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Posts Tagged ‘gender’

The March NYC Technology Salon offered an opportunity to discuss how mobile technology can transform workforce development and to hear how mobile is improving the reach and impact of existing initiatives working with girls and young women. Attendees also raised some of the acute, practical challenges and the deeper underlying issues that need to be overcome in order for girls and women to access and use mobile devices and to participate in workforce development programs and the labor market.

Conversation kicked off with comments from Kris Wiig (Samasource), Nancy Taggart (Education Development Center)  and Trina Das Gupta (former head of mWomen). The Salon was part of the Mobiles for Education Mobiles and Youth Workforce Development (mYWD) Working Group Learning Series, an initiative created in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation and USAID. The Salon was hosted at the offices of the Clinton Global Initiative.

The benefits of mobile vs stationary ICT for youth workforce development programs

Mobile holds a number of benefits over stationary ICT, including the feature of reaching people where they are because of the ubiquity of hand-held devices. Mobile is being used as both a primary tool in workforce development programming and as a complementary tool to enhance or reinforce content and interaction happening via other means such as web, face-to-face, and radio.

Reaching girls and women. Mobile can reach girls and young women with services and information they cannot normally get, helping them access the opportunities, skills, and information they need to better position them for work. Mobile job matching allows girls and young women to seek jobs without leaving the home. Micro-tasking (breaking up jobs into tiny tasks that can be done by a number of individuals, eg.,  via a mobile phone) offers a way for girls and young women from slum areas, those not able to work outside of the home, and those pulled out of difficult situations like sexual exploitation; to access entry-level work and gain experience that can help them quickly move to better jobs. Some 75% of women doing microtasking with Samasource move on to better jobs within 6 months, for example.

Getting geographically relevant information out to youth. Mobile can help spread information about opportunities to formerly unreached locations. In many places, jobs and scholarships exist, but they are promoted in places where youth do not see them. Mobile social networks can reach youth and connect them, based on their profiles and skill sets, to opportunities in their own geographical area, helping change the idea that youth have to move to the city in order to find work.

Strengthening soft and hard skills. Using mobile applications, gaming and quizzes, youth can work through career pathfinders in a fun way, find out what they like and what they are good at, and begin learning how to plan a career and what types of courses or preparation they need to achieve goals. They can also learn about savings and create savings plans for items they want to purchase, meanwhile making commitments to give up habits like smoking in order to put their limited resources towards other goals. Applications that reinforce basic literacy and numeracy, such as EDC’s Stepping Stone, help girls and young women strengthen the skills they need to move to a higher level of training or to access additional mobile-based information or engage in communications that help improve their livelihoods.

Lowering barriers to entry. Mobile offers a lower barrier to entry than more traditional ICTs. Mobile web has made it easier for many people to get online, especially in rural areas where people often have to be transported to centralized places in order to access desktop computers and broadband. Mobiles also require less electricity than desktop computers, a big plus in rural areas. One participant noted that an iPad costs only $400 vs a desktop that costs much more and requires more expertise and resources to set up and maintain. Tools available today make it easier for non-experts to create mobile applications. The challenge is getting over inertia and allowing kids to play and experiment.

Designing mobile workforce development programs with and for girls and young women

Even with all these benefits, however, mobile may not always be the best tool because access to information and content delivery does not resolve deeper gender-related issues. Salon attendees offered some insights on ways to make mYWD programs more inclusive of and adapted to the needs of girls and women.

Addressing underlying gender issues. Girls and young women may find a scholarship or a job via mobile but for various reasons, such as controlled mobility or cultural or resource restrictions, they may not be able to take advantage of it. When working with girls and women, underlying issues are central, for example, past trauma, self-esteem, self-doubt and the question “will I ever be good enough.” Organizations can talk this through with girls and women via a mobile phone or online chat, but in truth it’s a much a deeper issue than a cellphone can solve. Corollary and holistic programs are needed to respond to these broader issues in order to have real, in-depth and lasting impact.

Making mYWD programs accessible to girls and young womenWorkforce development programs need to be designed in ways that fit the lives of the girls and women they aim to support. For example,  training needs to happen at a time when women are more able to participate, such as after breakfast and before lunch when the children are at school and the husband is not back yet. Child care may need to be provided. It’s also critical to understand the dynamics of husbands and mothers-in-law who often want to know what young women are doing at all times. Some women may be happy to conceal the fact that they are participating in training, but programs should help women and girls gauge their potential risks. Another strategy is working with husbands and men to generate buy-in so that girls and women can participate in different labor market-related activities. In some cases negative reactions from fathers and husbands deter girls and women from participating or cause them to drop out. Eg.: “I make more money and my husband takes it and he drinks more, and then he beats me more.” The many precise cultural and social issues around gender and mobile require more research. Talking with girls and young women about these barriers and ensuring programs take them into account is an important part of the design process.

Remembering that women and girls are often the last to own phones. GSMA research found that there is indeed a mobile gender gap. Though there may be a high level of mobile penetration at the household level, often it’s the husband, then the first-born son who get a phone, and only afterward that perhaps a daughter or a wife get one — and this scenario is in wealthier households where there are multiple devices. For most families in emerging economies, there is only one or possibly two phones per household, and women and girls only have access to the phone when the man of the house gives it to them. This does vary from country to country, but overall, women are less active and with less access to mobile devices. This is a critical gap if organizations wish to involve girls and young women in mobile-based programs. Knowing the audience, population and context and designing information and communication strategies and workforce development programs that use a variety of channels (traditional and new media as well as face-to-face) to reach girls and women can help avoid marginalizing or not reaching those without mobile access.

Finding the incentive base for men. In many emerging markets, work needs to be done to discover what might incentivize men to allow girls and women to access mobile phones and/or to participate in workforce development activities. Sometimes it is money, but not always. Men may not want women and daughters working or earning money. In Afghanistan, for example, the CEO of the mobile network operator would sit with the men in the households and discuss the idea of women and girls having mobile phones. As part of one program that trained women for work, transportation services were set up just for women. It is important to meet people where they are in terms of cultural barriers and not try to shift things too quickly or all at once or there can be serious backlash.

Encouraging girls and young women to enter high growth sectors. Age-old gender frameworks are still at play and many girls and young women are not interested in entering certain high growth sectors, such as technology. This is a worldwide hurdle in terms of positioning girls and young women for the new jobs being created in these sectors, not just something that happens in ‘developing’ countries. Some programs are reaching out specifically to girls and young women to teach them to code and to break down the idea that only boys and men are smart enough to do it. Encouraging girls and women to see the world by accessing Internet via the mobile web and connecting with other girls and women this way can also be hugely transformative. Communication and marketing can play a role in helping girls and women see the world as it could be, if there were gender parity, and planting a seed that helps girls and young women see the possibilities of their own impact in the world. Enabling girls and young women to create, not just consume content, can change the status quo.

Mobile as a complementary tool, not a replacement.  Mobile can resolve some information and communication aspects, however, in the case of girls and young women, resource-intensive services are often the most needed and the most important, and these cannot always be done via a device. Mentoring and networking, for example, have shown to be highly valued by girls and women. These need to be more than a quick check-in however; they should be strong, active and consistent relationships of support. Some organizations are doing interesting work with mentoring but even with the added benefits of mobile technology, efficient and cost-effective ways to support quality mentoring at scale have not been fully worked out yet.

Data and research

There is a dearth of data around how girls and women use mobiles. Research has been done in some contexts with women at the base of the pyramid, but in many cases it’s difficult to apply conclusions across contexts. Evidence on what works, what is sustainable, and what can effectively scale is missing.

Understanding the meaning of mobile for girls and women. There is a need for more research on women’s ownership and use of devices, and a better understanding of what these devices mean to girls and women in their daily lives, in their family dynamics and with regard to their purchasing habits. In one country, 40% of women interviewed said they didn’t like text messaging, but this may not carry over to other countries or to girls and younger women. Women in one survey in Uganda said they didn’t like borrowing a phone because it meant they would owe a favor to the woman they borrowed it from — this breaks with assumptions that mobiles are freely shared in communities and everyone can access them. In Papua New Guinea, women surveyed in a micro-tasking project said that what they most liked about having mobile access was not the work opportunity, it was being able to call and arrange dinner time with their husband so they would not be beaten if he came home early and it was not ready.

Gaps in gender and age disaggregated data. The huge gap in gender and age disaggregated data on mobile ownership and use is a huge impediment in terms of going to scale. Donor organizations and governments often ask, “Where is the data that shows me this works?” Using mobile for different programs is a big shift for most countries and organizations. It requires behavior change and large investments, and so decision-makers logically want to know if it works. Some organizations avoid working with government as it can slow down processes. Others argue that government buy-in and support are vital to achieving scale and sustainability and that government plays an important role in reducing tariffs and establishing regulations that favor mobile for development initiatives.

One discussant recommended: “Do your baseline. Track your data. Share your data. Share your failures. Collect gender and age disaggregated data.” Large research firms are starting to set up these data but they are for the most part proprietary and are not available to those working in development. Organizations like CGI could use their influence to encourage firms and companies to share some parts of their data. Going beyond micro-level pairing of people with jobs to the use of mobile data at scale to look at development trends could be hugely beneficial.

In summary, more needs to be done to better understand the intersecting areas of gender, mobile technology, and youth workforce development programming. Further reading and resources compiled to complement the Salon are available here.

The Technology Salon methodology was used for the session, including Chatham House Rule, therefore no attribution has been made in this summary post. Sign up here to receive notifications about upcoming Salons in New York, Nairobi, San Francisco, London and Washington, DC. 

Visit the Mobiles and Youth Workforce Development Working Group page and sign up to receive information on mYWD Learning Series Events and the upcoming mYWD Landscape Review, due out in July 2013.

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Learning to use a computer in Inhambane, Mozambique

Learning to use a computer in Inhambane, Mozambique

This is a slightly longer version of my Empowering Girls through Information, Communication and Technology, published in The Guardian’s Development Professional’s Network. A full article called “Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you will be holding a baby’s napkin?” was published in Redress, the Journal of the Association of Women Educators (Vol 21, No. 2, August 2012, pp 23-29.)

“Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you will be holding a baby’s napkin?”

This is the type of taunt a girl might hear when trying to sit in front of one of the computers at the school’s lab, said Fabiola, a young woman from Cameroon while speaking on a panel about girls, education, and new technologies at the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

Fabiola was invited to the CSW to speak about her personal experiences as a girl studying a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Fabiola went on to share how her parents had been instrumental in encouraging her to pursue her studies, even though she was one of few girls who decided to go down the STEM path.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be quite aware that there has been an increasing emphasis in the development sector on girls and ICTs over the past few years. Everyone from large government donors to NGOs to the private sector is banking on girls and technologies, especially mobile phones, to play a big role in helping resolve poverty and make development gains.

Girls themselves consider ICTs to be a major element in their personal growth and development, useful for improving studies, staying informed and earning a living. Girls say that ICTs help them reduce their sense of isolation, acquire new skills, actively participate in national and global dialogues, learn about taboo subjects (such as reproductive health and HIV), feel safer and more in touch with family and friends, and strengthen self-esteem. They often credit participatory media and technology programs with helping them improve their ability to express themselves, speak in public, and to dialogue with adults and other decision makers to negotiate their needs and rights.

But what about access?

The flip side is that for many girls, access to and use of ICTs is a huge challenge. Gender discrimination, lack of confidence, not speaking a major language, low literacy, lack of time and money, and restricted mobility (due to cultural factors or safety) often prevent girls from taking advantage of the benefits of ICTs.

Despite the positive trend in mobile phone and Internet access worldwide, access is often characterized in terms of broad economics, eg., ‘developing’ vs ‘developed’ countries, or it is analyzed at the country level: eg., Kenya vs Mozambique. Analysis needs to go much deeper, however, to include individual factors like class and wealth status, gender, geographic location, age, disability, literacy, language, and device ownership.

Girls living in the same geographic area may have very different levels of access. An English-speaking Kenyan girl living in an urban high rise with her upper class parents will have more access to ICTs than a non-English speaking Kenyan girl with low literacy levels who works long hours cleaning that same apartment and lives in a slum area nearby. The mobile phone ownership capacity of the daughter of a relatively wealthy community leader who owns a small local business will be greater than that of the daughter of one of the poorest families in the same village.

Gender discrimination also comes into play, and in places where men and boys dominate women and girls, they also tend to dominate the available ICTs.  In places where boys are more favored, their confidence to try new things will tend to be higher. Girls often report that boys hog and monopolize ICT equipment and that they criticize, scorn and ridicule girls who are using equipment for the first time, making girls feel too timid to try again.

How can development agencies help girls overcome these barriers?

1)   Keep working to address underlying causes

If girls and women continue to live in greater poverty, with lower education levels, less access to healthcare and other services, less opportunity to work, and lower status in their societies, chances are that their access to and use of ICTs will not level out to that of boys and men.

Getting more girls into school and improving the quality of education could help more girls access and learn to use ICTs. Finding ways to encourage critical thinking and innovation within the education system and ways for girls to join in extra-curricular activities to stimulate new ways of thinking might also help more girls to build the skills and mindsets necessary to enter into the growing number of jobs in the ICT sector.

Advocating for and supporting policies that make Internet more accessible and affordable overall is another area where INGOs can play a role. Libraries and other safe spaces can also help girls and women feel more comfortable and able to access information and learn how to use ICTs.

2) Help change mentalities

A shift in thinking is needed in order to stimulate behavior change that is more conducive to girls participating fully in their family and communities as well as at broader levels. Girls need to be seen as people who can and should take advantage of the potential of ICTs, but they cannot create this shift in thinking on their own. Broad and deep legal, attitudinal and behavior changes need to happen in families, communities, institutions and society in general.

Organizations should engage men and boys as allies in this process. When fathers and male peers are aware, engaged and supportive of girls’ development and girls’ rights, they play a very strong role in changing broader norms and perceptions.

Female role models can also help change mentalities. Having a device or new technology in their possession can increase the status and strength of girls and women as role models and enable them to carry out different and important roles in the community.

3) Offer opportunities

In the short-term, offering specific and accompanied support and opportunities for girls to access and take advantage of ICTs can help fill some of the gaps mentioned above. ICTs can be incredible tools for engaging students in the classroom, making teaching methodologies more participatory, encouraging student-led research and building critical media and digital literacy skills in the process. In places where textbooks are old and outdated, the Internet can offer ways to connect with current events and up-to-date research.

Adding gadgets to the classroom experience involves more than just having the latest digital devices; however, and careful thought needs to be given to the teaching goals, desired outcomes, and issues like relevance and sustainability before deciding on tools and devices.

Special care needs to be taken to ensure that in these controlled spaces, girls have equal access to equipment. Where ICTs cannot be integrated into the classroom or where girls are not in school, non-formal education and extra-curricular activities can give girls a chance to interact with ICTs.

ICTs do hold much promise, yet access for girls remains a challenge. The NGO sector can play a role by addressing underlying causes of gender discrimination and gendered poverty, helping change mentalities, and supporting greater opportunities for girls. For more on ways that INGOs and educators can support girls access and effective use of ICTs, see “Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you’ll be holding a baby’s napkin?”

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‘Breast flattening,’ also known as ‘breast ironing’ or ‘breast massage,’ is a practice whereby a young girl’s developing breasts are massaged, pounded, pressed, or patted with an object, usually heated in a wooden fire, to make them stop developing, grow more slowly or disappear completely.

Rebecca Tapscott* spent last August in the area of Bafut, in the Northwest, Anglophone region of Cameroon, where a 2006 study by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) found an 18% prevalence rate of breast flattening. The practice has been known as breast ‘ironing,’ however, Rebecca opts to use the term ‘flattening’ to decrease stigma and encourage open conversation about a practice that remains largely hidden.** Rebecca wanted to understand the role of breast flattening in the broader context of adolescence in Cameroon, including past and present motivations for breast flattening; cultural foundations; relation to other forms of gender-based violence such as female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C); how and where it is practiced; the psychological and the physical implications of the practice on individual girls.

Rebecca published her findings via the Feinstein International Center in May 2012, in a paper titled: Understanding Breast “Ironing”: A Study of the Methods, Motivations, and Outcomes of Breast Flattening Practices in Cameroon.

She visited our office late last year to share the results of her work with staff at the Plan USA office, explaining that there is currently very little research or documentation of breast flattening. The GIZ study is the only quantitative study on the practice, and there do not seem to be any medical studies on breast flattening. It’s a practice that is believed to affect 1 out of 4 girls in Cameroon, more commonly in some regions than in others. Of note is that research on breast flattening has thus far only been conducted in Cameroon, thus creating the impression that the practice is uniquely Cameroonian, when in reality, it may be a regional phenomenon.

Organizations working to end breast flattening do so with the aim of protecting girls. However, the question of protection is an interesting one depending on who you talk with. Rebecca found that those who practice breast flattening also believe they are protecting girls. “Many mothers believe that unattended, a girl’s breasts will attract advances of men who believe physically developed girls are ‘ripe’ for sex. Breast flattening is seen as a way to keep girls safe from men so that they are able to stay in school and avoid pregnancy.”

According to Rebecca, breast flattening is practiced out of a desire to delay a girl’s physical development and reduce the risk of promiscuous behavior. Proponents of the practice consider that “men will pursue ‘developed’ girls and that girl children are not able to cope with or deter men’s attention. They see that promiscuity can result in early pregnancy, which limits educational, career, and marriage opportunities, shames the family, increases costs to family (newborn, loss of bride price, health complications from early childbirth or unsafe abortion).” In addition, there is the belief that girls are not sufficiently intellectually developed to learn about puberty, and therefore should not yet develop breasts. Another reason given for the practice is the belief that girls who develop before their classmates will be the target of teasing and become social outcasts. There is also, for some, the belief that large breasts are unattractive or not fashionable.

Rebecca cites a poor understanding of human biology as one reason that the practice persists. Some of the beliefs around it include: “Belief that sensitivity and pain during breast development indicates that the growth is too early and must be artificially delayed until the girl is older. Belief that when a girl develops breasts she will stop growing taller. Belief that puberty can be delayed by delaying breast development. Belief that for breasts to grow properly, the first growth should always be repressed (like baby teeth). Belief that if breasts begin growing at a young age, they will grow too large or be misshapen, resulting in a displeasing or disproportionate female form. Belief that breasts and other outward signs of sexuality develop in accordance with a girl’s interest in sex, and therefore a developed girl is soliciting sexual advances or is a ‘bad’ girl. Belief that when a girl develops breasts, she believes she has matured and subsequently, she becomes less obedient. Belief that it will improve breast feeding at a later age.”

“…For mothers there is the perception that we should delay the development of girls as much as possible, believing that physical development shows maturity. Men look at girls and talk amongst themselves and say, “she’s ripe for sex.” They are not looking for marriage prospects…Men are aggressive. In pidgin, they say “she got get done big,” meaning, she’s matured and ready for sex. I can go after her now. Women, on the other hand, know that their daughters are just kids.” ~ journalist that Rebecca interviewed.

Rebecca also heard explanations such as “A girl will stop growing taller because the weight of her breasts will hold her down. One can delay puberty by delaying breast growth. If the breasts hurt during puberty, they are developing too early.” There are also many beliefs related to a girl’s development and her sexual reputation. Some of these beliefs include that a girl with large breasts is a ‘bad girl’. This stems from the belief that breasts start to develop when a man touches them or if a girl is thinking about sex, going to night clubs or watching pornography. Rebecca found that many of these beliefs were held across all segments of society, from the very well educated to those with no formal education.

“The body responds to psychological ideas. If a girl looks for a “friend,” her breasts will grow faster. If she is interested in boys or watches pornography, her body will develop faster.” ~ Interviewee at the Ministry of Social Affairs

“If a girl is interested in sex and thinks about it a lot, she will develop faster. I saw two girls of 12 years, one of whom was very developed physically and the other was not. The one who was developed could speak very frankly about sex, showing that she was knowledgeable from some experience, while the other girl was very naive and shy.” ~ Teacher

Because of potential stigma or harm to girls who talked about undergoing breast flattening, Rebecca only interviewed a few teenaged girls directly during this phase of her research. Instead, she mainly interviewed older women, as well as a few boys and men. She found that most women who had experienced breast flattening didn’t seem to remember the experience as extremely traumatic; however, she commented, “most are remembering from back in the day. Most at first said didn’t really hurt but then after a while into the interview, they’d remember, well, yes it hurt.” Rebecca was surprised at the number of people who said that heated leaves were used, because the media normally reports that a grinding stone or pestle is used for breast flattening.

“When I was 11 years old, my grandmother did a form of breast flattening to me. This was in 1984. I was walking around with her shoulders hunched forward to hide my developing chest, so my grandmother called me to the kitchen. She warmed some fresh leaves on the fire and said something in the dialect, like a pleading to the ancestors or spirits. Then she applied the leaves to my chest, and used them to rub and pat my breasts flat. She would also rub and pat my back, so as to make the chest flat and even on the front and the back. It hurts because the chest is so sensitive then—but they are not pressing too hard.” ~ 38 year old woman from the community

“To do the practice, I warmed the pestle in the fire, and used it in a circular motion to press the breasts flat. I did it once per day for over a week—maybe 8 or 9 days. I massaged them well, and they went back for seven years.” ~ 53-year-old woman attending a maternal health clinic in Bafut, attending with a different daughter whose breasts she did not flatten

“Until about a year ago, I believed that when a girl is interested in sex, watches porn, or lets boys touch their breasts, her breasts will grow larger. I think my mother must believe this. My ideas changed when I saw my own friends—I knew they were virgins, but they had large breasts. Also when my own breasts got bigger, and it was not because a man was touching them.” ~ Journalist in Bamenda

There is currently no consensus on whether the practice is effective at reducing the size of a girl’s breasts or if it has long-term effects on breast size. “People told me completely different things gave the same result, or people cited the very same practices as yielding different results,” said Rebecca.

Rebecca’s findings indicate that the practice of breast flattening is not a longstanding ‘traditional’ practice. Many people reported that it became more popular with urbanization. “People [who immigrated to cities] didn’t know their neighbors and they were worried about the safety of their daughters. It seems that an old practice that was used for ‘shaping’ was repurposed and adapted. Breast flattening is a very intimate and personal thing between mother and daughter. It doesn’t happen to all daughters. It’s very difficult to track, and there is no association with ethnic groups, education, socioeconomic levels, religion, etc.,” she explained.

“Most men don’t know about it. One boy said he thought it was good to protect girls.” When she talked holistically with men about what they look for in a woman, Rebecca said, “an interest in chastity and virginity came out very clearly. In Cameroon the average age for girls to lose virginity is 13-17, and it’s the same for boys. According to studies, for most, the first sexual experience is unwilling.”

Most doctors that Rebecca talked to had never heard of the practice. One doctor in Yaoundé said he had seen first and second degree burns as a result. Some cite that edemia may be a result. Development organizations like GIZ say it can cause cysts, cancer, and other difficulties but also cited that only 8% of women report suffering negative side effects, while 18% report that their breasts “fell” or sagged at an early age.

Many women who Rebecca interviewed considered the practice a very low concern compared to other problems that impact on their development, such as illiteracy, sexual exploitation, poverty and unemployment. “The women that I talked to,” said Rebecca, “often asked me, ‘Why are you asking me about this? It’s such a small thing compared to other things we have to face.’”

Given that there is not much research or consensus around breast flattening in Cameroon and the broader region, Rebecca’s work may be of use to local and international organizations that are working to promote women’s and children’s rights. Rebecca emphasizes that most people who engage in what are commonly referred to as ‘harmful traditional practices’ including female genital cutting (FGC) and breast flattening, actually do so with their child’s best interest in mind, as a means of protecting and promoting the child within the community and following social norms. Therefore, frightening or berating people may not be the best approach to discourage the practice of breast flattening. Community input will be needed to identify the root causes of the practice for it to become obsolete. Better sex education and a reduction in stigma around talking about sexual reproductive health may also help. Men will need to be part of the solution, and so will mothers who currently feel the need to take protection of their daughters into their own hands. Like many similar practices, it’s not likely that breast flattening will end until other systems and environments that set the stage for it also change.

*Rebecca worked with Plan Cameroon for several weeks on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) Project last June and July. She traveled to Bafut following her internship to conduct independent research.

**This distinction is similar to the difference between the terms female genital ‘mutilation’ and female genital ‘cutting.’

Read the full report.

Contact Rebecca for more information: rebecca.tapscott [at] gmail.com

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The field of Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) tends to be dominated by men. Is this because men are more suited to working in technology? Because women don’t want to? Because boys are more interested from an early age?

Probably not. What is more likely is that there are factors throughout girls’ lives that discourage them from going into this field.

At a personal level, I’ve been lucky enough to work in settings and environments that are largely positive towards women in this field. I’ve met and collaborated with numerous wonderful men who treat me with respect and who have been more than willing to work side-by-side, to help me out, to ask for advice, to share their own experience and information, and to support and promote the work I’m involved in. The fact that I work more on the social side of ICTs rather than the super technical, engineering or ‘coding’ side, however, may have something to do with my positive experiences.

Many women who work on the more ‘techie’ side report feeling discriminated against, and the numbers tell a story that’s worth looking into.

In the US, for example…

When women are shown in the media working in technology, they are often seen as rare, they are patronized or sexualized, and their appearance is noted and commented on. (And don’t even get me started on ‘booth babes’ at for-profit technology conferences.)

As Miriam writes in ‘First Female Engineer Graces the Cover of Wired Magazine‘, ‘I’m glad they’ve featured her here, and I’m glad that she’s not scantily clad like most of the women who grace the covers of national magazines. But when will we get beyond the idea of Rosie the Riveter? When can women across fields just be acknowledged the way their male counterparts are–for their accomplishments? …Posing her like Rosie feels antiquated, and also draws attention only to the fact that she’s a woman in a man’s world–not that she’s an incredible engineer in her own rite [sic].’

It’s the same, or perhaps more pronounced, the world over.

At last year’s Commission on the Status of Women, Fabiola, a 17 year old from Cameroon commented: “when a girl succeeds to sit on a computer lab, a boy will raise his voice on her, saying: ‘Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you will be holding a baby’s napkin?’

In other parts of her talk, Fabiola recognized the important role that her parents played in keeping her in school and encouraging her to study for a career related to the sciences.

This highlights the importance of not only education, but of positive parental and community support and a broader set of changes that allow girls to have more freedom and more opportunities. Girls need to know that they have options open to them. And boys need to know too that girls can ‘do stuff’. Women role models are important, and where there are not yet women in certain careers to serve as role models, positive support from men to encourage girls to explore their options is key.

More girls and women in ICTs is not only an individual opportunity for women to earn an income. It can also mean that ICTs products and tools will be designed with women in mind. And I’m not talking about making things pink and purple to appeal to women, I’m talking about the design that responds to real needs in the real lives of women and girls around the world.

As part of a broader effort to encourage more girls to consider wider options, ‘Girls in ICTs Day‘, was established last year and will now be an annual event on the UN Calendar, to be celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday in April.

Many initiatives are underway already to support girls and women in the ICT sector. More governments recognize the importance and necessity of taking deliberate steps. The ITU’s latest report notes that “The choices made by policymakers, enterprises and individuals on investment in education and training must strive for gender equality—that is, to give women the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as men.”

Positive attitudes and support from families, friends, communities, the private sector and the media is also part of the solution to helping girls see their potential.

The Girls in ICT Portal offers statistics and advice on how to encourage more girls to consider ICTs as a career option. 

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In this guest post, Keshet Bachan, gender equality activist and blogger at The XX Factor, questions whether mobile phone applications addressing street violence are an effective way to prevent violence against women. What do you think? 

Can mobile ‘apps’ really prevent or discourage instances of violence against women? This question has been on my mind since a colleague shared this video from Voice of America about a mobile app called ‘Fight Back’, marketed as ‘India’s first mobile app for women’s safety’.

The video sparked an email discussion that raised some interesting questions that deserve a closer examination.

The VOA story provides a holistic view of violence against women and the developers of the mobile phone application admit that they are but one element in a broader system that needs to respond to instances of violence. They discuss the involvement of police and other duty bearers, such as municipal bodies, which need to address reports women make and do more to reduce their risks. I applaud this approach and the way in which the developers acknowledge the limitations of their application, which I find refreshing.

At the same time I feel this application distracts attention away from more prevalent (and deadly) issues. According to the World Health Organization 10-69% of women stated that they had been physically assaulted by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. The WHO also reports that 40-70% of female murder victims were killed by an intimate partner. A recent survey in the UK showed that one in three girls aged 13 – 17 reported sexual abuse from a partner and one in four had experienced some form of physical partner violence. The UK police receive a call for help regarding relationship abuse every minute.

The degree to which this mobile phone application promotes the notion of ‘stranger danger’ distracts attention from the urgent and more prevalent issue of family and intimate partner violence. Moreover, the fact that the application has a GPS tracker to trace a woman’s route home could inadvertently contribute to both increasing women’s fear of violence in public spaces as well as playing into the hands of those who seek to control women’s mobility by pleading the need to ‘protect’ them by knowing their whereabouts at all times.

In this context a colleague commented that a GPS enabled function could allow ‘even a moderately tech-savvy user to trace the woman in question’ – which could serve to increase traditional control over women who dare to step outside the confines of convention (and the home) even further.

There’s a disparity between the actual risk of being molested or assaulted in the street, and the level to which women fear it. One thing this mobile app could help with is mapping the actual instances of violence. This could in fact serve to reduce women’s fear, proving that violence outside the home is not as common or as severe as people might believe. At the same time the app could also shed light on the places where women are more prone to abuse (dark alleys or well lit train stations?) and call for concrete actions like streetlights to improve safety.

The application (as always) leaves it up to women to try protect themselves and does little to tackle the root causes of violence. For instance, research from India (where this application was developed) found that almost all police officers interviewed agreed that ‘a husband is allowed to rape his wife’, while 68% of judges felt that ‘provocative attire was an invitation to rape’ (Khan and Battacharya, 2010). The application would do well to connect its users to a platform for social mobilization and consciousness raising work that could create a critical mass of people who will work together to challenge traditional attitudes around gender.

Some of the other questions raised by this application, and others of its ilk, concern the development of such applications and the development of technology itself.

Does the sex of the person developing the application have an impact on the relevance of the application for persons of the opposite sex (i.e. can men develop useful applications for women)? Is technology itself biased in favor of one gender over the other (i.e. is technology inherently male)? As these questions assume rigid gender binaries the answer must inevitably be ‘no’. At the same time, research has shown that women use technology differently and that they are not well represented amongst technology developers.

Technology can be useful to both sexes and really it is a question of how one applies it that counts. In the same vein, it shouldn’t matter who’s behind developing the application but whether or not the application is answering a real need. (Let us recall that simply being a woman, doesn’t mean you’re more in touch with other women — the CEO of playboy is Hugh Hefner’s daughter).

I’m not convinced that women need a mobile phone application to protect them from strangers on a dark street. If I were asked ‘what do you think would make the streets of Delhi safer for women’, an app is not the first thing that would spring to my mind.

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As I wrote yesterday, I attended Making Cents International’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference last week on “Breakthroughs in Youth Enterprise, Workforce Development, Financial Services and Livelihoods”

Messages I took away included:

The Adolescent Girls and Young Women track started from the reality that girls face barriers to economic empowerment, but that there are some specific things that can be done to support them and things girls themselves can do to be more successful. Some k-nowledge that got dropped:

Barriers girls face to gaining employment. Barbara Chilangwa from CAMFED (and former Secretary of Education in Zambia) commented that barriers include girls’ lack of power and male domination; the fact that money is controlled by men, meaning women don’t have an opportunity to own anything; girls not attending school, and early marriage. “Girls’ education must be at the core of any country that wants to develop,” she said.

What do girls say? The team from BRAC in Tanzania presented their holistic life skills and job training program with adolescent girls. As a key step in their program, they consulted with girls on what they consider “the good life” and what challenges they face in trying to reach it. (See “Seeing youth as assets” – it’s important to involve young people in program design and decisions).

The girls considered the good life to include (in this order): health, education, work, house, good husband, loving family, good morals, peace in the family, peace in the community, cooperation and the absence of poverty.

The challenges to the good life that the girls noted were: early pregnancy; early marriage; bride price; gender discrimination; HIV and STIs; dropping out of school; alcohol and drugs; a complex family situation; poverty; a limited voice in the family; limited participation in the community; violence, rape or prostitution; limited opportunities for income generation and lack of opportunity for receiving training and loans.

Is 15 too late for girls? Judith Bruce from the Population Council focused on the message that once a girl hits puberty, she must fight for control of her own body, her sexuality, her fertility and her labor. “Most youth policies begin at 15, and this is 5 years too late for girls,” she said. “We need to invest in late childhood [starting at age 10], which is the critical period for girls.” Girls face intensified social exclusion during adolescence as their movement and mobility is restricted by family and community, Bruce said. In addition, there is a weak link between secondary school completion and earning for girls. “It’s difficult for females to control their earnings and other assets,” she noted. “This is something boys and men don’t have to deal with.” On top of that, there is a disproportionate dependency burden on females in both time and income.

Bruce said that the girls who are participating in financial services and different programs are those who have “survived girlhood,” overcoming a number of obstacles in order to enter into these programs. But what about the girls that don’t get into the programs that agencies design and develop, she wondered. We need to build social capital early, help girls develop friendship networks, provide regular safe spaces where girls can meet, provide female mentors, ensure they have personal documentation and safety nets, and support age-graded, gender and context specific financial literacy. “All girls should have small emergency savings and be introduced to goal-oriented savings,” she said. “This work is hard and costly and it matters who we invest in and work with.” She advocated that 12-year-old girls should be the focus of economic opportunity programs.

Formal or informal? Mary Hallward-Driemeier from the World Bank gave some fascinating insight into gender inequities and where they occur. (I’m not sure which exact studies she was working from but perhaps start here or here). The Bank takes a holistic approach to economic opportunities, looking at human capital (education, training); access to assets (financial and physical); an enabling environment (cultural, social, business) and motivation (drive, connections, empowerment). In this context, gender and youth can matter, she said, both directly (girls and women face constraints because they are female and young) and indirectly (due to the nature of where young women are disproportionately active economically.

Once informal, always informal. Hallward-Driemeier brought out that the constraints that young women face are quite often based on the activities that they tend to go into. Small, informal sectors tend to be where women are working, and there is not much difference between genders within the sector, however more women end up in the informal sector, which is more challenging than the formal sector. So, it’s not about girls’ and women’s participation per se, it’s about helping girls and women move into higher value added activities. “There are not an awful lot of transitions. Once you are in a small, informal enterprise, it’s not likely that you will move out of this sector. This is why youth opportunities are critical to what girls will do with their futures.”

“Sextortion” was a new word I learned. It refers to the sexual harassment that girls and women often face when trying to get a job, eg., “I’ll give you a job but you must provide sexual favors if you want it.” Statistics seem to show that “sextortion” occurs more often in formal employment situations (in the context of HIV/AIDS work I’ve heard that this happens quite a bit in the informal sector also, though I have no studies to back this up). A woman may not be able to report this because her husband or family will no longer allow her to work, it can cause trouble for her, she can be blamed, she can be shamed or stigmatized by the community. A video shown by Youth Build/Catholic Relief Services in an unrelated session the following day included a concrete case of ‘sextortion’. The young Salvadoran woman featured in the video explained that she had studied auto mechanics and was unable to find a job. At the most recent interview she went to, she would have been required to sleep with the manager, so she declined it.

Discriminatory laws that make girls and women vulnerable. Another point that Hallward-Driemeier brought up was that in certain countries, customary and religious law is the formal constitutionally recognized law even though it is discriminatory against women. Marriage, land, property and inheritance are exempt from nondiscrimination and there is no recourse in most cases. She showed some very interesting graphics comparing head of household laws in low versus middle-income countries, and there is not much difference in terms of customary law across countries – discrimination against women is present in both.

Hallward-Driemeier shared some life decisions that can affect a woman’s ability to pursue opportunities or render her less or more vulnerable including:

  • Registering her marriage: legal rights and protections can vary based on whether a marriage is formally recognized by the state or not.
  • Her choice of marital property regime: Separate or community property have different implications for the control of property within marriage and the division of property in the case of divorce or inheritance.
  • Registering property jointly with her spouse: This can protect a woman if the marriage ends.
  • Registering her business in her own name:  So that she can have control as well as ownership of it.
  • Writing a will and having her husband write one too: So that she is legally protected in terms of land ownership, property, custody of children, etc.
It’s clear that the challenges and barriers that women girls face are in many cases much higher than those that men and boys face, but as Bruce said in her comments:  “Girls are such performers!”  In the face of great obstacles, when given an opportunity, girls and young women most certainly can overcome the barriers and shine.

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This is a guest post by Bertil van Vugt, who works as the content director at Africa Interactive.  Bertil and I met for the first time about a year ago at a tweet up in Amsterdam, though I had known about Africa Interactive’s fantastic work with African media professionals for much longer. I was thrilled to hear from Bertil last week that they’ve been working with Plan in West Africa, and have made 4 videos about the Girls Making Media project that I had written about earlier this month. 

Girls Making Media in Ghana

Men dominate the African media sector. Looking at our own database of over 2000 media-professionals in 50 African countries we see predominantly males. Fortunately we are also working with many talented women throughout the continent. When we were asked to produce videos and case studies about Plan’s Girls Making Media Project we got really exited about the initiative that is preparing young girls for a career in the media sector.

I work for Africa Interactive, a social venture delivering media and communication services with offices in Amsterdam, Nairobi and Accra. As I mentioned earlier we are working with local reporters, camera-crews and photographers throughout Africa to document activities of NGOs, multinationals and governments. While these organizations previously worked with Western crews who travelled to Africa, we work with African media-professionals and guarantee the quality of the productions.

Local film-crews

There are many advantages of working with local crews. They know their way around; they speak the languages and understand the culture since it is theirs. These people can be fixer, translator and journalist at the same time. And not unimportant: the costs are lower compared to flying people in. For this Plan assignment we worked with experienced crews (male AND female) in Lomé (Togo), Bomi (Liberia), Makeni (Sierra Leone) and Sogakope (Ghana). Our, by the way female, employees in Accra and Nairobi did the video editing and we finalized the videos in our Amsterdam office.

GMM

The Girls Making Media project’s goal is to contribute to the elimination of gender discrimination and benefits at least 140 adolescent girls and 30 adult journalists in the most marginalized areas in each country. With this project, girls and adult journalists are trained on various topics aiming at increasing their capacity to produce quality information concerning girls’ rights. It is also empowering girls to advocate on issues concerning their well-being.

In the four videos we focus on the three-year program (which started one year ago) and show the development, achievements and challenges so far. We hear about the effect the project has on the girls and their communities. Also, the girls explain how they see themselves after learning media skills and talking about gender related issues on the radio and TV.

Liberia

Ghana

Sierra Leone

Togo

Girls interact with journalists

Together with the Plan West Africa office in Ouagadougou we developed the idea that the video-shoot should also be an opportunity for the girls to interact with our crews and learn from them. During the filming days there was room for questions and sharing of experiences. We received positive feedback from the crews and the Plan offices about the cooperation with the girls. I would like to use this space to thank the camera-crews who did a great job to create the videos:  Comfort + Yudawhere (Liberia), Wotay + Idriss (Sierra Leone), Paul + Gary (Ghana) and Rodrique + Anselme (Togo).

Let me conclude by saying that I hope to welcome the girls to our network after they have finalized the GMM project!

If you are looking for any content on your activities in Africa, just contact me via e-mail: bertil [at] africanews.com or Twitter: @brutuz.

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I had a doctor’s appointment a couple months ago, and my doctor asked me if it was OK for a student to do the prep work, you know, the usual: height, weight, temperature, blood pressure, the like. I said sure.

What I didn’t expect though, was that the student intern was going to read through a list of health questions to try to find out if I was menopausal. Nothing against menopause – it’s a natural thing and I think some women even look forward to it. But I just turned 42, and no, I’m not having hot flashes quite yet.

I suppose it’s some kind of mandatory thing to ask a woman who is in her 40s a series of questions like that. And to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have minded if it had been my doctor asking me. I’ve been seeing her for years now, she knows me, and she knows how to ask questions in the right way. I trust her.

But sitting up on an examination table in a sterile room, clothes off save for an oversized paper gown that keeps falling off my shoulder, with a 20-something I’ve never met sitting in front of me asking if I’m incontinent, suffer from bouts of depression, and have loss of libido was a bit off putting.

It made me want to lie to her. To not reveal any sign of potential menopausal weakness. To tell her that I never feel fatigued. That I never, ever forget anything, and that I am never ever ever distracted or unfocused. I secretly shunned all her suggestions. Calcium? nope, not taking it. Multi vitamins, pah, I feel fine. Let’s get this interview over with STAT.

It felt disempowering to have this young woman, who I don’t know and haven’t developed any trust in, asking me very personal questions about myself and my life and offering scripted solutions to something she imagined I might have, and that she’d obviously never experienced herself.  Since then, I’ve been thinking about it off and on, and related life stories come to mind.

—–

Julia*, someone I was very close to in my Barrio in El Salvador (where I lived for most of the 90s) had a long history of domestic abuse. She would talk to me about it all the time – she still lived with the man, who had tapered off a bit as he got older but who was still not entirely pleasant to her. She would get depressed sometimes and talk about leaving, but she never did. As I got to know her better, I realized my role in the relationship was not trying to find solutions, or criticizing the man, or feeling enraged. It was listening and not judging. An older woman, with a small pension. Where would she go? She believed that she would be seen by the neighbors as weak, and that people would lose respect for her. She really didn’t have a lot of options. So she’d tell me and I’d listen, and that was enough. I’d tell her my work troubles too, and she’d listen, and that was also enough for me. I realize as I write this how much I miss her.

About 15 years ago at work, while still in El Salvador, I was responsible for overseeing a study on gender violence that a partner organization was carrying out and that we were funding. It was going to be a door-to-door survey mixed with some focus group discussions. I immediately thought of Julia; of all the women in the Barrio. I thought ‘Julia would never tell anyone the truth if they came knocking on her door to interview her about domestic violence.’ She would say no, that doesn’t happen here, and close the door until they went away. I doubt any of the other women in the Barrio would have acted any differently.

I felt pretty sure that the information that was produced in that study on domestic violence was not going to be valid, even though it was being managed by a group of well-known, well-educated Salvadoran feminists.  But I felt like I couldn’t say anything, because I wasn’t a well known local feminist. And after all, they’d often imply, what did I know about El Salvador? I was a foreigner. What I did feel certain about was that no one in the Barrios where they wanted to do their study was going to tell them the truth.

—–

And somehow related to that, I started thinking about the time I went to the doctor’s office with my mother-in-law, a brilliant, strong and upright woman from the Barrio, with a 6th grade education, who would be considered ‘impoverished’ by most standards. I remember vividly a young male doctor who addressed her using the familiar form of ‘you’ (vos) instead of using the respectful form of ‘you’ (Usted). I remember being furious. I don’t even use vos with my mother-in-law, out of respect. What was this young, wealthy doctor doing using it? I hated seeing her stripped of her well-earned Barrio respect once she entered the doctor’s office, just because she was poor.

—–

What am I trying to say here? I’m not entirely sure, but I guess I’m thinking about respect and the hierarchies of information and education and offices, and the importance of developing a rapport with people before you go prying around in their personal lives and offering solutions.

I’m relating that to ‘aid’ and ‘development’ work, which in my world, is an intensely personal thing. I try to work from the heart, and I hope I’m never making people feel belittled, judged, or like they need to lie to me or conceal things from me because I haven’t taken the time to get to know them. I hope I’m not disrespecting anyone, knowingly or unknowingly, and that I’m not messing around in things that are none of my business or where I haven’t got an invitation. I hope I’m not always trying to offer solutions, but rather listening and supporting people to come to their own conclusions. I hope I don’t make people feel like they are sitting, half naked on an examination table, while someone who knows nothing about them or their life politely asks them some standard questions and comes up with some generic recommendations for how to prevent or cure something they may or may not have or may not think is an illness.

*Not her real name

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I recently had the honor of leading a group of tech, development and gender folks in a discussion around Girls and ICTs at the Technology Salon.  The conversation revolved around 5 aspects I wrote about in an earlier blog post On Girls and ICTs:

  • Tension between participation and protection
  • Online behavior is an extension of, and a potential amplifier of offline behavior
  • Qualifying the digital divide
  • Girls’ involvement in developing and designing ICT solutions for their own needs
  • Research on Girls and ICTs

Check out the Technology Salon’s page for a round-up of our discussions!

Photo:  Informal evening one-on-one ICT time at a Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) project workshop in Cameroon.

——————-
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At the Technology Salon hosted by the UN Foundation’s Technology Partnership with Vodafone Foundation on Jan 28, 2010, some folks from the DC area (and beyond) will gather to share experiences around girls and ICTs.

This conversation is an important one, given that gaps exist around discussion, practice and research.  The information and ideas shared at the Technology Salon will feed into the contents of the Girls and ICTs chapter for Plan’s upcoming 2010 “Because I am a Girl” Report (currently in the works).

There are a few points that I hope will be considered in the Technology Salon discussion:

Tension between participation and protection.

There are many examples of ICTs being used for increased participation and connection:  mobile phones for citizen journalism;  Twitter revolution in Iran; girls using mobiles to ask questions about sexuality and to get information to help them improve their sexual and reproductive health; girls married off early or those living in protective societies using mobile phones to maintain contact with friends; new media tools opening up possibilities for youth engagement in important conversations that normally they would be shut out of.

However, due to the very real problems of on-line child pornography, child trafficking, child harassment, and cyber bullying, there is also a strong push for more control, more restrictions on on-line use in the name of protecting children.  The tension between child participation and child protection is a very real one.

As we look at how technology and international development communities can support girls’ development, I hope it’s kept in mind that the more knowledge that girls have about the internet and ICTs in general, the more practical use they are allowed, the more coaching to help them understand implications of their actions, then the better prepared they will be to navigate these realms and to keep themselves safe.  Increasing their knowledge, abilities and desire to protect themselves may be more effective than setting strict external limitations.

Actively engaging girls in this as part of an educational process can be better than restricting their use – and being open to young people’s own ideas and ways of using ICTs is critical.  Adult involvement in this area is important, but it is probably more worthwhile to coach than to control.  Good communication and trust between children, youth and their adult mentors and guides is critical in this process. (Excellent resources on Child Online Protection (COP) for children, youth, educators and parents came out on October 2009 and are well worth the read.)

Online behavior mirrors offline behavior.

I remember getting an obscene phone call when I was around 8 years old.  My mother did not blame the telephone, however. She blamed the pervert that was calling.  She made sure to teach me how to be prepared in case it happened again. She emphasized not giving out information on the phone and hanging up immediately if I felt uncomfortable or didn’t know who was calling.  She did not prohibit me from ever touching the phone again or blame me, but she was vigilant for awhile.

In the same way, new ICTs themselves cannot be blamed for negative and twisted behaviors.  ICTs are tools that exacerbate and extend already existing human behaviors, and the blame lies with those who are using ICTs for child trafficking, cyber bullying and the other evils associated with the internet. It’s important to address underlying behaviors. Research shows that kids who are bullied offline are often also bullied online.  Girls who are vulnerable offline are likely also vulnerable online.  Online is a manifestation of offline, and the root causes of girls’ vulnerabilities online cannot be blamed only on the ICT tools themselves.

I have my own daughter now, and have discussed with her many times how to keep herself safe online and on the phone.  It’s important for her to know this before something happens, not during or after.  She will probably be using the internet and the phone for the rest of her life, so prohibiting them is not an option, and the benefits of using these tools obviously outweigh the risks.  My own involvement and use of social networking sites, texting, etc. is an excellent way for me to know how these sites are used and what security holes there are for my children on the sites. How can parents and teachers in areas with limited use of ICTs be involved and engaged to serve as coaches and leaders in on-line protection together with children?  How can communities help identify existing vulnerabilities in girls (or young people in general) that might manifest themselves online and offer support to prevent exploitation?

Digital gender divide.

There are some amazing examples of ICTs helping women and girls to improve their livelihoods; for example, women selling mobile telephone services; birth attendance being improved by using mobile phones to connect women to midwives, ambulances and other medical services; educational content being  expanded using internet; youth media and youth radio programs bringing girls voices and gender topics into the mix for community discussion and dialogue.

However, in places where boys and men dominate women and girls, boys and men likely also dominate the use of available ICTs.  Men may control the family’s mobile phone and take it with them, or monitor women’s calls. In places where boys are more favored, their confidence to try new things is higher meaning they may rush in to use mobiles, cameras, radio equipment in projects while girls shy back.  In some cases girls report that boys hog and monopolize the computers and equipment, and access is denied.  I’ve seen boys criticize, scorn and ridicule girls who are using equipment for the first time, and girls become too timid to try again.  In many developing countries, just getting girls to attend school is difficult.  If girls are assumed to be less intelligent or less worthy than boys, and their secondary school attendance (where ICT training might be offered) is not a priority, girls will have a very difficult time ever accessing and using ICTs.

Underlying issues surrounding girls’ participation in general need to be addressed.  We need to think about how ICTs can be used to help girls’ inclusion, participation and self esteem increase in general.

Girls involvement in developing and designing ICT solutions for their own needs.

Studies in several countries have shown that girls and boys use technology in different ways and for different things.  What specific ICT needs do underprivileged girls in ‘developing’ countries have? Is anyone asking? What processes or solutions already exist that take girls’ ICT needs into account?  What environments are necessary for girls to engage in defining, deciding and creating ICT solutions? Where are they already engaging, and how can communities, schools, organizations and businesses support and recreate those environments?  How can processes and products be designed together with girls?

Tech is still a field heavily dominated by males.  In the US, for example, some women in tech have pulled together to question this and to advocate for more opportunities for women to break into the male dominated worlds of publication owners, conference speakers, businesses, well known innovators, and “best of” lists.  There have been protests against prominent companies for promoting “Booth Babes” and in one case last year, strippers, at tech conferences.  This brings the question – in places without female tech role models and respectful environments, how can girls see themselves as leaders in this field?

Specific research on girls and ICTs.

There is not a lot of information on the impact of ICTs on the lives of girls in ‘developing’ countries, especially studies that go beyond establishment of computer centers.  There is  anecdotal evidence of positive impact of mobile phones on women. There are studies on the digital gender divide for women; on child trafficking and other negative aspects of the internet; and on use of internet and technology among youth in the US, UK, Australia, etc.  It’s been difficult to find a lot of information on the use of ICTs by girls in the “South.”  It would be interesting for more research to be done on girls and ICTs in the “South” and for some good practices to be shared. Hopefully someone at the Technology Salon will be able to share some insight on this.

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