Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Gender, Internet and Computer Access in Remote Central Australian Aboriginal Contexts

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Gender, Internet and Computer Access in Remote Central Australian Aboriginal Contexts

Article excerpt

Abstract: Young Aboriginal women account for the largest and most enthusiastic group of users in the Home Internet Project, which trialled household internet and computer technology access for the first time in three very remote Central Australian communities. Over a two-and-a-half year period researchers regularly employed a life events survey to examine the impacts that internet access might have on community members' everyday lives. Women, especially younger ones, emerged as the main users, managing access to the computers within individual households and performing activities online for other family members. These findings counter trends that gender digital divide researchers originally observed of men and boys as 'early adopters' and greater users of digital technology. They are also the reverse of those from a study of Papunya's shared computing facility that found young men predominated as users. This paper explores the implications of gender identification with particular social spaces--the household in the small communities and the shared facility at Papunya--for digital inclusion in remote Aboriginal contexts. A further dimension of this research is how the association not only of space but of human resources, roles and activities, with different social groups, may impact the equity of internet and computer access and usage within remote Aboriginal communities.

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Young Aboriginal women made up the largest and most enthusiastic group of users in a project investigating the impact of household internet and computer access in some remote Central Australian communities. They played a key role in managing access to computers within individual households, using them for entertainment, administrative and educative purposes, sometimes on behalf of other family members. These findings counter what feminist researchers described more than a decade ago as an emerging 'gender digital divide', a 'phenomenon embracing the disparities in access and use of ICTs [information and communication technologies] by women and men' (Huyer and Sikoska 2003:2). This phenomenon was described as 'one of the most significant inequalities to be amplified by the digital revolution ... cutting] across all social and income groups' (Primo 2003:5; cf. Thas et al. 2007:2). Internationally the trend has been for the male coding of this sector (Huyer and Sikoska 2003:12) and for men, especially younger ones, to be 'early adopters' of internet technology: 'boys in particular ... have thus been generally quicker than girls to lay claim to cyberspace and digital media' (Weber and Dixon 2007:256). In the World Internet Project, Dutton et al. (2007:42) found that 'The stereotypical early users, such as those with personal computers in their homes, were younger men and boys who tended to be fascinated by the technology.' However, in a household internet and computer access trial conducted in three small remote Central Australian communities, we found this was not necessarily the case and that young women appeared to be the dominant users of home-based computers and the internet, while young men were frequent users of a shared computer facility in a major community. (1)

Gender, equity and the digital divide

Current digital divide research seeks to know whether internet use produces tangible outcomes, and whether unequal distribution in the ways that people use the internet is reinforcing existing inequalities; who benefits most from being online in terms of economic, cultural, social and personal wellbeing; and how this links to skills and online engagement (see Helsper at al. 2015 for a useful overview). The digital divide was first used as a measure of how the 'information society' was progressing within and between nation states. Countries began to measure computer and internet ownership as an indicator of knowledge economy growth and competitive advantage, positioning the digital divide as physical access to computers by measuring the number of households and individuals with computers and internet connection. …

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