African Women and the Information Age: A Rare
1.1: How to make ITC policies relevant to women
1.2: Setting up information centres for women
1.3: New information technologies as tools for
1.4: Impact of ICTs on women's work.
HOW TO MAKE INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES
POLICIES (ICTs) RELEVANT FOR WOMEN
As one means of promoting
sustainable development in Africa, decision-makers must facilitate people's access to
information, so that solutions to problems can be locally resolved and Africa's human
resources are optimally developed.
In many African countries, ICT
policy-making is still at the beginning stage. In some countries, existing policies are
too restrictive and therefore do not provide a conducive environment for the emergence of
a dynamic and competitive information and communications secotr.
This is an opportune time and a
crucial moment for women to have input and for stakeholders to be sensitized to the gender
dimension of ICT policy. Policy must take into account the needs of women, as well as men,
at all levels - from urban professional people to rural populations. All segments of
society should have access to information and have a channel for making their voices
heard. ICTs, if not managed effectively have the potential to widen the gap between the
sexes, young and old, urban and rural areas and so on.
Business-women stand to gain
from information that ICTs can make readily available and thus enable them to penetrate
In science and technology
policy-making bodies, the gender dimension, as well as links to development needs, must be
Participants in the working
group were guided by the following questions:
How could women influence
How could women help to
liberalize and open up the telecommunications sector and to involve various sectors in the
provision of services?
What types of partnerships
could be established to ensure that African women are represented in international
What specific gender parity
measures should be taken?
How could existing national,
regional and international networks help in the formulation of adequate policies in
development-related areas? What experiences could be identified?
The working group participants
highlighted the following actions:
1. Women do not understand the
importance and potential impact of the information revolution. The benefit they stand to
reap needs to be clearly defined.
2. Policies need to address
issues such as: difficulty of access, prohibitive costs, sustainability, poor essential
infrastructure for ICT use
3. A large percentage of
African women are illiterate. Even so they still need to product their own information and
document their knowledge and experience.
4. Gender issues relevant to
ICT production, use and access should be identified and found a solution.
5. Women need to be equipped to
participate in ICT policy discussions through improved technical expertise, needs
identification and understanding the regulatory framework.
6. Women need to be involved in
all stages of incorporating a gender perspective in policy formulation (awareness raising,
policy drafting, implementation and review).
7. Policies should be reviewed
to ensure that they are in line with the African Information Society Initiative (AISI)
8. Governments should be
encouraged to open up the ICT debate to all groups concerned.
SETTING UP INFORMATION CENTRES FOR WOMEN
One of the major problems
facing African women in the socio-economic field is the limited access to relevant
information on a continuing basis about health, education, food production and process.
Because women's work is often devalued by society and their activities are often
restricted to the home environment, their participation in development is limited.
The information age affects all
aspects of economic, social and political activity. If women had access to information and
communications technologies (ICTs), their awareness of what is going on in these areas and
potential input to them, could be greater, which would ultimately facilitate a more
equitable socio-economic development process.
The Fourth World Conference on
Women (Beijing, 1995) stressed the need to improve women's information networks. Community
information centres are places where women could acquire knowledge and share experiences.
Such centres promote networking and can help strengthen women's associations.
Participants were asked to discuss the following questions:
- How could the establishment of information centres for women
also permit knowledge to be generated and enhance women's own creativity and output?
- Could community information centres be the solution to
eradicating illiteracy among African women?
- How could information centres be integrated into other
structures that women use, such as health centres?
- Can information centres allow women to become more independent
in the technological fiels (training, equipment maintenance etc.) as compared to other
- How could the centres be linked with similar existing
structures or with other places of information and communications facilities, such as
telecentres, community radio stations or radio clubs?
- How could community information centres serve as places where
individuals and collective decision-making techniques are learned and knowledge management
is taught in the context of a dialogue between men and women?
STRATEGIC ACTIONS RECOMMENDED
1. Community information centres would be an extension of
already-existing community structures such as schools, health centres or religious
establishments; however, oral tradition, computer science and multi-media capabilities
need to be brought together.
2. Experience needs to be documented and built upon.
3. Information centres should be set up in disadvantaged
urban and rural areas following an analysis of information needs and priorities of the
community regarding areas such as health and agriculture. They should be managed using a
4. Participation based on a dialogue between men and women
needs to be developed in order to foster social change and to alter men's perception of
5. Attention should be given to crosscutting applications.
For example, the transmission of data generated by women at the local level would permit
the inclusion of such data in national accounts and statistics.
INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES AS TOOLS FOR
Starting form the premise that
women would increase their participation in public life and the decision-making process
through a democratic form of government, the use of Information and Communication
Technologies (ICTs) as tools for democratization was identified as an important issue on
which to focus and share ideas during the conference.
Working group participants
discussed how democratization would be defined. Important elements were:
· Inclusion: A process of
governance which brings together all elements of society and incorporates their viewpoint
into the decision-making. Diversity and difference of opinion in the political, economic,
social and cultural spheres are welcome and seen as positive
· Partnership: Decisions
are reached after evaluating input from all sectors of society. There is a two-way
information and communication flow between the political leadership and citizens.
Emerging technologies can
facilitate access to information by policy-makers as well as those who will be affected by
the policies made, making possible real democracy - government by the people- through a
two-way information and communication flow.
ICTs can give a voice to the
traditionally voiceless, particularly women, by helping them to participate in
decision-making on issues affecting their lives and the future of their country, and
enabling them to advocate for accountability from governments and ensuring that
commitments made are implemented.
ICTs are not neutral. They can
widen the gap between those who have access to information and equipment and those who do
not. They should, on the contrary, provide an excellent tool for Africans to network and
work towards solving problems, such as the resolution of conflicts, which have a
particularly detrimental effect on women and children on the continent.
The challenge of using ICTs to
facilitate the process of democratization lies in using them to build solidarity, giving a
voice to the most marginalized in society and bringing women from the domestic and private
arena into the public one.
The following questions guided discussion on the above
issues in a working group:
- Who produces information? How do we keep ICTs from widening
the gap between the owners and creators of these technologies and local communities' women
- How do we use information to empower women to decide for
themselves and for their communities?
- Can ICTs enable women to understand the relationship between
the local and the national realm and between the national and the global one. In preparing
development plans and compiling statistics, can the State use ICTs to elicit local
- Can ICTs promote democratization without carrying the
message of the majority?
- How can constructive debate be promoted to influence
decision-making, using information as an advocacy tool? What are relevant examples from
- How could different gender relationship be inculcated in the
new generation, locally and nationally?
- How can ICTs be effectively used as a tool for Africans to
network in working towards resolving conflicts in Africa?
- How can experiences with information technologies be
systematically documented at the national level in order to provide for networking among
partners such as ministries dealing with women's affairs and civil society institutions so
that various measures can be implemented for the advancement of women?
STRATEGIC ACTIONS RECOMMENDED
From the group discussion on the
above issues, the following strategic actions were recommended in the context of using
ICTs for democratization ensuring that:
1. ICTs are appropriate, widely
available, accessible and affordable for women in Africa. Constraints are the low level of
development of Africa's communication infrastructure, the low-level of awareness among
women of the issue at stake and general lack of ICT skills.
2. Democratic processes,
particularly in policy-making, to enable technologies to be directed towards the
achievement of economic and social goals and to ensure that sustainable development is
3. Collaborative action among
governments, civil society and partners to achieve an equitable information society in
Africa instead of relying ssolely on market forces is sustained.
4. Use of ICTs to help inform
women so that they can make appropriate decisions that affect them and their communities.
For example, women can be made aware of how the legal system and parliaments function
5. Use of ICTs to help women
appreciate the relationship between the local and the national scene and between the
national and the global bodies.
6. The need to allow access to
ICT-based information through local languages is addressed.
7. Use of information as an
advocacy instrument to promote constructive debate and influence policy, as well as to
promote, at the community and national level, a different gender relationship within the
Examples of how African women are currently using ICTs:
Uganda's Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE) uses information gathered by women parliamentarians from the Internet to address essential issues, and as input in reviewing laws enacted by parliament;
Women's Net in South Africa is providing, training and building the capacity of policy-makers and members of civil society to influence policy-making processes so as to redress gender-based inequalities in that country. Information is provided on how to draft proposals for parliamentary committees and how bridge the gap between those who have technology and those who do not.
The Information and Experience-sharing Project on Conflict Prevention and Resolution could be linked to the OAU Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution.
IMPACT OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION
TECHNOLOGIES ON WOMEN'S WORK
In the economic arena, African
women make a vital contribution both in food production and processing as well as in
business. ICTs could widen the horizons of African women, particularly with regard to
their business activities by giving them an understanding of globalization and regional
integration and the impact at the national and local levels.
ICTs could also be used for the
preparation of quantitative indicators, reflecting the actual economic contribution of
women and which can be integrated into national accounts.
Access to information
technologies would enable women to:
· Access information on what is
happening in other communities would enable them to share experiences, adopt good ones,
and help decision-makers to link macro-economic policy-making to grassroots initiatives.
· Access information relevant to
agricultural production, processing, marketing, food transport and storage, disease
control as well as environmental management.
The working group was asked to
discuss the following questions:
Are there cases in which women
entrepreneurs have developed alternate networks using ICTs, based on their understanding
of the phenomenon of globalization?
How can ICTs enable women to
integrate themselves more efficiently into the subregional and regional economic spheres,
secure access to information regarding capital flows, the cost of raw materials and
currency exchange rates?
How can we deepen the marketing
experience of business-women by enabling them to expand the markets to which women already
have access and in addition, use virtual markets to sell their products and to link up
with potential partners and customers?
What types of education and
training can be tailored to the needs of specific groups of women and how can ICTs provide
young women a means of access to non-traditional occupation?
How do w launch projects on
South-South and North-South networking?
Would the mastery of ICTs
provide women alternative employment and how could women responsible for feeding their
communities become the architects of national food self-sufficiency through ICTs?
Working group participants
highlighted the following:
The importance of documenting
experiences in Africa of how ICTs can facilitate women's work
The lack of awareness among
women of the importance of the information revolution and also infrastructural
Difficulties in regards to
access, in large part due to prohibitive costs and aalso due to low rates of literacy
STRATEGIC ACTIONS RECOMMENDED
The following strategic actions
were recommended, based on the requirement for technologies to be appropriate and to allow
for the building of human and organizational capacities at the local level.
group formulated the following
strategic actions in response to the above issues:
1. Develop information bases to
allow the sharing of initiatives, develop models that the women can discuss. The bases
could be at a regional level.
2. The policies should be
specific for Africa; education and training to develop the capacity of women.
3. Training should target to
develop professionalism and reach the youth.
4. Develop ICTs that promote
regional integration and networking.
5. Use ICTs to promote the
expansion of local markets, and provide direct access for women producers to international
markets and productive resources (the virtual souk).
6. Using lessons learnt from
pilot projects, install telecentres in the more underdeveloped areas.
Source: UN Economic Commission for Africa