More women must have access online and be empowered to use ICTs

The economic, social and political empowerment of women has emerged as an important aspect of progress for communities not just at a national scope but also at a global one. Much as the global community has recognised the importance of imparting ICT skills and knowledge to women, there are great factors that are at play in slowing down and hindering gender equality in the ICT sector. Some of these include: – the use of ICTs to violate women’s rights of use and access, using the internet to perpetuate violence and sometimes, the intentional exclusion of women in ICT policy making bodies and legal frame works. Ignoring such serious issues may intensify the already existing gender inequalities. The dynamics that make up this aspect have become paramount to social workers  as they undergo their day to day tasks in community development. As a result, the increasing need to apply some of these features in our everyday lives, has seen the ICT sector gain a mass following.

The 21st century has realised an increase in the use of ICTs to make gender equality, among other features of human rights and democracy a possibility. The ICT sector consists of telecommunications, television, radio broadcasting, computer software, hardware services and electronic media such as internet and electronic mail. Information and communication needs can also be met by more traditional means such as print media, fixed telephone lines, satellite technology, mobile phones and the internet. Traditional technologies have continued to dominate the largest portion of the world’s population.

ICT encompasses technological inventions, convergence in information and communication leading to the development of “information societies”. This usually results into changes in the way people interact socially, carry out economic activities and engage in political activities.ICTs can be used as a medium of engagement and interaction among the citizenry and the government. There is potential to improve interaction between governments and citizens, through fostering transparency and accountability in governance and quality service delivery. Empowering women through ICTs, is the best approach for public and private institutions who wish to effectively address gender specific issues, particularly those related to women and girls.

Empowerment in community development is used in a collective sense. In this case, empowerment of women through ICT refers to ways in which power relationships are changed to the advantage of women. It also includes consciousness raising through ICT skills training, and may require access to material living or ownership. The result of this would be access to resources, balance of power towards women and their needs, control of assets and access to information. Women dominate the illiterate populations in Uganda. It is therefore important to empower them through providing ICT skills and knowledge. This paves way for advancing economic, social and political independence and development through the creation of opportunities for learning, teaching, networking, advocacy and growing collectively as a community in different sectors

The potential for ICTs is very much appreciated globally and is geared towards stimulating economic growth and effective governance. However, its benefits have been unevenly distributed within and between sectors and socio-economic groups. “Digital Divide” explains the difference in resource allocation and capability to access and utilize ICTs for development. In Uganda, the digital divide and factors impeding access to ICT infrastructure, are characterised by low levels of access to technology due to poverty, illiteracy, cultural beliefs and many other factors.

Such factors have not stopped the rapid growth of ICT applications. In fact, the spiralling numbers in ICT applications and users, has generated a number of initiatives to foster its use for development including; well-funded research projects, policy frameworks enabling its use and many more activities. Many of these activities are directed towards addressing the gender inequalities in the growing digital divide.

Empowering women through ICT can be a tool for promoting gender equality. However, it is evident that an increase in numbers of persons able to access available ICT infrastructures is not necessarily gender equal. Figures show that women compared with men, still lag behind in staggering numbers when it comes to accessibility and utilization of ICT infrastructures. The reasons for this may range from lack of access to traditional technologies which are more affordable to illiteracy and other issues surrounding ownership and power. Recognising this, many organisations and institutions in Uganda and the rest of the world have conducted research and designed projects that are women specific to avail ICT skills and knowledge in communities. This is aimed at achieving equality at different levels, including: –

Economic growth through access to sector specific market information. This is especially important for women in the informal sector, who find it difficult to access; -market for their goods and services, credit facilities, ICT related jobs and starting up small businesses

Participation in political activities particularly those pertaining to: – Advocacy for basic rights and services, following up on implementation of policies and laws relating to women and representation in decision making institutions

Participating in social development through being part of awareness groups and information producers on issues related to women such as: -Gender based violence, child abuse and protection and women’s rights

It is widely recognised that any development activities should be people centred. Uganda is a fast growing information economy and has the potential to foster even faster development in all spheres related to the make up of a society. More women are ever drawn into the information economy due to many push factors. As a result of this, there is great need for an integration of ICT policies with sectoral policies in areas such as health, education, agriculture, labour and industry, for better service provision. It is also important to align ICT policies with strategies on poverty reduction, national development and implementation of internationally binding agreements on human rights like the Sustainable Development Goals.

Women need more training and capacity building to be able to access new ICT inventions and to phase out the existing realities of the “Digital Divide”. Through these trainings, they will be able to contribute greatly to the development of not just their respective communities, but to Uganda as a whole.

Compiled by H. Susan Atim, Intern -WOUGNET

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