Treating technology as a culture has
enabled us to see the way in which technology is expressive of masculinity and
how, in turn, men characteristically view themselves in relation to these
machines (Grint and Gill).

The
ever-progressive field of Information and communications technology has been
acclaimed as the new means for economic and social development. The boost in
technological sector is the most celebrated one as it holds major contributions
for introduction of new and highly interactive forms of learning, imparting
knowledge, provision of better health services, more efficient strategies of
generating income and improved governance mechanisms. Numerous opportunities
are anticipated from this sector for women, especially in developing countries,
like Africa and India, inspired by the saying ‘If you educate a woman, you
educate a nation’; which means that investing in a woman will not only benefit
her exclusively, but will also contribute towards the betterment of the
community and the society as a whole. Digitization and access Information technology
are being envisioned for the masses. Therefore, it is only fair that all strata
(men and women) benefit equally from the advantages offered by new and upcoming
technologies and the products and processes created as a result of their
implementation. Still, women are more vulnerable to discrimination and less
likely to attain growth, owing to the gender bias that prevails in society.
This is one of the key factors contributing to the phenomenon of digital
divide. The term “digital divide” refers to the gap between
individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different
socio-economic levels with regard to both their opportunities to access
information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the
Internet for a wide variety of activities. (OECD Glossary of statistical terms)

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ICT
plays a significant role with regard to gender equality as one of the factors
that gender equality is based on is socialization, and in many communities,
women are still not permitted to access ICT because often in these communities,
use of technology is regarded suitable only for men. Due to lack of awareness,
young women do not receive enough encouragement to take part in activities that
are conventionally regarded ideal for men. Sadly, gender issues, transient in
nature, are often sexualized in current cultures of media production and any
structural injustice in the media space is flattened out. Consequently, gender
justice is scarcely debated as a matter spanning across economic, cultural,
social and political imperatives. (Gurumurthy, Chami and Thomas ). The ability
to use ICTs adequately will help women keep an equal foothold. ICTs defy the
predefined gender- biased notions and beliefs. South Africa is a strong example
in this case. Five years ago, the Information and communications technology
sector in South Africa was largely male dominated, with people having a
perception of women as being incapable for such a job. But, contrary to the
belief, women have entered this sector and excelled in the field. The success
of women in the field can particularly be credited to their ability of
efficient multitasking, which women possess innately (Palitza, Erwin and
Godia). ICTs enable women to access and spread awareness about gender sensitive
content. Information should echo the opinion of women and be pertinent to their
lives. ICT contributes towards woman empowerment by providing them access to
information, allowing them to work flexibly, especially in cases where they are
primary caregivers. The lack of information in past limited the choices for
women, whereas now, with open access to ICTs, they can educate themselves,
connect with other people to create solidarity and increase awareness on
various levels.

 

It
will however be, a laborious and time-consuming journey to make ICT available
to the masses, in all sense of the word. There are a number of obstacles that
women will have to overcome in order to access ICT. Ignorance, financial
constraints, gender bias and socio-cultural norms that do not prioritize
education, are some of the main causes due to which women are deprived off
basic education and consequently, use of technology. A person’s work
environment is strongly correlated to the ease of access to digital resources.
This implies that a better and technology centric work environment would offer
opportunities to access digital resources more, as compared to a traditional
work environment. However, qualified and educated women fall as exceptions as
their usage of internet resources is as abundant as that of equally educated
men, clearly implying that if given an education and the means to achieve it,
women will use internet just as much as men, thus demolishing the claim that
lack of ability is the cause of women not utilizing internet. (Antonio and Tuffley).
Another problem associated with women accessing the internet is cyber attacks
on them in the virtual sphere. Cyber-bullying and harassment are some of the
new tactics adopted for supressing women who are courageous enough to put forth
their opinion via the virtual medium. Any narrative that threatens the idea of
patriarchal supremacy is silenced and supressed.  

 

Women’s
access to ICTs can be facilitated by provision of at least basic understanding
of computer systems. Women, especially in rural areas, play a vital part in the
production and distribution of food and if proper knowledge regarding product
information, pricing tactics, marketing strategies and supply chain logistics
options will give them a competitive edge and consequently, elevate wealth and
economic development. The barrier to education can be eradicated with the help
ICTs. With a plethora of streams to choose from, women can develop skills in
any number of fields through distance education and open online courses. One
such organization, aiding in creating opportunities for person growth and
ensuring quality education for women is Intel Corporation. It collaborated with
multiple organizations to upgrade the academic framework across Asia pacific
and created the Easy Steps Program, for learners with little or no prior
computer experience. The program emphasizes on skill training in running
internet searches, using mail and word processor for creating essential
documents, working with spreadsheets for better management of business and personal
expenditures. The program inculcates rich digital literacy skills and allows
women to assimilate these skills for growth in their professional lives.

 

When
we mention the facilitation of ICTs for women, the obstructions faced in
guaranteeing that rural women get access to and make use of it, should also be
analysed. In some rural areas in Uganda, where the government has put in
efforts to launch telecentres, a poorly built infrastructure and lack of
electricity remain a problem. Provision of monetary motivation or incentive is
encouraged, in order to attract more rural women. Women in these areas should
be made to acknowledge the merits of ICTs and the options around its usage.
They need to be assisted in comprehending the various roles ICTs can play
through the medium of effective training. Not only technical professions use
ICTs, but rural women can use budget friendly and economical alternatives to
market their products and expand their business. Unequal opportunities and
prejudices are a major cause of marginalization of women in the ICT sector,
therefore there is a dire need of amalgamating gender and ICT policies. South
Africa, for instance, is a great example of countries where gender is
integrated in all ICT policies, demanding quotas of 54% women in the sector.
These policies are not only implemented, but also closely monitored.  (Palitza, Erwin and Godia).

 

It
is very evident from various initiatives taken in developing nations around the
world, that women are capable of and in many cases, yearn to get involved and
benefit from ICTs. But the plight of women living in these male dominant
societies is such that they are either forcefully denied access to technology,
or they themselves don’t acknowledge it because of ignorance due to illiteracy.
The result of not having equal involvement with internet technology as men, are
notable at both, a personal and societal level. If an otherwise capable and
educated woman is barred from progressing professionally and personally, beyond
her conventional household roles, she is highly unlikely to exploit her
potential to the limit. Thus, the impact of such a woman not being able to
participate in activities promoting socio-economic progress will further
diminish the economies of such, often struggling, developing countries.
Evidence strongly recommends that education and immersive interactive training
are the key solutions. A woman who is educated to at least secondary level
acquires both the ability and the desire to engage with the possibilities that
Internet technologies offer (Antonio and Tuffley). Merely being able to access
ICTs is not the only solution. The root cause of digital divide within the
genders can only be overcome if women are made well acquainted with information
relevant to the utilization, benefits and resources to convert the access into
comprehensive use. The increasing availability of high quality and often free
education on-line is likely to improve this situation in a positive feedback
loop. The more women engage with technology, the better educated they become
and the more likely they will be to engage in activities that benefit
themselves, their families, and their communities. They will then be more
likely to undertake the education that teaches better living standards and a
host of other benefits. Working against the trend towards greater technology
participation by women in developing countries are the deeply entrenched
societal roles of women being primarily concerned with child-rearing and
housekeeping. Any changes that occur will have to take place despite
neutralising reactions within these societies that work to maintain the status
quo. For future study, there is a clear need for research to be done to more
fully understand the socio-cultural factors that both inhibit and encourage the
engagement of women with technology. This understanding would be useful in
devising strategies that incrementally improve the situation over time.
(Antonio and Tuffley)