“The Men Never Say that They do not Know”: Telecentres as Gendered Spaces

“The Men Never Say that They do not Know”: Telecentres as Gendered Spaces

Dorothea Kleine (Centre in ICT4D, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-997-2.ch009
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There have been many case studies in the literature on telecentres, often seeking to analyse the usage of these facilities via surveys and covering gender issues by “counting women”. This chapter presents a more qualitative and ethnographic account, exploring one particular telecentre in a small town in rural Chile and comparing it with the seven local commercial cybercafés. This local reality is situated in the context of Chile’s national ICT strategy, the Agenda Digital, and linked to interviews with policy makers at the national level. The chapter examines the Chilean telecentre strategy, in particular the Biblioredes programme. The primary research included a short survey at the telecentre, on users’ age, gender, occupation, education, access habits and usages, but even more revealing is six months’ participant observation and interviews with users. The analysis confirmed availability, affordability and skills as important factors in determining internet usage, but also uncovered two other key issues: social norms around the use of time and of space. These social norms are heavily gendered. Social norms around time usage mean that married women struggle to fit in IT trainings with household duties. As far as space is concerned, it is far more socially acceptable for women to spend time in the telecentre than in cybercafés. In the commercial cybercafés, computers are placed in narrow cabins and screens are not publicly visible. There is little interaction between users, who are almost exclusively young men. The telecentre is situated in the local library, run by a female librarian and used as a social space by women of different ages. The space is wide enough for prams and wheelchairs and the screens are publicly visible. Users, often less affluent members of the community and/or women, are socially in a position to ask the staff questions, while men’s higher social status makes it harder for them to seek help with their IT skills learning. The chapter concludes with some practical recommendations for designing access spaces and IT training courses in a gender-sensitive way which may apply to rural Chile and other heavily gendered societies. It also calls for a more nuanced analysis of gender aspects in ICT4D research, one that goes beyond simply “counting women”.

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