⇓ More from ICTworks

We Still Talk About Women as if They Were a Sector

By Guest Writer on November 8, 2017

gender in development

The title of this post is the most memorable quote from our recent Technology Salon, asking the question “Are We Really Closing the Gender Gap in ICT4D?“, a discussion led by:

We’ve talked about gender and ICT4D before and the title is inspired by – or perhaps uninspired by – our continuing need to address the state of gender in development, from our external programs to our internal organization structures and processes.

At this Technology Salon, our full 90-minute debate came to three core conclusions on the reality of gender in development.

Development is sexist.

Full stop. Not going to sugarcoat that. This is one area where we our field is falling victim to its own hollow buzzwords: our work needs to reflect an enabling environment not just an “empowering” one. For our programs, for example with improving online connectivity, it’s taking the additional steps understand the conditions in which women are allowed to participate, not just if they are online or not.

Register now for Closing the Digital Gender Divide with USAID on November 15th

Internally, we need to address why this Technology Salon had nearly 40 people, and only four men among them, as if gender can only be solved by women alone. We need more collaboration and greater participation from our male colleagues. On the other end of the spectrum, the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has one female in a director-level position and one other full time contractor.

“We still talk about women as if they were a sector.”

Gender is about people and cannot be treated wholesale in the same way we approach infrastructure programs. Incorporating community culture is still a massive barrier for successful programs. The likely reason is that it’s expensive and less quantifiable and thus underdeveloped in our engagements.

But gender is deeply personal and the failure to incorporate community culture undermines results from the start. Are we too standoffish from this topic because we do not want to offend?

This is absolutely one area that can’t afford to be siloed.

Let’s leverage those existing working groups like the Interagency Gender Working Group (IGWG) and the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on the Gender Digital Divide to name a couple. New initiatives are likely not the answer compared to bringing in existing teams and toolkits to help address issues.

This was our most vibrant conversation to date and it’s always a good sign in our Tech Salons that I have to kick people out of our meeting space 45 minutes after we end the discussion, because they are still too deep in conversation to notice the time. That much opportunity and appetite for collaboration is encouraging to say the least.

Since you’ve read this far, you really should sign up now to get invited to the next Technology Salon debate!

Rob Baker leads Technology Salon DC.

Filed Under: Women in Tech
More About: , , , , , , , ,

Written by
This Guest Post is an ICTworks community knowledge-sharing effort. We actively solicit original content and search for and re-publish quality ICT-related posts we find online. Please suggest a post (even your own) to add to our collective insight.
Stay Current with ICTworksGet Regular Updates via Email

2 Comments to “We Still Talk About Women as if They Were a Sector”

  1. Thanks for the candid article and I fully agree that any complaint can help improve ICT4D interventions and the general learning in the sector. To this end, what do you think about a learning and feedback section on ICTWorks where all practitioners can collect and share feedback and insights? It would be great to have a living learning resource that draws from the different articles and synthesizes the findings.

  2. Kai Spratt says:

    Thank you for this posting. Indeed, everything is about people and all people are gendered. There are 2 points I ask you to reconsider:
    1.”Incorporating community culture is still a massive barrier for successful programs. The likely reason is that it’s expensive and less quantifiable and thus underdeveloped in our engagements.: Incorporating culture is not a “massive barrier”. You have to do a gender analysis to understand how to enter that space, understand what people in the community actually want to change and then support their efforts to change things. One step at a time. Social change IS quantifiable – you have to have the right indicators and recognize that social change is a process that can’t be measure as an output like “number of people trained”, an almost laughable indicator since it is impossible to know if, or how many, people were able to USE what they learned at the training. Cultural change can happen quickly (how long ago was the smartphone introduced?) or over decades. Get your indicator right.
    2 “But gender is deeply personal and the failure to incorporate community culture undermines results from the start. Are we too standoffish from this topic because we do not want to offend?” In almost every community people are trying to challenge injustice, inequality and discrimination. We are not knights in shining armor coming in here to do good as if local people are clueless about the experience of inequality. Efforts to address gender based inequality means working with people who are ALREADY challenging it. Unfortunately most development projects are designed in an office somewhere without truly engaging local actors and activists and letting them determine the priorities and design the activities. TRUST local actors – and support them.