“Getting women and girls into ICT is vital for a number of reasons. ICTs facilitate the provision of education and job training; and they also improve access to healthcare and participation in economies and civil societies. And in a world where 95% of all jobs now have a digital component, encouraging women and girls in ICT is critical.” – Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) brought numerous changes in the way people communicate, do business, and have social interactions. The ICT sector has created a large number of jobs, as well as different types of challenging careers. In the ICT sector, emphasis is on intellectual rather than physical resources, thus this industry is non-discriminating. ICTs create equal employment opportunities for men and women, minorities and disabled people. In particular, gender equality and women’s empowerment can be advanced through digitalization, providing women with opportunities to find and share information, access health assistance and educational services, generate income, collaborate and have their voices heard. A lack of access to technology prevents many women from fully benefiting from the digital opportunities.
The digital era
ICTs comprise a complex set of goods, applications and services used to produce, process, distribute and transform information. The term ICT has been used to indicate technological innovation and convergence in information and communication, leading to the development of the information society, changed in terms of social interaction, business practices, political engagement, health, education, leisure and entertainment. New technologies have a vast potential for empowerment, for reducing poverty, improving governance, overcoming isolation and providing a voice. There is a growing evidence on the benefits of ICT for women’s lives, in particular in four different fields: education, health, politics and economy.
Education is an area where all the countries are applying new technologies, exploiting computers, internet, radio and television, for formal and informal learning, distance education to support and enhance training of women and girls. There are still a lot of gender gaps in education, due to domestic traditional life, lack of mobility and sociocultural ways of thinking that downplay the importance of women’s education. ICTs will be beneficial in enhancing women’s scholarship all over the world.
ICTs have a vast potential to facilitate global, regional and national health initiatives for women. In developing countries, health promoters have used technological devices to disseminate health-related information, including sexual and reproductive rights. ICTs have the potential to deliver locally adapted health information to women through community access points.
People all around the world are using ICTs in extraordinary ways for networking, political actions and initiatives. Women and their organizations have used ICTs strategically to promote their rights. Women networks are exploiting new technologies to intensify the voices of marginalized women. The emergence of ICTs has facilitated the establishment of alternative organizations and NGOs dealing with issues that are not adequately communicated by traditional media. Internet has brought women’s points of view to the public opinion, with numerous websites targeting specifically women. ICTs can contribute to enhance women’s networking for social and political advocacy, strengthening women’s participation in the political process, supporting the work of women officials and increasing women’s access to government and its services.
ICTs enhance women’s economic empowerment by creating business and employment opportunities for women as owners or managers of ICT’s projects. Digitalization gives also women the possibility to work remotely from their homes, while taking care of their families. Additionally, ICTs will create an environment where women feel comfortable participating in activities and initiatives to defend their needs and to support their priorities. ICTs also offer economic opportunities in terms of finances and financial decision-making: digital financial services accelerate financial inclusion, offering a solution to overpass the gender gap in account ownership and increase formal financial activities in both the volume and the value of transactions. Digitization can produce a favourable environment that promotes transparent, affordable, accessible and qualified financial products and services for women.
While ICTs are recognized as tools for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, a “gender divide” has been pointed out: a lower number of women uses ICTs compared to men. Some constraints affect both women and men, such as lack of infrastructures, connection costs, lack of computer and language skills. Additionally, there are also gender-based determinants which particularly disadvantage women. If the gender dimensions of ICTs are explicitly identified and addressed, ICTs can be a powerful catalyst for political and social empowerment of women and gender equality promotion.
Women’s empowerment can be a crucial driver of macroeconomic growth and stability in the future. Digitalization is instrumental to achieve this goal: ICTs development provides enormous opportunities for women, who should be an integral part and key actors of all decision-making processes. To this end, we should mainstream a gender equality perspective and use ICTs as tools. We should also work on removing the gender barriers to high-tech education and training and promote equal opportunities in ICT-related businesses for men and women.
Women in Business_Bocconi Female Students Association