ICTs risk widening...

South Asian Gender Gap

ICTs risk widening the education gender gap in South Asia

It's not enough to just roll out ICTs in education without also ensuring girls and women can access and use them

ICTs have great potential to increase gender equity but to make this happen, gender needs to be part of government planning for ICTs in education. If the real-life difficulties many girls and women have in accessing and using ICTs in education in South Asia are not directly addressed, ICTs have the potential to actually increase gender disparities, not reduce them.

According to Gender Equity and the Use of ICTs in Education the second in a series of essays that accompany the Survey of ICTs for Education in India & South Asia., most Southeast Asian nations are marked by gender disparity with low female literacy levels, lower workforce participation and less involvement in public life. This essay focuses on how girls and women use ICTs in education, and profiles several initiatives to better understand and address this challenge.

The report, produced by Price Waterhouse Coopers India, says focus on gender-equity enabled investments is "alarmingly lagging" in this region. If government programs on ICTs don't tackle head-on the constraints girls and women face in getting in front of the computer screen, they could end up making gender disparity even worse, as this group falls further behind.

Summary of Findings:

The same cultural, religious, and societal norms that cause gender disparity in other parts of daily life are also present when dealing with ICTs. Women and girls face several barriers to getting access to and proper use of ICTs, including:

-unfavorable attitudes to women in science and technology

-financial dependence on men and lack of control over economic resources

-education and training favor men and boys, resulting in lower literacy and education rates for women and girls

-barring or discouragement of women from public spaces which makes telecenters and other public resources unusable

If these barriers are not addressed in ICT in education programs, the difficulties women and girls already face will simply be exacerbated as they fall further behind men and boys.

How can female access to and use of ICT be ensured by policy-makers?

-Build in the gender perspective to ICT-based projects; don't just roll out the infrastructure and assume everyone will get equal access and quality use

-Ensure adequate and sustainable technology transfer -Design technologies appropriate to women’s needs

-Ensure gender-sensitive ICT policy and regulation

Most importantly, policy-makers and program designers need better and more comprehensive data about women’s use of and participation in ICTs. On-the-ground case studies and project reviews are essential to design policies and programs that improve access and inclusion of women and girls.

The essay calls for both qualitative and feminist researchers to help bridge the gap between gender and policy. GEM, the Gender-Evaluation Methodology, is a tool that can be used to evaluate initiatives that use ICTs for social change. Along with research and policy implementations, it is important to remember that simply encouraging women to use ICTs is an important step in the improvement process.

This thematic essay is one of five that accompanies the Survey of ICTs for Education in India & South Asia. By gathering and comparing on-the-ground information from eight countries, illustrating successes and challenges, and drawing out key lessons learned, this survey helps decision-makers to plan, coordinate, implement and evaluate successful ICT4E initiatives in India, South Asia and beyond.

Stay tuned for the three remaining thematic essays on capacity building, ICT in primary and secondary education, and policy coherence to be released on the Survey website in the coming months!

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