Why Gender Matters: from access to empowerment
Unequal access to ICTs mirror actual socio-economic and political inequalities in society. The gender digital divide is thus a reflection of complex issues permeating the world in which we live. Not surprisingly, the gender digital divide is vast in low-income countries where ICT penetration levels are also low.
While ICTs and the Internet can offer new solutions to traditional development gaps, access to the latest technologies alone cannot adequately address overall gender inequalities. In fact, it is entirely possible that the gender digital divide can be closed in the foreseeable future while gender equality is not achieved across all critical development areas.
But ICTs and the Internet can empower women and foster gender equality by offering them innovative platforms, information, and knowledge that can help them take ownership of their own lives, promote gender equality agendas and policies and increase their choices to improve their own lives.
ICTs thus have the potential to alleviate some of the barriers faced by women, including illiteracy, poverty, time scarcity, lack of mobility, cultural and social norms and constraints on voice (including public voice and participation in decision-making) in societies characterized by male-domination and high degree of social control including surveillance of women’s physical and social mobility. Addressing existing non-digital gender inequalities with new ICTs is thus also critical to empower women.
More girls and women need to be involved as makers of technology, not mere consumers of it, to ensure specific gender gaps are adequately addressed. Digital skills are the new literacy that can also empower women. The larger question today is how do we make this happen on a sustainable and in a scalable fashion.
Traditional indicators and measurement have tended to focus on access. While this is undoubtedly important, we now need to measure the impact of ICTs in closing traditional gender gaps and focus on impact, not access. Today, big data and the growing availability of information are providing more, and more profound, insights into how men and women are using the Internet differently.