What do we mean with ICT & Gender?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion about ICT & Gender in the monthly London ICT4D MeetUp. It was hosted by the ICT4D Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London, and counted with almost 40 participants.

Discussions started by a brief “conceptual” introduction by Dorothea Kleine (@dorotheakleine), Director of the Centre, who intended to spike the conversation by pointed out some Gender concepts. As was clearly stated by Dorothea, talking about gender is not a new topic. It started decades ago with a focus on how to include Women in development practices. Back then, the feminist movement pointed out the need to incorporate women and the first attempts were more in the counting side. Meaning, projects started to make women’s participation visible by saying how many women and men where involved in the activities. However, that did not reveal what kind of participation each one had, or what impact their participation did in their lives. Dorothea’s introduction continued to explain that development practices have move forward into a more meaningful approach which does not just talk about women, but about gender, concept that not only considers women, but men and their relations between each other. However, the sad news, specially for us (those interested in ICT4D), is that projects using ICT for development, are still on the first phase… counting women!!!

Don’t get me wrong, I think every single effort to bring women into the play field, making them visible, helping to make their lives better/easier, is a worth effort, but we should aim higher.

The section of the discussion which I enjoyed the most yesterday was when we discussed the idea that projects should focus on gender strategic interests, stating examples of how to do this, and its difficulties. I believe the issue is not simply about gender… it is about power, not just related to men over women, but how someones (that most of the times are men), over others (that may be women, but there are also poor people, minorities, children…). Challenging power relations is the only way to change current societal behaviours.. but how to do this without becoming “an oppressor”.

Paulo Freire (1970), brazilian pedagoguish, states that there are people that use their power over others to obtain what they want. They configure a society of oppressors and oppressed, and the first will never give up their power freely. Freeing themselves is not at easy task, in particular because people may become oppressors just to stop being oppressed. Therefore, if we want to stop this cycle, we need to stop wanting to gain power and start assuming responsibility, not just for our own acts, but of the wellbeing of our society. We are co-creators of our environments, and doing or not doing, will impact on the current state of affairs.

Very poetic and philosophical, easier said than done, but very much worth reflecting on. How to incorporate gender issues in our projects? Well, I would venture to say that we need to realise gender is not just about women, or about making someones lives easier, is about unequal power relations and structural changes are needed to change those. So we should think: how can we, through our projects, help these changes? we might also help ease peoples lives during the process, but we shouldn’t be satisfied with it.

For more about yesterday’s event, please visit the storify at
http://storify.com/sammiap/ict-and-gender-ict4d-meetup-london

For information about Gender and ICT, please follow these incredible women that have been working with this subject for years now:

Ineke Buskens – Grace project: based in South Africa
Gloria Bonder – Director of the Gender, Society and Policies Area of FLACSO Argentina (Latin American School of Social Sciences)

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