Gender and ICT Policy for Development and Empowerment: A Critique of a National ICT Policy

Gender and ICT Policy for Development and Empowerment: A Critique of a National ICT Policy

Kutoma Jacqueline Wakunuma-Zojer (De Montfort University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-847-0.ch012
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This chapter pays attention to the role that ICT policy and gender play in the drive for development and empowerment. Particular focus is on Zambia and its National ICT Policy. The chapter analyses how notions of ‘gender’, development and empowerment are routinely incorporated into the ICT policy rhetoric and the strategies put in place. It assesses whether the goals of the National ICT Policy encourage social and economic development as well as empowerment for women. The chapter makes the case that as much as ICT policies are being developed and adopted in order to be incorporated into the development agendas of countries like Zambia, mere adoption without adequately addressing gender concerns within the policies themselves may not necessarily achieve the desired development and empowerment. The analysis subsequently brings to the fore some short comings within the policy that have not been addressed with the adequacy they deserve and which as a result, can potentially impact negatively on women‘s overall development and subsequent empowerment. The chapter particularly focuses on Government claims which suggest that women are important actors in ICT use for sustainable development without whom the successful diffusion and use of ICTs in the country cannot be a reality.
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Over the past decades, there has been a wealth of discussions and studies focused specifically on the potential of ICTs to enhance the development agenda. These have included the fact that the ICT ‘revolution’ has promised a variety of benefits to society, including a material difference to the lives of women and men living and working in the developing world. For instance, among some of the potential benefits that WSIS (2003) lists include achievement of universal education and health care. Other scholars have highlighted benefits such as increased self-sufficiency in small scale business (Sane & Traore, 2009; Munyua, 2009). However, there has been a parallel discussion which questions the extent to which the rhetoric of empowerment, in particular, for women in traditional societies is being transformed into practice on the ground (Gajjala, 2003; Gajjala & Manidipudi, 1999). With this, reference is made to Hanson and Narula’s (1990) question where they set out to ask the following:

These technologies may help fight illiteracy, disease, poverty, and other development problems, but they have also created different priorities and issues for these nations [Third World developing countries]. A major issue for developing countries concerns what the communication revolution will do to, and for them. Will they foster communication abundance, strengthen existing technologies, or enhance neo-colonial (dependency) forces? What are their technology options for appropriate technopolicies, training, and building an integrated communication infrastructure? (p. 1).

One step taken to answer the questions in the above quote has been the adoption of a national ICT policy which Zambia unveiled in 2007 as a road map to ICT implementation strategies. The policy also addresses women and development aspects including their empowerment. But to what extent is women’s development and empowerment a reality when the policy is critically looked at? To help answer this question, this chapter aims to analyse the ways in which notions of ‘gender’ are routinely incorporated into the policy rhetoric relating to ICTs. The chapter does this by considering the official government ICT development agenda in Zambia and the ways in which it addresses issued of gender and empowerment through analysing the national ICT policy. Furthermore, the paper’s objective is to gain an understanding of the views of policy formulators towards issues of gender, development and empowerment.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Empowerment: Having the ability to be able to better one’s life socially, economically, culturally and politically through fair and equal policies.

ICT Policy: An ICT policy is a roadmap to ICT implementation strategies.

Gender: The social and cultural construction of the relation between men and women.

Policy Formulators: Those that have influence over and/or make policies.

Information Communication Technologies (ICTs): These are diverse in nature and to a certain extent intertwined and interrelated. They can include radio, television, landline telephones and the internet as well as mobile phones and other devices such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

Mainstreaming: In this chapter mainstreaming means the integration of policies that will ensure an equal balance in accessing and using ICTs. It also means ensuring that both men and women have the opportunity to play an equal and meaningful role in the mainstream of national development whether it is in policy decision making or in education among others.

Developing World: In this chapter the developing world being mainly referred to is Africa. Africa continues to be one of the poorest continents in the world. Its poor standing is also reflected in its lagging behind in technology development and advancement when compared to the developed world.

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