Gender equality in the information society - a review of current literature and recommendations for policy and practice

Abstract

The Internet, the backbone of our global information and communication systems, enables different hardware and software tools to come together as a massive global network. The result is often referred to as the 'information society' or 'network society'. The information society is not gender neutral – it has different implications for women and men, girls and boys, and for the relationships between them. It is therefore vital to reflect more critically on how ICTs are changing the nature of gender relations in social, political, economic and cultural landscapes.

On one hand it is important to harness the potential of increased ICT access and connectivity for transforming gender power relations and empowering women ‐ especially those who are poor, and ICT access is becoming central to the development agenda. On the other hand it is essential that we do not put all our faith in ICTs to ‘solve’ the problem of gender inequalities. With an increasing number of women using smart phones, accessing the Internet, etc., it is often assumed that putting these technologies into their hands will be necessarily empowering. Without discounting any possibilities for gender‐transformative change in the information society, it is important to examine how techno‐social practices reproduce gender power differentials, what norms are privileged in the structures of the Internet, and how the logic of techno‐social spaces is contingent upon the design and production of technological architectures. Above all it is imperative to ensure that ICTs are not manipulated in ways that deepen existing gender inequalities or create new ones. A more nuanced and longer‐term perspective than 'give access, get empowerment' is needed.

This briefing gives a synopsis of the debates in a domain that is increasingly relevant for all development areas. It seeks to critically assess the most recent research on gender and ICTs, adopting a perspective that draws from the conceptual frameworks of information society, 'network society' and 'knowledge society' studies. Changes brought about by the network society mean it is important to rethink some foundational concepts of gender and social transformation, particularly in relation to questions of identity, community, knowledge, and public and private spheres. These can no longer be understood in terms of fixed, physical places and relationships ‐ rather they need to be seen as flexible, constantly in flux and affected by diverse influences.

The briefing starts by discussing data on the gender gap in access to ICTs, so as to deepen understanding of the underlying barriers constraining women's participation in the information society. It moves on to a discussion of women’s rights and the empowerment capacity of the internet. It then explores the gender and ICT dimensions of key development issues, notably: women's economic empowerment, ICT‐enabled learning for women and girls, women's health and ICTs, gender‐responsive governance, women's public‐political participation, violence against women and girls, and sexual rights. The next section provides a ‘roadmap’ for developing a rights and citizenship approach to Gender and ICTs policy. Two interrelated issues ‐ meaningful access to digital technologies for women and girls, and open and egalitarian digital architecture – are discussed. Finally the briefing identifies gaps in knowledge and sets out directions for policy and programming.

Citation

Gurumurthy, A.; Chami, N. Gender equality in the information society - a review of current literature and recommendationsfor policy and practice. BRIDGE, IDS, Brighton, UK (2014) 50 pp.

Gender equality in the information society - a review of current literature and recommendations for policy and practice

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