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Information and Communication Technologies for Women’s Empowerment and Social Change

Sat, Mar 1, 2008

Articles

mitoo_standingBy Mahnaz Afkhami
Foreword to Making IT Our Own: Information and Communication Technology Training of Trainers Manual/ Women’s Learning Partnership

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) revolution that the world has witnessed in the past decades has been potent and widespread. Today, we are living in an information age where technologies have drastically reduced the size of the globe by practically overcoming barriers of distance and time. We connect, communicate, and collaborate at speeds and costs that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. The information age has changed the dynamics of society and the nature of power. It has impacted the economics of production, distribution, and consumption. It has given rise to a whole new world teeming with possibilities and pitfalls for large multi-national corporations as well as for communities and individuals.

A fundamental characteristic of the new information technology is that it can be deployed relatively inexpensively to all parts of the world. It can enable disadvantaged individuals and communities to participate in the national and global policy decisions that can change their lives and empower them to take actions that can financially, socially, and politically benefit them.

We at Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP) have been experiencing (and enjoying) the ICT revolution first-hand. Advances in communication technology have vastly increased the capacity of our Partnership, spread out across 20 countries in four continents, to communicate and collaborate within our network. ICT is the foundation on which members of the Partnership exchange information, create knowledge, and mobilize support. It is the tool that facilitates the ongoing communication that creates our shared meaning and vision and helps to sustain our network. It makes it possible for us to take our messages, actions, and programs across the world at high speed and relatively little cost to create a global network of activists, donors, and supporters. It enables us to leapfrog the foundational problems that in the past derailed social and economic development by hindering communication and timely interaction.

We also realize that information technology raises special problems and issues for us, most important, asymmetrical access and cultural diversity. The Internet penetration rate (Internet users per 100 inhabitants), for example, is 58.6 for industrial countries but only 10.2 for developing countries. Mobile phone penetration rates (cell phone subscribers per 100 inhabitants) stands at 90.9 for industrial countries and 32.4 for developing countries. Total number of Internet users in the United States is five times more than the total users in all of Africa.1 Of the nearly 2.7 billion IP addresses worldwide, about 1.4 billion (51%) are located in the United States.2 English remains the primary language and the United States is the hub of most internet activities. The ratio of people per page is 1.5 for an English web page while it is 1,583.5 for an Arabic page.3 Technology’s literacy and numeracy requirements already make it inaccessible to anyone who cannot read or write. Adding a foreign language (English) familiarity to this mix adds another barrier to entry. For instance, input devices such as keyboards are not available in all languages. Currently, domain names are available only in English.4 How would someone using an Arabic or Chinese keyboard, type in www.google.com or www.bbc.co.uk to access these or any other sites?

Clearly, individuals, groups, or nations that are more familiar with communication technology’s structure and dynamics will be in a better position to reap its rewards. Those who are not familiar with the new information technology and are not participants in its use, making, or deployment will not be able to compete. The technology revolution, potentially beneficial to all, is at the moment asymmetrically benefiting the already-privileged, giving rise to terms like digital divide, gender digital divide, and opportunity divide.

We need to bring the ability to use the Internet to all peoples of the world; this includes not only the hardware and training in the use of the machines, but also culture-relative, language-relevant, and community-created material. The marginalized and excluded peoples of the world must become not only consumers of information created elsewhere but creators of knowledge that they and others use. We all will be richer if we partake of the diversity of human experience and wisdom across the globe.

If we meet the challenge of reaching out and including all, we will have a world where all human beings, women and men, will have a much better chance of enjoying dignity, prosperity, equity, and justice. Modern information technology is a primary tool of achieving these ends because it can help us transcend many of the development hurdles we have faced in the past. It enables interaction across borders and boundaries. It allows people to determine their own wishes, their own aspirations, their own priorities, and their own ways of learning and teaching. It has the potential to empower women in ways unprecedented in the social and cultural evolution of human history. It is incumbent on us to help prepare women across the world to harness it for changing not only their own lives but also the world for the better.

Making IT Our Own: Information & Communication Technology Training of Trainers Manual is an extension of our efforts to empower women to harness ICTs. It is our attempt to shift the ownership of the tools of information technology from the few to the many in a variety of cultures, in the hope that while we are coping with the exigencies of the present, our newfound power will bring us closer to our dream of the future.

Mahnaz Afkhami
March 2008




1 http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/statistics/ict/index.html
2 http://www.domaintools.com/internet-statistics/country-ip-counts.html
3 http://www.technologyreview.com/Wire/20305/
4 http://www.andycarvin.com/archives/2005/03/rss_local_langu.html

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About Mahnaz Afkhami

A lifetime advocate for the rights of women, Mahnaz Afkhami works with activists across the world, especially in Muslim majority societies, to help women become leaders. She is Founder and President of Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace (WLP), Executive Director of Foundation for Iranian Studies...more

Quotables – Empowerment

"To play their role properly, women everywhere must become far more involved in the affairs of their respective societies. Women must become empowered." - Leading to Choices: A Leadership Training Handbook for Women

"Rights and empowerment are interconnected: unless a substantial number of women in a community come to believe that they have rights and demand to exercise them, right remains an abstraction." - Faith and Freedom

"Women's empowerment is a process, a holistic approach that involves raising consciousness, building skills and reforming unjust laws that limit women's education, their employment, their participation in decision making, and above all, their opportunities for economic independence." - Freedom Leads To Empowerment

"[Modern information technology] has the potential to empower women in ways unprecedented in the social and cultural evolution of human history" - Making IT Our Own: Introduction

Quotables – Technology

"[Modern information technology] has the potential to empower women in ways unprecedented in the social and cultural evolution of human history" - Making IT Our Own: Introduction

"The new information technology, indifferent to human suffering, does not accommodate humane needs unless we harness it and make it do so." Leading To Choices

"We must be bold and creative, our feet firmly grounded in the realities that surround us, but our gaze aimed at the lofty possibilities that our advancements in science and technology promise and that our growth as a global society is only beginning to comprehend." - Toward A Compassionate Society

“International movement building in the 21st century and involvement of youth in advocacy will be made possible largely through technology" - Engendering IT Tools