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Welcome to day three of TechSoup's discussion about the Digital Divide! Today's focus is women and girls and the Digital Divide, but you can certainly feel free to post to any of the folders regarding other aspects of the Digital Divide here on TechSoup. Discussions may continue long after the official "day" ends.
I encourage everyone to be generous with each other regarding trying to understand different points of view on this and other topics. There is not one of us who can speak on this topic with complete and utter authority -- you all have something to say, and I hope you feel comfortable saying it here, even if someone -- or even everyone -- doesn't agree with it.
My co-host for this discussion is Latifat Kadir, who lives in Lagos, Nigeria. She will post more information about herself here momentarily. I am in Bonn, Germany, and that means both Latifat and I are on very different time zones than the rest of you -- for those of you in North America, we probably won't be around for your afternoon discussions.
There are barriers that keep women and girls in particular away from computer and Internet-related classes and community technology centers. These barriers are even more pronounced in developing countries, but certainly still exist in the U.S.
What are the barriers? I'm going to speak generally, and with the knowledge that these are present in varying degrees, and that these are in no particular order of importance:
-- lack of childcare
-- reluctance by other women and girls, family members, tech-related class organizers and tech center staff to support women and girls in participating in tech classes or in using tech ("Why do YOU need computer training?")
-- class and tech center structures where "squeaky wheels get the grease", meaning that unless you know how to be very verbal and demonstrative about needs and opinions, you won't be attended to or supported much
-- cultural barriers, as in a woman may feel uncomfortable being the only one, or one of just a few women, in a computer class
For women in developing countries, there is also a lack of education/literacy that affects this issue more than women in "The North," as well as a profound lack of TIME. Women in these countries are engaged in childcare, income generating activities and managing the home -- unless they give up sleep, when would they be able to use a community tech center?
What are other barriers that keep women and girls away from computer and Internet-related classes and community technology centers? Or do you think there is no such digital divide and, if so, why?
SOME OF MY THOUGHTS
Actually, I've shared a lot of my thoughts already on this subject in the "Gender and the Digital Divide" folder already here on Tech Soup. But here they are in one fell swoop:
I have observed and experienced the reluctance of many woman -- not all women -- to attend workshops that have something to do with computers and the Internet, to ask questions if they do attend, and to experiment with these tools. Other trainers I have talked to, with rare exceptions, experience the same thing. When I have worked with women regarding computers and the Internet, the phrases I hear often (but never from men) are:
-- I am really stupid about computers/I cannot use computers well
-- I have a stupid question
-- I'm not a techie and I don't really understand the Internet
-- I don't think I can learn this.
-- I don't understand how a computer/the Internet are really going to make that much of a difference in my job/my life; it just seems like more work to me
There does seem to be insecurity issues for some women regarding technology that don't seem to be there for men, generally speaking. The "I'm stupid" comments break my heart -- how did so many women get the idea that they are stupid? As a result, when I do workshops, I always say early on that I believe non-techies and those who are great at working with people are the ones who do the most exciting, the most interesting things with technology, and there are absolutely no stupid questions. I also make sure everyone understands that I am not a techie either -- I don't know how my car works, but I sure take it to some really exciting, wonderful places.
And, yet, ultimately, from what I've experienced and what I've heard from others, women perform as well or even better with computers and the Internet once they have the confidence that they can do it. For me, the older the woman or the lower-the economic level of the woman, the more insecure she seems to be about her abilities to learn about computers and the Internet -- or anything "new", for that matter. And, yet, once we find that comfort zone, off they go, as well as anyone else and, often, even better.
OTHER QUESTIONS TO EXPLORE:
What does the gender-related digital divide look like to you?
How have you seen it or experienced it yourself?
What steps do individuals, nonprofit organizations/NGOs, instructors, and even governments need to take to address this gender digital divide?
Does the corporate world have a role to play?
And, finally, some resources:
ICT & Gender News and Resources
From the Development Gateway
Women's Net Organization
Offers an abundance of information and resources that are relevant for those interested in a wide variety of Gender and ICT issues.
Gender Information Technology, and Developing Countries: An Analytic Study
A paper about the information technology divide among women in developing countries. It opens up to the readers the current situation of gender information technology in developing countries, the issues concerning women's access to them and the possibility of women's political and economic empowerment through IT.
Be sure to view the the "Gender and the Digital Divide" folder already here on Tech Soup for more thoughts on this subject.
-=-=-=-=-=- Jayne Cravens Author, The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook
Hi, my name is Latifat Kadir. I live in Lagos, Nigeria. I'll be co-hosting with Jayne Cravens on this topic. I've been an online volunteer with the United Nations Information Technology Service(UNITeS) since April 2002. I have also volunteered offline with Hope Worldwide, here in Lagos, Nigeria. I attended the University of Lagos, Nigeria and The Nigerian Law School.
The topic we'll be discussing today is one that concerns everyone in the world because in today's world, we've all become digital in a sort of way that we can't escape.
The digital divide for women refers to that gap that
exists numerically in the use and existence of
information about information and computer technology
between men and women. I have further observed this
divide in the participation of the women folk in ICT
programs held and on a daily basis, the number of
women that use our commercially-run cyber cafes
compared to the men.
I think all people should care about this divide if we are truly serious about raising women to be on the
same pedestal as men as we all advocate. Most especially in the present world of advanced computer
technology. Essentially the only thing that I see
could amount to a barrier to equal access to computers and the internet by the women folk is a lack of the facilities/centres for this purpose, strictly provided for the women folk. This would further arouse their curiosity and act as a huge encouragement to the women.
What do you think?
Equal access to technology for people with disabilities