Crossing the Digital Divide in a Women's Community ICT Centre

Crossing the Digital Divide in a Women's Community ICT Centre

Clem Herman (The Open University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-939-7.ch155
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This article examines the role of community-based training initiatives in enabling women to cross the so-called digital divide and become confident users of ICTs. Drawing on a case study of the Women’s Electronic Village Hall (WEVH) in Manchester, United Kingdom, one of the first such initiatives in Europe offering both skills training and Internet access to women, the article will illustrate the impact that community-based initiatives can have in challenging and changing prevailing gendered attitudes toward technology. Gendered constructions of technology in dominant discourse suggest that women must also cross an internal digital divide, involving a change in attitude and self–identification, before they can see themselves as technically competent. Learning about technology is intimately linked to learning about gender, and the performance of skills and tasks that are culturally identified as masculine can be an empowering step for women, successfully challenging preconceived gendered relationships with technology. The WEVH occupied a unique position, acting as a model for other women’s ICT initiatives and influencing the development and proliferation of other community-based ICT access projects. There were two main motivating forces behind its setting up in 1992. The first was a shared vision of the potential for ICTs to be used as a tool to combat social exclusion. The second was a feminist commitment to redressing the inequalities and underrepresentation of women in computing. Both these perspectives formed an important backdrop to the growth and development of the organisation and have continued to inform its strategic plans.

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