Magazine article UN Chronicle

Bridging the Gender Gap: Women in the Information Society

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Bridging the Gender Gap: Women in the Information Society

Article excerpt

Many countries have experienced rapid changes in the information and telecommunication sectors. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been rapidly introduced to the world in what many call the ICT revolution, and this could play a resounding role in transforming the quality of life. They have enormous potential to improve the delivery of services, increase productivity, raise living standards, and transform economies and development opportunities as they may exist in education, governance, environmental management, health, financial services and the private sector.

It is increasingly apparent though that the benefits of ICTs are unevenly distributed between and within countries, to a large extent because of the differences in access and the knowledge-base needed for their optimal use. There continues to be evidence of a "digital divide" between those who have and those who have no access to ICTs or the knowledge and training needed to use them. Modern ICTs can influence, as well as redress, imbalances in society by the way they are designed, produced, used and exploited.

The digital divide continues and the reasons are numerous. Not only are there dangers of a growing digital divide due to a lack of access, resulting from economic or geographic situations, but there is also seemingly a lack of training opportunities to adapt to the new technologies. So there remains a small minority of society that has access to the global ICT network, and while this number is expected to grow, the divide may continue to widen if the primary concerns of differential access and benefits are not addressed.

The digital divide is seemingly gender-based too. Women are certainly not using ICTs optimally. Therefore, they seem to have been left behind or aside and remain, especially the rural-based, on the underprivileged side of this divide. In a patriarchal society where men are the dominant players in decision-making, women normally have not been at the forefront of development, and consequently they face more challenges in embracing new ways, which in this case would be the new ICTs. Society has always promoted and favoured men in education and training, formal employment and other areas. However, in many country economies, women shoulder most productive, reproductive and community management responsibilities, many of which are not remunerated or reflected in national statistics.

The lower status of women in comparison to men is due to gender imbalances that arise from unequal opportunities and access to and control over productive resources and benefits. Statistics in Uganda snow that although women constitute 70 to 80 per cent of the agricultural labour force, only 7 per cent own land and 30 per cent have access to and control over proceeds. (1)

Gender imbalances are further reflected in the education sector, formal-sector employment and government structures. There are persistent gender-specific inequalities between men and women at all levels.

The gender digital divide in Uganda is apparent and reflected in the lower number of women users of ICT (see chart below) and also in the lower number of women students in ICT and science subjects, as compared to men.

In Uganda, for instance, at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology, only 20 females--11 per cent of the total number of science students--have graduated from the Faculty of Science in Education since the degree was introduced in 1997 In the Department of Computer Studies, the average has been 33 per cent. …

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