4 Beyond literacy: ICT applications that support women’s entrepreneurial and professional activities

For the 60 % of women employed in agriculture in South Asia, access to quality education, skills training and entrepreneurship development tools not only represents a way out of poverty, but also provides them with opportunities of empowerment in the world of technology.37 As a child, Shantabai dreamed of becoming a professional photographer. Born in a large family of marginal farmers, Shantabai had only an elementary education in her village school before she was married off at the age of 13. Besides working on her husband's family's small piece of land, she had to care for her children and her husband's elderly parents.

She enrolled in several training courses with Srujan, a partner organisation of the ILO's Workers Activities programme (ACTRAV). These training courses, of which several were digital, not only provided her with new skills but also motivated her to seek new opportunities to enhance her income. One such training course Shantabai participated in was on photography skills, and she decided to make it her profession.38 Through the process, Shantabai became an inspiration for many women in her own village and in neighbouring communities.

ICTs have been shown to be deeply interconnected with improving social, economic and political engagement and development. ICTs can empower women and girls by increasing their direct access to information, education and services. Communication technologies also increase opportunities to connect and find a stronger voice – not only in the local community, but potentially to influence the world. ICTs help to ensure that the ideas and perspectives of both women and girls are heard and taken into account by decision-makers. This includes access at school, which is why a number of projects focus on girls’ access to computers and the Internet, teaching girls the skills they need to use technology in the wider world. While a range of school networking projects promoting access to ICTs in schools have been rolled out in a number of African countries,not all have a gender perspective. Recognizing this fact, SchoolNet Uganda has selected girls-only schools in which to install computer labs.39

Fact of interest - Gender and telecommunications in Bangladesh

An evaluation of the Grameenphone Village Phone programme in Bangladesh found that women operators of the village telephone were not only provided with a profitable business opportunity, they were also given more comfortable and equitable access to telephone service (Richardson, 2000, p. 31). Village Phone operators gained increased social status within their own villages as a result of three factors: (1) their increased income; (2) the fact that wealthier women came to use the telephones of women who were less wealthy; and (3) the fact that the woman’s house now became the center of local activity in the village.

Ways in which ICTs can contribute to women’s economic empowerment include:

  • An increased ability for women to work from home;
  • Improved employment opportunities for women in the IT sector;
  • Increased ability of informal-sector women to find formal employment;
  • Improved global market access for craftswomen through e‐commerce;
  • Transformation of traditional gender roles;
  • Improved access of women, especially rural women, to distance learning and distance work programs;
  • Improved ability for sharing of experiences among women's organizations concerned with the economic well-being of women in the informal sector; and
  • Increased ability to avoid gender bias by having a gender‐opaque medium.

Apart from digitized information and learning channels, one significant development for women’s empowerment is in the small business development and market access sector. The Internet acts mainly as a mechanism that reduces the cost of acquiring information about products and prices. This section outlines the ways in which ICTs have been applied to women’s empowerment objectives. It offers policy-makers examples of training content, ICTs in the marketplace and new opportunities for women working in the ICT sector and related fields (see box).

Fact of interest: the ICT sector defined

How is ICT-assisted instruction defined?40

ICT-assisted instruction refers to teaching methods or models of instruction delivery that employ ICT in supporting, enhancing and enabling course-content delivery. It includes any, all or combinations of the following: radio-, television-, computer- and Internet-assisted instruction.

What are ICT-related fields?

ICT-related fields include all programmes that include any of the following four fields of education and training:

Audiovisual techniques and media production is the study of techniques and the acquisition of skills to produce books, newspapers, radio or television programmes, films or videos, recorded music and graphic reproduction using ICTs. It includes programmes in methods of colour reproduction, photography and computer graphics, as well as the layout for pictures, words and decorations in the production of books, magazines, posters, advertisements, etc.

Computer science is the study of the design and development of computer systems and computing environments. It includes the study of the design, maintenance and integration of software applications.

Computer use is the study of using computers and computer software and applications for different purposes. These programmes are generally of short duration.

Electronics and automation (engineering and engineering trades) is the study of planning, designing, developing, maintaining and monitoring electronic equipment, machinery and systems. It includes designing computers and equipment for communication.


37From Veil to Camera: Empowering women through skills training (ILO Online report, November 2008) http://www.ilo.org/global/About_the_ILO/Media_and_public_information/Feature_stories/lang--en/WCMS_100390/index.htm

38Skills and Entrepreneurship Bridging the Technology and GENDER DIVIDE March-2009 http://www.digitallearning.in/articles/article-details.asp?articleid=2340&typ=DEVELOPMENT

39Shafika Isaacs‘IT’s Hot for Girls! ICTs as an instrument in advancing girls’ and women’s capabilities in school education in Africa’, United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women Expert Group Meeting on “Information and Communication Technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument forth advancement and empowerment of women” Seoul, Republic of Korea, November 2002

40World Telecommunication/ICT Development Report 2010 http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/publications/wtdr_10/material/WTDR2010_Target7_e.pdf