The strategic use of ICTs in development initiatives holds tremendous potential for improving rural livelihoods. However, unless gender is consciously addressed in the design and implementation of such initiatives, well-intentioned projects may only exacerbate existing gender issues. This challenge may be attributed to a “digital divide” between women and men that adversely affect women, who make up the majority of the rural poor in developing countries.
Compared to men, rural women in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) regions are much less able to access new technologies, as they are generally less educated and hold less economic and political power than men. Women, who typically shoulder greater responsibility for children and the elderly, find it more difficult to migrate to towns and cities than men. The urban bias in connectivity thus disproportionately deprives women of the universal right to communicate.
While women make up the majority of people in rural areas of developing countries and play a central role in agriculture, issues of language, literacy, etc. are compounded by their already heavy workload that limits the time available to use modern ICTs, and by cultural attitudes that prevent them from visiting public access points mostly frequented by men. Other important challenges include limited time availability to participate in training and use of ICTs, and lack of awareness of the opportunities available.
In recognition of the dilemma between a potentially powerful set of tools – ICTs – and their failure to reach the majority of the poor in ACP countries – rural women - CTA, IDRC, IICD and Hivos invite proposals to the GenARDIS Small Grants Fund to support innovative activities that contribute to the understanding of gender issues in ICTs and to the gender-sensitive application of ICTs in ACP agricultural and rural development.
What we mean by gender
Gender is the term used to refer to the socially constructed relations between women and men in a particular society. These relations, and the roles women and men may assume, are culturally and institutionally embedded. Biological sex refers to being male or female; gender as a social identity changes over time (historically) and space (geographically). Therefore the gender roles of men or women in one society may differ from those in another, and they may differ even within one society, depending on other socio-economic criteria. The concept of gender recognises that women and men are not homogeneous groups. Differences in age, class, race and ethnicity, and disability status cut across human society and affect status, power and access to resources.
Our definition of ICTs
The widely used acronym “ICTs” (information and communication technologies) encompasses a multitude of equipment, software and services. ICTs can be interpreted broadly as technologies that facilitate communication and the processing and transmission of information by electronic means. This definition encompasses the full range of ICTs, from radio and television to telephones (fixed and mobile), computers and the internet. In development contexts, the interface with traditional communications systems and tools is also important, as are applications in areas such as agriculture, business, governance, health, and education. More recently, Web2.0 tools are facilitating more creative and inclusive collaboration and FOSS solutions offering inexpensive software.