Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Women and battle for place in ICT

Features of the week:

A colloquium was held recently in Lagos to deliberate on the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) to achieve women agenda in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). REMMY NWEKE reports that African women are still yearning for their rightful place in ICT sector.

“At present, a huge gender gap exists in access to communications. Infrastructure is concentrated in urban areas while the majority of women live in rural areas,” Mrs. Ibukun Odusote, Director, Information Technology, Federal Ministry of Information and Communications, Abuja.

Canvassing for more women in ICT:
ABOVE was the submission of one of the concerned Nigerian women on efforts at “Mobilizing Nigerian Women for the Millennium Development Goals” as they agitated for more of their gender participation within the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) sector.

With the above premise, Mrs. Odusote took participants at the recent forum organised by Technology Africa into the world of women in ICT, especially in what the future portends for this gender in attaining the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ultimately by 2015. Although Nigeria alongside other developing countries of the world recently agreed to peg the deadline at 2012, in order to give room for reassessment by 2015.

In every sector of human and institutional development, she noted that the role of women is pivotal, hence, its imperative that women cannot be left out if the goals are to be really achieved.

She also underscored the fact that by the emergence of ICT revolution, “importance of mainstreaming gender in ICTs cannot be overemphasized.” Adding that it would amount to a grave mistake to assume that the benefits of Information Society will trickle down to the marginalized communities, precisely women living in the rural areas, given the huge gap that exist in having access to communication tools.

Women mentoring relevance to MDGs:
Mrs. Odusote who was the nation’s first point of contact for the .ng country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD), outlined some relevant MDGs to women, including eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases as well as ensuring environmental sustainability and budding of a global partnership for development.

In order to mobilize Nigerian women against the backdrop of the IT age, she outlined the need for a life cycle approach, mentoring, MDGs and ICT for Development (ICT4D); service delivery, promoting education and public health services bundled with ICT.
Life cycle approach for girls, she said, must be encouraged to embrace technology and deconstruct gender stereotypes before school age, noting that gender-based role conceptions and so-called division of labour on the basis of such conceptions between men and women are formed in early childhood.

“This is one of the reasons why we cannot overemphasize the significance of early intervention,” she said, stressing that early childhood educators play a major role in the promotion of gender equality.

According to her, mentoring is vital to encourage people to manage their own learning so as to maximize their potential, develop skills, improve performance and grow to be the person they want to be. She invited successful women to mentor others, especially younger ones by sharing direct experience about the benefits and difficulties of studying and working in a dedicated sector like ICT.

This, Mrs. Odusote said, must be voluntary and based on learning and encouraging individual responsibility towards the management of self-development, describing a mentor as a “listener, advisor and guide; a person with a flexible approach, prepared to deal with the opportunities of progress and change.”

ICT, she said, plays a fundamental role in promoting investment, which is key to alleviating poverty within the MDG idea, even as Nigeria is currently developing a plan with policy objectives focused on transparent, stable and effective legal operating environment that promotes private sector business and investment in the sector.

Additionally, she said that the policy would engender cultivation of a culture of electronic commerce, thereby making business transactions easy, quick and cost effective.

On e-health, Mrs. Odusote stressed the need to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health through application of ICT, mostly in the rural communities.

“It is accepted that some of the most promising and clearly demonstrated applications for ICT in development are in improvements of health care delivery especially in the facilitation of remote consultation, diagnosis and treatment,” she said, underlining that connectivity is central to e-health initiatives, which must meet the local situations both socially and culturally among others.

China example for Nigerian women enterpreneurs:
For the Chief Executive Officer, Omatek Computers Plc, Mrs. Florence Seriki, its apt for Nigerian women to take a critical look at participating in small and medium scale enterprises especially by going into small scale production of raw materials.
This step, she said, would make them to be significant in the burgeoning ICT sector, advising that women small-scale entrepreneurs could start byway of concentrating on small production such as knots and screws in order to attain global importance as far as ICT is concerned.

Mrs. Seriki also cited an instance with China, where the citizens commenced small businesses by producing little products with specialisation that has made the country reputed among others economically.

She equally counseled Nigerian women on the need to form local clubs and cooperatives to be able to access funds from banks or even set up small-scale enterprises and specialize in the production of raw materials to pave the way for bigger factory in the future.

Mrs. Seriki who presided over the session further cautioned potential women entrepreneurs to shun the desire to make quick money by compromising on standards of whatever product they choose to produce. “Desist from doing so because these products cannot meet global standards,” she warned, noting that ICT is not gender biased.

“So women should take the opportunity of the emerging IT revolution and announce themselves,” she declared.

Nigerian women and vision 20-2020:
Also speaking, research specialist at the National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM), Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Mrs. Omowunmi Hassan, noted that MDGs represents a global consensus on human rights and global development with the potential of dramatically improving the lives of millions of people who are currently denied dignity and opportunity, mostly women, who are also likely to benefit from the Millennium Declaration.

“If urgent action is not taken to address gender issues in development, the MDGs may not be effectively achieved,” she said, pointing out that the call for advancement of women through mobilization should not be for MDGs alone, because it is very crucial to attaining all other development goals like the vision 2020 of the Federal Government and the proposed seven-point agenda of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

The challenge today for women, especially in Nigeria, she said, lays in tapping the windows that open into the virtual world for connecting new platforms for solidarity in a global village ruled by knowledge and information. This, she noted, has become a key resource imperative for socio-economic realities in the 21st century.

“No doubt, there is a wide consensus that new ICTs can play important role in reducing poverty, improving education and healthcare, enhancing political participation and empowerment as well as promoting sustainable development,” Mrs. Hassan said.

Knowledge society and the rest of us:
Emphasising that this position was propelled by the attention of the United Nations in year 2000 to adopt a Ministerial Communiqué on the role of information technology in the context of a knowledge-based economy.

According to her, as long as the majority of the world population still resides in poverty and remains unreached by the benefits of ICT and undefined inequalities. “Within countries and among groups within countries and regions, the most overlooked and ignored disparity is the one that exists between men and women,” she said, highlighting that this contributes immensely to differential access, participation and treatment for both sexes in Information Society.

Elucidating her point, she said that majority of women have no purchasing power, no access to modern means of communication and are further excluded from the mainstream of ICT evolution, adding that such challenges like literacy and education, language barrier, time constraint as women are involved in time-consuming activities in the core economy as well as the cost of accessing ICTs, certain social and cultural norms prohibiting women from using public access points and the urban bias in connectivity.

“Without women’s participation in decision-making in all spheres of life and all levels of society, poverty will not be eradicated nor will all-inclusive information society emerge,” she envisaged, calling on all women to come together in groups and form coalitions that would assist their gender to achieve the peculiar MDGs in various communities, but beginning from the homes.

Women must power-up:
Hence, in powering up, Hassan said, women must synergise to achieve the MDGs, especially with the immense tools and opportunities provided by ICTs, just as this involves prioritisation of women issues in the national agenda, urging women and young girls to appreciate the essence of knowledge and skill development in IT for a competitive advantage, “so that we all can raise our voices like the Uganda women in their ‘Stand up, Speak out’ approach for the purpose of addressing each of the MDGs.

“The sky is our beginning if we can decide to power up using new technologies provided in ICTs to mobilize and enhance the capacity of other women in Nigeria as well as utilizing the basic ICTs at our close reach like the television, radio and the Internet,” she urged.

Women ICT project under-funded:
She was convinced that women’s ICT rights are under-funded and cited an instance with the survey conducted recently by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), which focused on “Where is the money for women’s right? Strategic Initiative,” Hassan noted that this encompassed the field of ICT and gender.

Women’s organisations and movements, she said, have historically been key actors in the advancement of women’s rights, gender equality, social justice and development, even as these roles have been threatened by the growing challenges to obtain resources that support this work.

According to her, AWID was aware of these challenges thus sees that the dominant sense is one of scarcity: too few interested funders, with too little money to support existing women’s rights initiatives. She noted that AWID in the bid to respond positively to this need, went to town with survey in 2006.

The outcome, she said, was that apart from availing them a better understanding of funding trends for women’s rights work and how best to expand the resource base for feminist movement and women’s rights organisations, “They had since learnt that the challenges of the current funding landscape are many; including decreasing support for women’s rights organisations among almost all sectors of funders in most regions.”

While tasking Nigerian women on the way forward, she said, “We must find alternative, more collective ways of approaching resource mobilisation that both expand the pool of resources for women’s organisations generally, and strategically influence donor agendas.”

Women’s Rights Organisations Working on ICT:
Mrs. Hassan further said that based on AWID’s recent survey, for instance, out of the 958 women’s organisations which responded, only 161 mentioned to work on ICT, accounting for 17 per cent of the sample. The regional distribution of these organisations are as follows: Africa 43 per cent, Asia 12 per cent, Latin America and the Caribbean 19 per cent, Middle East and North of Africa 6 per cent, Central/Eastern Europe 16 per cent and 4 per cent in North America and Western Europe. Only one organisation did not identify the region it belongs to.

Within that particular group, two-thirds of the organisations had annual budgets of less than USD50,000 in 2005.

Stressing the importance of women’s organisations within the information society, she cited Nancy Hafkin and Sophia Huyer in their 2007 reports, which stated that it’s crucial to sustainable long term development. “Everyone will benefit if women engage in and actively contribute to the knowledge society. If they do not, society will be deprived of their full creativity, perspective and experience, and women will not be able to play a role in designing, creating and developing science and technology (S&T) that affects every aspect of their lives and determines their life opportunities,” part of the report read.

Additionally, the data was clear that women organisations working on ICT live and work with limited resources.

Above all, it is crucial for all stakeholders to join hands, with all women groups by supporting women globally and in developing economies like Africa, given the large numbers of them yearning for encouragement.

This would also boost women participation in ensuring that most societies like Nigeria gets close to, if not realizing their dream of becoming part of the 20 most developed economies by 2020.

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