Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Information and Communication Technology: Gender Issues in Developing Nations

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Information and Communication Technology: Gender Issues in Developing Nations

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the space of one generation, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has changed the global macroeconomic landscape. Business leaders, educators, and politicians all have watched as formerly subsistence economies leveraged ICT to become indispensable knowledge resources to the titular heads of world commerce. Countries that less than ten years ago relied on foreign aid to feed their people, today supply value-added information services to mature and nascent economies alike. Developing nations, whose exports once consisted primarily of raw materials and farming production, now proclaim to the world the technical proficiency of their knowledge workers. Even in societies where ICT has just begun to take root, rural villagers make use of the Internet to bring their goods to the international market.

Nations that capitalized on the information technology age have recognized significant return on their initial ICT investments. We as an interdependent global community have experienced in real terms the positive economic change that shared understanding and open communication have fostered in formerly marginalized societies. With ICT, the knowledge required to make economic revolution happen can now be accessed by developing nations, bringing about a level of education and economic opportunity hitherto unimagined.

The economic benefits of an educated society have long been tied to improved standards of living; numerous studies have linked the two, and few would argue that the increased wealth of a nation's people is not a positive externality of education. Over the past ten years, ICT has contributed to increased education levels, and, by implication, income levels, around the world. From introducing distance learning to the first-time student in a developing nation, to job-skill training in countries resurrecting their domestic industries, ICT has facilitated communication and vital knowledge transfer across six continents.

Still, even with the accessibility to educational resources that ICT represents, some countries elect not to take full advantage of ICT's potential with respect to nearly half their own people. Women, on average, represent fifty percent of a given nation's populace; yet in most developing countries, women represent far less than fifty percent of the nation's intellectual capital, skilled labor pool, and economic contribution. For reasons beyond the scope of this discussion, some nations do not afford the same freedoms and opportunities for education to all their citizenry. Consequently, these nations overlook fifty percent of their most valuable natural resource: human potential. Developing nations experiencing skilled labor shortages have heard their women express the desire and ability to learn and work. However, in many countries, strong cultural prohibitions still exist against educating women and allowing them access to employment. These same countries lament their dearth of communication technology workers, even as they hear their women beg to be given economic opportunities. That extending opportunity to women results in a lessening of opportunity for men is a specious argument. When a country fully leverages all its assets, discovery leads to innovation, resulting in greater opportunity for everyone.

Women represent three quarters of all heads of households in developing nations, and for every one woman in poverty there are four children, (UNICEF, 2001). Perhaps out of habit, developing nations have continued to spend scarce economic resources on the consequences of illiteracy, yet have not taken the one step that could solve the problem in one generation: educating their women.

World leaders have for decades asserted education as a basic human right. The rulers of some developing nations have felt otherwise. The following discussion recognizes and affirms the importance of a country remaining true to its culture; it would demonstrate unqualified hubris to recommend the export of Western values as a model for achieving economic parity across nations. …

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