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Technology and Women in Emerging Countries: Addressing the Divide

- December 21, 2009 - 1 Comment

The ICT sector not only drives innovation, but fuels competitiveness in the global economy. Jobs in information and communication technologies (ICT) sectors, like telecommunications and the Internet, are key sources of growth and crucial for the growth of the economy.

Cisco conducted an ICT gender gap study in June 2009, which found that female students in five European countries have computer skills but many avoid technology careers.   The study concludes that the single most de-motivating factor is the view that the tech sector is inherently better suited to men.  Amy Christen, Global Vice President of Cisco Networking Academy, believes that industry and government should collaborate to change girls’ perceptions and galvanize more women.

So if this is taking place in Europe, what are the consequences for emerging countries?  A recent Global Voices article, focusing on Information Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D), caught my attention as it discussed the opportunities for empowerment of women, and alleviation of gender disparity.

Steven Klonner and Patrick Nolen’s case study on South Africa found substantial effects of cell phone network roll-out on labor market outcomes with remarkable gender-specific differences. Employment increases by 15% points when a locality receives network coverage. Most of this effect is due to increased employment by women. Household income increases in a pro-poor way when cellular infrastructure is provided.

Dr. Kutoma Wakunuma from Sheffield Hallam University (UK) talks in a video from MobileActive08 about the social and economic impacts of new technologies in developing countries. She focuses on gender issues and investigates how mobile phones and the Internet can empower women in countries like Zambia.  She concludes that there is a need for more research focusing on the downsides (like social conflicts) of new technologies in developing countries.  

When we think about emerging countries, we need remember that there are many benefits to mobile technology, we still need to address some of the basic issues.  Many poor women in developing countries are not always able to access this technology due to access, service and literacy.

I will leave you with this thought from Deconstructing Mobiles: Myths and Realities about Women and Mobile Phones

“Mobile phones have had a marked effect on the world. As the technology continues to evolve and penetrate into more areas of the world, there will be adjustments. Thanks to cell phones, many women in developing countries may receive social, educational, and financial opportunities through their mobiles. However, mobile phones are not a panacea for alleviating poverty, sexism, or other gender disparities. The mere existence of a phone in a rural home or community does not mean that the women there will have access to the opportunities promised.”

Technology, with the understanding of the local culture and the needs of the people, can make significant change.  They come hand in hand.   I feel lucky to work for a company where both considerations come together in our work in Emerging Markets.

If you are interested in this topic, you can also find more information in the book, African Women and ICTs: Investigating Technology, Gender and Empowerment, which explores women in Africa and how they use ICTs to facilitate their empowerment; whether through the mobile village phone business, through internet use, or through new career and ICT employment opportunities.  And also, please share your research and thoughts here.

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