" ITREALMS: Women and ICT

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Women and ICT

Features of the week:

To omit Information and Communications Technology in a 10-point resolution of a global gathering of women is one omission too many, reports REMMY NWEKE.

THUS the 49th session of the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) ended its two-week meeting in the United States (US), recently without inclusion of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) among its 10-point resolution adopted as action plan for women.

Though the high-level profile conference was to appraise 10 years of focused measures for gender equality and advancement of women after the inaugural meeting in Beijing in 1995, also known as Beijing+10, it ended by raising some hopes as well as disappointments.

All these sentiments were based on the declarations adopted which centred on women, the girl-child and HIV/AIDS; on reducing demand for trafficking women and girls from all forms of exploitation; on a special rapporteur on laws that discriminated against women; and on mainstreaming a gender perspective into national policies and programmes, as well as integrating a gender perspective in post-disaster relief efforts, with particular reference to the tsunami disaster.

Other resolutions passed by the CSW included the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women; strengthening of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW); economic advancement for women; situation of women and girls in Afghanistan and on indigenous women.

The programme manager Feminist Movements and Organisations at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, Ms Lydia Alpiar, described the outcome presided over by Korean, Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, as something worth celebrating, which obviously was before realizing that ICT was missing in the Beijing+10 declaration.

But the exclusion of ICT specific action plan in the first 10-point adopted was an indication that ICT was of less priority to the women folk, given the high level of representations globally.

ITRealms Online gathered that this CSW session which held from February 28 to March 11, 2005, was graced by about 80 ministers, mostly women; with over 1800 government delegates from 168 member states of the UN. This was in addition to representatives from UN agencies, multilateral institutions and over 2,600 Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). While some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) took part both as observers and as part of government delegation.

In other words, it means that ICT does not rank among its top-10 agenda, at this Information Society (IS) era, which revolution is based on evolving ICT tools deployment and usage. Hence, this tends to further widen the gap between the womenfolk and the rest of the world, which is suspected to be high, and does not help in bridging the digital divide.

One wonders , therefore, how best to achieve the adopted resolutions optimally without ICT, especially when it all centres on emancipation and empowerment based on information which is very critical at this time.

So, the only way to really advance genuine causes in this era must be hinged on ICT deployment to exchange information in matter of seconds, And for the gender-sensitive global assembly of women to omit this was an oversight too many.

Irked by this development, coordinator, Gender and ICT Policy Monitor at the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Ms. Katerina Fialova, in an online based Gender Issues in warm-up to the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), slated to hold in Tunis, in November this year, and otherwise known as Gewsis-implementation, she decried the miss and said, it is critical to engage local grassroots women’s group within diverse ICTs arenas.
Daring to proffer a defense, she attributed the omission to over-loading of the gender movement with other burning issues, though she agreed that ICT may not have been “identified as a priority by them (women) as clearly documented by silence around Section J of the Beijing Platform for action”.

The coordinator stressed that women needed to be part of the processes that define the use of ICT.

She noted that long-term implication would be difficult to decipher generally, even as there are limited analysis of how such issues as women poverty, political empowerment are affected by ICT policy and technological concepts.

Consequently, the best remains to involve more women within ICT for the need to impact technical terms and link ICT policy issues to a very serious issues for women.

ICT advisor to the African Development Consultant, Ms Nnenna Nwakanma, described women as producers of content, consumers, developers and capacity builders in the field.

Though she thinks women are gradually embracing ICT to an appreciable height in Nigeria, just as each woman has a unique life made up of work, family, education, money, health to mention a few.

For Nwakanma, it is ICT that needs to go rural to reach the communities through infrastructure deployment in order to reach women and children.

Whilst other issues including basic education, electricity, affordability, content and the linkage between ICT and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), could now follow. She opined that funding for rural infrastructure development could come from government, the organized private sector (OPS), foreign donors and recovered loot.

Ms Nwanneka Akabuike of the Nigerian-based Knowledge House Africa, pointed out that ICT has been all men’s affair in the labour circle, policy making and access opportunities. She campaigned for setting up of a separate fund to be channeled toward ICT concerns and managed by women.

And considering that some people work for long hours and even at weekends within ICT sector, she noted, “Such policies do not have the interest of women at heart”. Warning that women involvement in ICT may decline if nothing is done urgently, just as she maintained, “If women are not involved in policy making on solidarity funds (such as Digital Solidarity Fund) initiative, they may find it difficult to access the fund and the conditions attached also may be unfavourable”.

Senior Project Manager, Sun Microsystems Incorporated, United States, Ms. Sobana Iyengar, told ITRealms Online that between developed and developing nations, the trend has steadily been changing positively. She believes this would eventually hit the climax when virtually everyone realizes that ICT is a tool capable of stimulating businesses at all levels and learn to use them.

“Entrepreneurship is the key to success for rural programmes,” she said, declaring, “If ICT could help a woman farmer or artisan to sell the produce, definitely it is a buy”.

For Director-General, National Center for Women Development (NCWD) Abuja, Mrs. Esther Mangzha, in an address to a women workshop recently, the role of ICT in education of the girl-child is imperative and has become a defining contemporary force and transformation not only in women but education in all spheres of human endeavour.

In addition to calling on the government to introduce special scholarships for the girls, to study computer sciences, Mrs. Mangzha said, mothers should be encouraged to be, at least, computer literate, even as women and girls should network to keep themselves abreast of events globally and locally.

As said by the immediate past Minister of Women Affairs, Obong Rita Akpan at the workshop on women during the African Preparatory Meeting in Abuja last July, ICT revolution is unlike any other revolutions before now, in that, it is very gender sensitive, even as it is a fact some women today lead many influential ICT firms.

And if well utilized, the revolution is capable of lifting African women as it were into higher level of prosperity with abundant access to knowledge, which indeed is power.

Also dwelling on the need to have women involvement in ICT, especially on proposals for policy making, Senior Operations Officer at the World Bank Group, Global ICT, Ms Samia Melhem, opted for two core categories, namely on MDGs and supporting role of ICT in accelerating the required transformation.

Women, she said, could use ICT to accelerate the realization of MDGs, pointing out that women as producers of the content and knowledge will transform into a national indicator and statistics - related to specific MDGs.

“The first role is that of consumer and would be easier to implement with programmes relating to education, content creation and then funding,” she said.

Stressing on the need to come out with implementation and financing discussions towards achieving some women proposals on ICT to attract good political support, positive result and transformation for the gender.

Therefore, the omission of ICT in the agenda and probably in the resolution of women gathering of such caliber of elite is suicidal, even as it amounts to living in this century without women; given that virtually everything now revolves around ICT.

Thus, it calls for the declaration of state of emergency for women in ICT, if all manner of marginalisation against gender is to be effectively addressed.

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