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).

 

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.