Summary: Working Group on the Information Society
The Pioneering Role of Women in the Information Society
||17 July 2002, 14:00 – 15:30
||ITU - H
Moderator(s):|| • Ms. Rosa Delgado, Internet Society - Devig (ISOC)|
Presenters/ Participants:|| • Ms. Moana Sinclair, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR)|
• Ms. Susan Teltscher, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
• Ms. Gisèle Yitamben, Association for Support to Women Entrepreneurs (ASAFE)
||Julie Archer (ICVolunteers)
||Jeroen Van Hove (SCI and Mandat International)
||Women, computers, computer literacy, Internet, e-commerce, information society, information and communications technology, ICT. digital divide
While the “digital divide” may also refer to the fact that women generally have lower levels of computer literacy, it is also due to lack of education, poverty and lack of access to the technology that there are fewer of the world’s women using computers. Once women have that training and access, however, they are using
computers to educate themselves, network with others, create business opportunities for themselves and other women, and share their knowledge.
Ms. Moana Sinclair of United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR) introduced herself as a Maori woman from New Zealand and opened with a bit of history on her people. She said that Maori women were once recognized as leaders in their communities, before the arrival of Europeans. Maori women were actually pioneers in information society because as leaders, they had a responsibility to share information with their tribes. Maori women also had their own newspaper early last century, which was started as part of the suffrage movement.
Young Maori women today are increasingly recovering their status by taking leadership roles once again in their communities, and there are currently three Maori women represented in the New Zealand parliament. With the New Zealand government's official recognition of the Maori language, Maori people are now using their language on radio, newspapers, on the Internet and in their own schools.
As a lawyer and journalist, Ms. Sinclair has been seconded to the UNHCHR to establish an indigenous media network. With representatives of indigenous people from other countries, she has created a multinational, multi-language website
(www.indigenousmedia.org) for the sharing of indigenous news. They are also working to create alliances with other indigenous media and with members of the mainstream media, who do not usually pick up indigenous news
The second speaker, Ms. Susan Teltscher of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
(UNCTAD), indicated that her talk on women and information and communication technologies (ICT) comes largely from a chapter in an upcoming e-commerce report, to be published by UNCTAD in November, 2002. She observed that new technologies can provide business women with many advantages – increased productivity, enhanced capacity, greater avenues for communication, and a reduction in time and money spent.
There are well-documented examples of successful IT-enabled businesses run by women, such as Internet cafés, kiosks and phone shops. However, there are also often significant barriers to women accessing the advantages of ICT, such as poverty, lower levels of education, lack of a second language, inaccessibility of computers, and the “digital divide” - the often male-dominated nature of the ICT
Outsourcing provides a great deal of employment to women in customer service centres, data processing and transcription services - areas with a high growth rate. However, these types of jobs require low skill levels and as a result have few opportunities for women to move up. As well, since the bulk of outsourced work comes from English-speaking countries such as the USA and the UK, women in these jobs need to speak
While Internet use by women is catching up to the level of men in the USA, Europe and parts of Asia, women in the poorest countries and the Middle East have extremely low rates of computer literacy. This is often due to low levels of education and the inaccessibility of the technology. As a result, said Ms. Teltscher, policy-makers need to go right back to basics by focusing on equal access to education. As well, PC and Internet access in schools, universities and public places such as libraries and community centres can ensure both accessibility and the encouragement of girls and young women to increase their computer
Ms. Gisèle Yitamben of the Association for Support to Women Entrepreneurs (ASAFE), the third speaker, talked about a computer centre she helped to start to support female entrepreneurs in Douala, Cameroon. After attending a meeting on new technologies and learning about how the Internet could help to support the businesses of female entrepreneurs, she returned to Douala to share this information. With the aid of a Canadian non-governmental organization, Network Intelligence for Development, and funding from the Japanese government, she and other female entrepreneurs developed a strategy for a computer resource centre, which would provide computer access, instruction and support to women. The following year, the centre was ready with a cyber café for women on the ground floor and trainers available to teach and assist. These resources enabled business women to display their products, such as necklaces and table cloths, over the Internet.
In 2000, the first Gender Networking Academy was held in the centre to provide computer training for young women. Men were also permitted to attend, though they had to pay double the price! With the partnership of CISCO Systems, they were able to provide webmaster training and teach computer maintenance skills.
Ms. Yitamben says that when they started out, they did not know anything about technology, but that with the assistance of a Canadian NGO, private ICT businesses, international funding and the International Trade Centre, they were able to start a thriving training and business centre. The centre now acts as an incubator for small women-run businesses, as well as a think tank, training centre, micro-credit source, consultation and resource centre, and cyber café. It also exports women’s products using the Internet, conducts market research and runs a small translation business. They have provided training and resources to women from other African countries, such as Niger, so that they can start similar centres, and they are now planning to open satellite centres in the outlying areas of
ICT can provide many advantages for women who have child care responsibilities or who live far from urban centres by providing them with opportunities to work from home by “teleworking.” However, due to the invisibility of women who work at home and the stereotypes associated with women in the home, it has proven more difficult for some
"teleworking" women to advance.
Ms. Yitamben noted that the state of Cameroon is not yet computerized, and as a result it is a challenge for young people to get computer training in school. They have been able to accomplish this themselves through the computer centre, but since higher level computer training requires the school baccalaureate, there are more young men than women eligible.
One participant asked what provisions had been made to ensure the financial autonomy and sustainability of the women’s computer centre in Douala. Ms. Yitamben explained that they currently have a five-year agreement with Microsoft, which is sending trainers, training material and some financing. This will increase their ability to create marketable skills and business opportunities out of the centre to earn money, such as supporting local website creation and maintenance needs, which they believe will grow. They are also exporting the idea of the centre by training women from other African countries.
Another participant asked what exactly the business possibilities are for women using the Internet. Ms. Teltscher responded that she believes that computer use encourages sustainable economic growth by providing opportunities to sell products over the Internet, access new markets, conduct market research, communicate with customers cheaply, expand domestic markets where there are fewer delivery challenges, and save time and costs.
The Chair, Ms. Rosa Delgado of Internet Society/DevSIG (ISOC), concluded that the majority of women in developing nations are excluded from significant job and higher educational opportunities through their lack of computer literacy and often a basic lack of education. This is compounded by the fact that women and indigenous people are often passed over by mainstream media, laws and governments. Ms. Teltscher emphasized the need for governments to focus on equal access to education. Another solution is to increase awareness of gender issues by those who design national-level ICT strategies and to ensure that women are amongst these policy-makers. Ms. Delgado suggested that civil society organizations could make great progress by ensuring the “mainstreaming of gender” in their own policies. She also observed that women must promote ICT literacy amongst themselves, which was supported by Ms. Yitamben’s experience of sharing her knowledge with other female entrepreneurs in Cameroon and Ms. Sinclair’s experience of establishing an indigenous news website.
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