Seven policy tips to ensure rural women equal access to ICTs

Telecentre in Uvira, DRC: Men and women in Uvira, DRC, working in a new telecentre.Telecentre in Uvira, DRC: Men and women in Uvira, DRC, working in a new telecentre.Illiteracy, lack of electricity and poor infrastructure are just some of the challenges that are preventing rural women from benefiting from ICTs. But these gender-related challenges are often overlooked by policy makers, and policies that are developed that don’t consider the specific context of rural men and women are more likely to fail, as they will not meet the needs of everyone equally. This is why the inclusion of gender must be considered in the policy process. What exactly can local and national policy makers do in order to address some of these issues? Policy analyst Sonia Jorge gives some insights.

From an equity perspective, the most basic ICT policy goal should be to increase affordable access to ICTs for all women and men, regardless of geographic location, language, age, race and social class. However, gender considerations are rarely the focus of policy makers. And policies that neglect the specific context of the lives of women and men are more likely to fail, since they will not meet the needs of all people equally. This is why the inclusion of gender considerations is critical and needs to be integral to the policy process.

The following recommendations result from the experience of the GenARDIS grantees and projects and should be considered to inform the project itself, but most importantly to inform national policy at the country and regional levels. In fact, these recommendations can form the basis for a policy advocacy program, specifically focused on gender-aware universal access and rural development policy.

  1. Improve and expand rural infrastructure by focusing on public shared access facilities, with special focus on wireless technologies and required electrical power sources. Policy efforts should include the development and implementation of universal access funds to promote and support the deployment of wireless technologies and infrastructure in rural and remote areas, in coordination with electricity providers.
  2. Invest in and promote community shared access (e.g. telecentres significant impact of gender analysis in development work. This evidence, as well as the experience of several ICT projects around the world, provides the basis for gender analysis in ICT policy and planning. The experience of the GenARDIS grantees and projects illustrates that there is critical work that still needs to take place at the policy and planning levels to ensure that ICTs provide equal opportunities and benefits to women and men in rural areas. It further highlights the need for targeted and coordinated cross-sector policies that aim at improving the lives of women and men in rural areas.) for rural areas. Community-based access makes sense from an economic as well as social perspective. It provides affordable access without the expenses of ownership and it creates the community setting for needed training programmes and support services, including many focused on the needs of women and girls in rural communities. Evidence also shows that telecentre-type projects in rural areas help keep youth in the region.
  3. Develop and implement an education campaign focused on gender equality and women’s rights within the context of ICT for development. It is critical to ensure that ICTs do not become a reason for gender-based conflict and violence. There is a need for continuing public education around women’s rights and gender equality.
  4. Promote and support the development of local content in local languages. Local and meaningful content is critical to ensure demand and a market for ICT services and applications. It can serve as an opportunity to build local capacity and/or support local businesses interested in content development, for their communities, and delivered via ICT networks, including radio.
  5. Support adult literacy programs in rural areas. ICT policy and institutions should promote and support the ongoing efforts to educate the population, particularly women in rural areas.
  6. Promote and facilitate the establishment of public-private partnerships in the implementation of rural projects, both for financing purposes as well as implementation and operational support. These partnerships may include local or national businesses, including those providing technical support, rural cooperatives, including women’s cooperatives, as well as other local businesses with the ability to reach out to users.
  7. Develop a programme where parliamentarians and government institutions sponsor rural ICT projects to promote their successes and gain political support. ICT and infrastructure projects have become quite visible in governmental development efforts and provide a great opportunity for visibility as well as guaranteed support for project success.

Sonia Jorge is an international consultant in communications policy and regulation, and gender and development. Her work focuses on policy and regulation in developing countries.

This article was extracted from GenARDIS 2002-2010: Small grants that made big changes for women in agriculture, which collects the work of GenARDIS grantees through the various rounds of small grant winners, and evaluates the impact the funds have had on the lives of rural men and women.

Photo by GenARDIS grantee, IFDAP