removed from the information age as compared to the men whose poverty they share (Accascina, 2001; Nath, 2001; Tandon, 1998, The Commonwealth of Learning, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001). If access and use of these technologies is directly linked to social and economic development, then it is imperative that women in developing countries be taken into consideration while developing ICT diffusion strategies. ICTs can be an important tool in meeting women’s basic needs and can provide the access to resources to involve women as equal partners in socio-economic development (Cole et al., 1994). Addressing gender issues in the ICTs sector has shown significant results where women have been made a part of ICT use and access. For example, women have benefited greatly from South Korea’s push to make higher education available online. In corporate South Korea, more than 35% of high-level IT positions are now held by women. In Africa, 70% of agricultural produce is handled by women (World Bank Report, 2002). By using farm radios, women farmers can obtain information in local languages on markets, agricultural inputs, food preservation, and storage without traveling far, or being dependent on a middleman. ICTs use and access by women can offer significant opportunities for them in developing countries, including poor women living in rural areas. However, their ability to take advantage of these opportunities is contingent upon conducive policies, an enabling environment to extend communications infrastructure to where women live, and increasing educational levels. It is now, particularly appropriate to ensure the inclusion of gender concerns in national IT policy, as most developing countries are either in the process of or about to start elaborating these policies (Accascina, 2001; Marcelle, 2000; Ponniah & Reardon, 1999; The Commonwealth of Learning, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001). Women face considerably higher barriers in terms of literacy, access to education and information, productive and financial resources, and time. Many of the obstacles women face in accessing and using technology are entrenched in behavioral, cultural, and religious practices. Unless explicit measures are taken to address these divides, there is a risk that ICT will increase gender disparities and that the impact of ICTs will not be maximized. Integrating gender considerations into ICT strategies and policies will enable policy-makers and implementers to address these differences, which in turn will lead to remove gender inequalities for ICTs use and access (The Commonwealth of Learning, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001).

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