7 Final comments
In essence, ICTs are no longer an optional extra to other services. The use of the Internet, mobile phones and social networking sites are becoming as commonplace as television, newspapers and radio. Consequently, not having access to these technologies is a form of illiteracy itself. Virtually all international agencies and governments recognize this. Millennium Development Goal 8 contains specific targets with respect to ICTs, and the next round of targets developed after 2015 will undoubtedly place even greater emphasis on the centrality of communications technologies and computing to international development.
At the same time, increasing numbers of governments and international organizations are also recognizing the importance of empowering women and girls. Women’s empowerment is, and should continue to be, pursued primarily as a rights-based objective. Women and girls make up half of humanity and all political and economic strategies must give explicit recognition to this fact. There is also increasing recognition of the overall importance of women’s empowerment to social and economic development.
Programmes aiming to use ICTs as tools to empower women are therefore directly related to two of the foremost development challenges of the early twenty-first century: expanding ICT access and empowering women. Both objectives also relate to a host of other developmental goals. Empirical research from all corners of the globe proves that empowering women helps reduce poverty, child morbidity and mortality, and increases children’s enrolment in schools. As the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, puts it: “Investing in women is not just the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do.”48
As shown by the selection of case studies in this module, establishing community ICT centers can be an important way to introduce and expand women’s access to ICTs. However, simply establishing the center and assuming that women will come and use it is not enough. As with any development project, the beneficiaries themselves (in this case local women) must be involved from the inception phase onwards. Moreover, the center must be made relevant to the day-to-day needs of the women it is serving. The center must be maintained from a technological point of view, and it must be compliant with the socio-cultural norms of the society in which it is operating.
Amartya Sen49 argues for the centrality of women in the knowledge society. “Knowledge is not only for economic growth, but its foremost use should be to empower and develop all sectors of society to understand and use knowledge to increase the quality of people’s lives and to promote social development. A socially inclusive knowledge society empowers all members of society to create, receive, share and use information and knowledge for their economic, social, cultural and political development.” It is, therefore, an imperative from the perspective of women and ICTs that emphasis and focus be placed on gender relations in communications and learning. Once we do that, we may see that the information society is not an end in itself but rather the innovation of ordinary people.
48Secretary General speaking on women’s day, March 8th 2008, at UN Headquarters, New York. http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2008/obv684.doc.htm
49Sen, Amartya. (1999). Development as Freedom. New York: Anchor Books.