Gender and ICT/Gender Analysis in Development is a Conscious Choice

It is true that times have changed and are still changing. The society is evolving day by day and opportunitiesare expanding, but our socialization relatively remains the same. Except for a few well-educated women, [we] still see gender inequality and low status of women as normal. Therefore, young women even after their university education still see decision-making as a matter for men. Yet you cannot formulate policy without taking decisions or vice versa. It is the learned roles that make the woman not to be ambitious and assertive, and [to be] lacking self-esteem and confidence.

- Onyinye Ndubuisi, participant in ‘Talk to Her: A Dialogue to Action among Young Women in ICT’

What are the Challenges in Integrating a Gender Perspective? edit

Taking on a gender perspective in any type of initiative is fraught with challenges, both conceptual and practical, individual and communal. Fully integrating gender analysis means putting on the gender lens, not selectively, but consistently. This requires viewing all social phenomena from a gender perspective, probing into hierarchical, unequal and unjust relationships between women and men. At the individual level, this requires a consciousness on the part of the wearer to continuously challenge socially accepted roles of women and men that result in harmful health practices or role subordination. This can raise potentially serious conflicts within the individual. The individual conflict that is a necessary by-product of becoming aware of gender inequalities extends to the community level as well. Gender analysis requires communities to probe into existing relationships among community members towards understanding the inequalities and injustices that exist between different groups within the community. Community organizers, by and large, hesitate to get into gender issues precisely because it is seen as having a divisive function that raises conflict within the community. It is, by far, easier to focus on unifying communities along traditional ways of conduct and roles, rather than to address existing gender inequalities and concerns. There are also practical challenges in incorporating a gender perspective. This means allocating time and resources in understanding basic gender issues as well as applying such concepts into the context of policies and initiatives. At the community level, this requires a series of gender sensitivity workshops to prepare communities and individuals to address gender issues and concerns. It may also require the services of gender specialists to provide necessary advice to development agencies and planners, as well as gathering resources relevant to different gender issues.

Developing inclusive development strategies with women requires a variety of approaches, or a combination of these, such as the women’s empowerment approach, the affirmative action approach,[1] and the Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation (PM&E) approach.[2] Consultation with women and participatory decision-making are not sufficient to ensure that gender issues are considered and addressed in the area of ICT. A high level of consciousness and understanding too is needed to discern the kinds of gender issues being raised. Do these further perpetuate the gendered division of labour? Do these just support women in fulfilling their obligatory gendered roles and responsibilities in the household and in the community? What is usually brought to the surface in such consultations are practical gender needs rather than strategic gender interests. With the development of trust and a consistent consultative process, as well as the provision of space for women to come together to discuss these issues, strategic gender interests can be brought out more clearly and addressed more effectively. Incorporating gender is an ongoing, never-ending process of conceptualizing, activities, and reconceptualizing. Once the conscious decision and commitment to take on a gender perspective is made, development planners and agencies must be prepared for the long haul. This is perhaps the reason why many development planners and agencies, governments and organizations have remained indifferent to, or at the very least selective in, incorporating gender in their policies and programmes. Gender analysis is not something mechanical that an individual or community can conduct properly based on just guidelines and frameworks (see Box 8) as it can demand that the individual and the community question their own beliefs, long-time practices and values.

Box 8: Gender Analysis Frameworks
Gender analysis frameworks are practical instruments designed to help users integrate gender

assessment into social research and planning. Used in an appropriate way, they can identify issues, facts and relationships that affect women and men’s lives in any given context. The understanding and knowledge gained from using these frameworks can then be used in planning the work to confront women’s subordination, as well as in training and as a basis for gender policy. This growing body of literature to understand the basic concepts and methodologies include: Gender Analysis: Alternative Paradigms prepared by Carol Miller and Shahra Razavi (1998); the Oxfam publication, A Guide to Gender-Analysis Frameworks (1999) by Candida March, Ines Smyth and Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay; an unpublished UK Government’s Department for International Development document on gender planning frameworks; and the ‘EGA’ or Efficient Gender Analysis Instrument developed by Saskia Sassen for TOOL. The differentiation in impact of development interventions on women and men can, for example, be assessed using a methodology derived from the Harvard Framework. This methodology has three main profile components: (1) Activity; (2) Access and Control; and (3) Intervention. The Activity Profile asks ‘who does what’ and attempts to identify labour and activity by disaggregating each by sex, age, and other factors. The Access and Control Profile asks ‘who has what’ in order to distinguish between access to resources and the benefits that are derived from control. The Intervention Profile asks ‘who gets what’ and uses the information from the ‘activity profile’ and ‘access and control profile’ to determine the likely impact of development interventions on women and men.

Source: APC WNSP,

Despite the probable difficulty in internalizing and operationalizing a gender perspective and analysis, however, it is imperative that efforts of integration continue in development. As APC WNSP states, “women compose one-half of the world’s population and perform two-thirds of the world’s work hours, yet are everywhere poorer in resources and poorly represented in positions of power. As these inequalities constitute a systemic condition in all parts of the globe, it is imperative to take gender seriously in thinking about or understanding economic development and globalization. Gender analysis should include an examination of economics at the micro-, meso- and macro-levels and across a range of institutional contexts (households, communities, markets and states) to illustrate women’s disadvantageous position in ICT, and the male bias in measuring ICT outputs which renders women’s work invisible.”[3] There are real gender inequalities and injustices in the ICT sector, and ICTs can result in further perpetuating such inequalities and injustices. There is a need to address these gender issues in ICT, and in order to do so, incorporating a gender perspective in planning, monitoring and implementing ICTled projects is non-negotiable.

What is the Difference between Practical Gender Needs and Strategic Gender Interests? edit

The differentiation of practical and strategic gender needs is theoretically significant for gender analysis. This distinction is often important in gender planning, becoming the basis for identifying actions. For evaluation purposes, assessing the extent of responding to both practical gender needs and strategic gender interests can inform the impact of projects and initiatives. Practical gender needs are the needs women identify that do not challenge their socially accepted roles. These needs relate to fulfilling their productive, reproductive and community managing roles and responsibilities. They are practical needs that include basic living commodities such as shelter, employment and food. While practical gender needs are related to existing gender roles, strategic gender interests challenge those roles in favour of equity and equality for women. Strategic gender interests begin with the assumption that women are subordinate to men as a consequence of social and institutional discrimination against women (see Box 9).[4]

Box 9: Definition of Discrimination Against Women
Discrimination can be direct or indirect and intended or unintended as defined in the CEDAW

Convention. This definition spells out in detail the meaning of discrimination against women. It highlights three ways in which different treatment on the grounds of gender can constitute discrimination. Intentional or unintentional disadvantaging treatment that could be classified as follows:

  1. Different treatment leading to non-recognition of human rights of women both in the private and public sphere (direct discrimination), for example, the nationality law prohibits women from transmitting citizenship to their children but men can.
  2. Different treatment preventing women from exercising their human rights both in the private and public spheres (direct discrimination), for example, only women in a particular country are prohibited from going abroad to work because of the risk of exploitation of foreign workers in many countries.
  3. Same treatment preventing women from exercising their human rights in the private and public spheres (indirect discrimination). For example, in a particular institution, playing golf is given a certain number of points for promotion irrespective of whether they are women or men. However, this gives men an advantage as it is mainly men who play golf.

As a result, any act of restriction, exclusion or distinction, whether intentional or unintentional, that impedes the recognition of women’s human rights or denies women the exercise of any such right is discrimination.

Source: International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific. 2001. Building Capacity for Change: A Training Manual on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

In practice, an approach that emphasizes practical needs may make room for recognition and consideration of strategic interests. On the other hand, satisfying practical needs reinforces the existing division of labour, which subordinates women. Having access to the Internet, for example, does not automatically change the relative position of women to men. An approach that emphasizes strategic interests, often taken up by activists, challenges existing social systems and structures in favour of equality for women. Project interventions may target gender disparities in one of two ways. They can address immediate short-term needs without necessarily challenging the structural causes of gender inequality, or they can address larger strategic issues relating to the gender interests of women and men to create conditions for gender equality. For example, a project designed to place computer terminals in rural public school classrooms addresses the immediate need of improving access to computers without necessarily addressing the strategic interests of improving disparities in female and male enrolment in primary and secondary schools. A framework that is useful in analysing gender and ICT is the newly emerging cultural analyses of technology. This framework understands both technology and gender not as fixed and given, but as cultural processes which (like other cultural processes) are subject to ‘negotiation, contestation, and, ultimately transformation’. This ‘technology as culture’ perspective goes further than the current viewpoint of women’s exclusion from full participation in technological work. In the cultural analyses of technology, technologies are ‘cultural products’, ‘objects’ or ‘processes’ which take on meaning when experienced in everyday life. Whereas technology has been defined as a predominantly male perspective, change comes through a total re-evaluation and appropriate remuneration of women’s skilled and technical tasks. Given this framework, transforming the gendered relations of technology is not merely focused on gaining access to knowledge as it is, but with creating knowledge itself. This means being involved in the level of definition, making meanings and creating technological culture.[5]

Box 10: Women Encounter Technology
Mitter’s and Rowbotham’s anthology Women Encounter Technology explores the impact of

technology on women’s employment and the nature of women’s work in third world countries. Their observations provide an ‘authentic international perspective’ on women and technology that can inform further research. Some observations that are particularly relevant in gender analysis are given below:

  • Gender is one of many factors that determines the impact of IT on women’s working lives. Age, class, ethnicity and religion can play even greater roles in defining women’s working position. Similarly, the degrees of exclusivity that arise from the information revolution sharply differentiate regions and communities.
  • Technological changes affect the quality and quantity of women’s work. Along with women’s employment benefits from new technologies there are associated health, environmental and other costs. Employment issues of concern to women working in technology relate to contractual terms, intensification of workloads, wages, training, and health and safety such as video display unit hazards and repetitive strain injuries.
  • Increased job opportunities bring new tensions in women’s domestic lives. For example, Acero’s case study documents the typical life of a woman textile worker in Argentina: “My marriage started to break down when I started to work…I had more chances than he did. So things started to go wrong.” Deeper insights are needed into the links between women’ status and role at work and at home.
  • Women are rarely represented in the decision-making areas of technology. As a number of essays document, women are predominantly only in blue-collar jobs. In the next phase of the technological change these are precisely the jobs that will be vulnerable.
  • Upgrading women’s skills through a continuous learning process benefits women and society.
  • Radical thinking about training is essential for utilizing women’s potential. In particular, training needs to take into account age, class, ethnicity and religion.
  • Women’s sharing of experiences has proved rewarding at community, national and international levels. More international exchanges of experience in organizing around some of the new issues relating to the electronic era are needed in order to ensure that women’s employment benefits from new technologies are not outweighed by the associated health and environmental costs.

Source: APC WNSP, Gender and Information and Communication Technology: Towards an Analytical Framework.

Wearing the Gender Lens and Keeping Them On edit

As Sara Longwe puts it, “if we wear good spectacles, we shall be properly equipped to recognize the whole picture of the different types of gender problems and their levels of severity” (Longwe, 2002). Longwe identifies five levels of severity of gender problems. These are: (1) General Development Needs; (2) Women’s Special Needs; (3) Gender Concerns; (4) Gender Inequality; and (5) Gender Issues (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Levels of Severity of Gender Problems


However, Longwe stresses that having the right spectacles is not enough. An added lens for analysing a gender issue is required. Such a lens provides us the ability to examine a gender issue in terms of its underlying causes, hence enabling the fine-tuning of a policy, programme or project in tackling a gender issue at its root cause, rather than just addressing effects at the surface (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Underlying Causes of a Gender Issue


Innovative interventions underway in different countries offer a micro-level view of processes of change and prospects for transforming gender inequities into equitable opportunities and outcomes. These are referred to as gender transformative strategies (see Box 11).

Box 11: Gender Transformative Strategies
Gender transformative strategies are about change and transformation of existing inequalities

as opposed to gender-neutral or gender-specific policies that target one gender over another to achieve gender goals, and in doing so, leave the gender division of labour and resources intact. For example, providing women with the enabling resources which will allow them to take greater control of ICTs; to determine what kinds of ICTs they would need; and to devise the policies to help them reach their goals. The development and implementation of ICT policies could be evaluated by asking the following questions:

  • Do these policies address gender needs?
  • Will they lead to the transformation of gender relations and gender roles?

If women are to benefit from ICT interventions, mainstreaming the perspectives and concerns of women is one of the important tasks to be undertaken. Two types of strategies are offered to support this task: top-down and bottom-up. Top-down strategies aim to change the ICT institutions and agencies to promote women’s equality and empowerment in ICTs. Examples of top-down strategies might include:

  • Using political pressure at international conferences and consultations to demonstrate the importance of gender-sound policies and interventions;
  • Serving as a ‘watchdog’ that monitors ICT impacts on women;
  • Conducting researches and gathering data on gender concerns as central to ICTs for more effective lobby work;
  • Promoting the use of gender analysis tools such as frameworks, guidelines, checklists and rosters of women, and ICT and gender experts; and
  • Working within structures to effect change through gender training, financial allocations, staff appointments, and obtaining internal legal mandates.

Bottom-up strategies are aimed directly at women, supporting their entry into the mainstream of ICT. They include:

  • Removing legal or social barriers that limit women’s access to ICTs;
  • Enabling women to take initiatives in their involvement in ICT planning and policies; and
  • Extending financial or technical assistance to women to facilitate access to and control of ICTs by providing credit, training and education.


Gender-aware[6] interventions still remain an important source of learning for wider social policy, as they aim to challenge the cultural and social norms that underpin persistent denials of women’s rights to ICTs, and belie many of the assumptions upon which efficiency-oriented policies are based.

References edit

  1. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recognizes variations of historic or past discrimination and introduces the concept of corrective measures to overcome the effect of past discrimination that leaves women handicapped vis-á-vis men. For example, if a development initiative is offered to women on the same footing as men, according to the principle of equal rights or equal opportunity, it might still turn out that men benefit more than women, because men have more experience, confidence or simply because the environment is male dominated and is more conducive to male participation. This is the effect of past discrimination. Article 4 provides for measures through which temporary special measures or affirmative action and women centred development policy measures can be legitimized to ensure de facto equality for women. The Convention goes beyond the law and obligates governments to implement extra legal measures such as separate programmes or policies for women to overcome their disadvantage as compared to men. These are provided for in articles 4.1 and 3 of the CEDAW Convention. The provisions under article 4 has to be enforced to obligate governments to implement policy and programme interventions, even to the extent of reverse discriminations in order to enable women to access the rights guaranteed in the law.
  2. PM&E is a different approach which involves local people, development agencies, and policy makers deciding together how progress should be measured, and results acted upon. It can reveal valuable lessons and improve accountability. However, it is a challenging process for all concerned since it encourages people to examine their assumptions about what constitutes progress, and to face up to the contradictions and conflicts that can emerge. For more information on this approach, please refer to ‘Participatory Monitoring & Evaluation: Learning from Change’ IDS Policy Briefing, Issue 12, November 1998. briefs/PB12.pdf
  4. The CEDAW Convention, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and described as an international bill of rights for women, defines discrimination against women as “… any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of women and men, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field” (Article 1).
  6. Kabeer defines gender-aware policies as those “based on the recognition that development actors are women as well as men, that women and men are constrained in different and often unequal ways, as potential participants and beneficiaries in the development process and that they may consequently have differing, and sometimes conflicting needs, interests and priorities” (1999: p.39).