Women Empowerment and ICTs in Developing Economies

Women Empowerment and ICTs in Developing Economies

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3643-9.ch007
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Abstract

The revolution in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has vast implications for the developing world; yet this revolution is associated with several issues. One of the main issues is the gender digital divide that has been widely growing in these economies. The absence of clear knowledge about the ways gender inequality and ICTs are impacting each other remain a main issue of ICTs and women. This chapter examines some issues and challenges related to women and ICTs in developing economies. The chapter discusses some potential uses of ICTs for women empowerment. Finally, real case studies of the use of ICTs for women empowerment in developing countries are introduced to show that local development projects can benefit from technological support.
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Introduction

One of the central forces that shape the 21st century are the new Information and Communication Technologies. These technologies impact living, learning, work, communication, and also leisure time. These relatively new tools with their continuous improvements have the potential to enable individuals, groups, and societies through addressing economic, cultural, and social challenges with greater efficiency and attainment. Despite the fact that ICTs and the Internet offer large opportunities for human development and empowerment in many areas, such technologies are considered one of the key contributing input to the reduction of social and economic disparities across different social and economic groups (Ben, 2012). The gender gap is one of the most significant sources of inequalities in the era of this digital revolution, mainly in developing countries. Throughout the world, women face serious challenges that are not only economic but also social as well as cultural obstacles that limit or prevent their access to use and benefit from ICTs.

There is a higher understanding and awareness about the challenges faced by women. It is also pervasively known that the most important ones reside in access to education and to the opportunities that could be provided by ICTs. These are important steps towards transforming the digital divide into a digital opportunity that all could access and use. Involving and engaging universal access to information is a direct step toward the promotion of social and economic progress and thus ensuring better development. Women represent a central economic force in most developing countries. Economies are becoming increasingly information-driven. Accordingly, the issues of women’s access to and use of ICTs are becoming more and more important in both developed and developing economies. With the multiplicity of digital platforms and ICT applications with their likely positive implications on employment, education, and other areas of life, women need more incentives and policy frameworks to support and advance the elimination of the digital gap characterizing gender in developing economies.

Rakow (1986) is among the earliest researchers that dealt with gender and ICTs. This author considers that the use of telephones by women generates high levels of benefits not just to these women but also to their families and related. The study recognizes that the telephone plays an important function in women’s lives as a way of maintaining long-distance communications with family and friends, and a way of reducing domestic isolation. This has had implications on phone businesses through the identification of women as attractive targets for marketing agencies and telecommunication operators.

Other studies have focus on ICTs as a basic entrepreneurial tool for women empowerment (Shade, 2002). However, a wide range of scholars have paid attention to the critical role of ICTs in gender empowerment. Kramarae (2004) argues that enabling women to have access to ICTs would be a good strategy for providing new voices, values, and vision into the traditional discussions of communication and technology, and their role in gender empowerment.

There are several factors that can affect women use of ICTs. Johnson (2012) defines technophobia (or fear of technology), computer illiteracy, and poverty as the most important reasons for gender divide. The author suggests as well that the gender divide could be treated from a sociological side through reducing barriers to access ICTs using proximity to ICTs or Internet connectivity, or mental such as the ability to understand or use ICTs. According to this author, marginalization in the utilization of technology occurs with women spread over different income levels, age groups and literacy levels. An ethnographic study conducted in a middle-class locality in Chennai, in South India in 2006 about the use of ICTs suggests that fear and prejudice from ICTs (mainly Internet) and the belief that new ICTs are not for them are key reasons to explain the Internet penetration rate in this region. These factors are emphasized in Faulkner and Lie (2007).

Women presence in decision-making structures in the ICT sector is still very low. Equitable access to ICTs and the independence in receiving and producing information are central to the construction of an Information Society for all and to women empowerment.

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