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The recommendations are presented under the three general categories, namely gender-responsive ICTs for development, distance education for rural women and girls, and innovative partnerships for gender-responsive initiatives in the knowledge society.

Gender-responsive ICTs for development

The turn of the millennium saw the world moving into a global “knowledge society.” Numerous international development organisations proclaimed “knowledge” generation, sharing, or utilisation as their core business and they began to reformulate their corporate programming within a “knowledge” framework. At the heart of the new focus on “knowledge” is the assumption that information is the key to social, economic, and political development and for the first time in human history, computer- and telephone-based technologies provide the means to transmit information instantaneously around the world. The economic implications are enormous; by the turn of the century, four of the five most valuable companies in the world were associated with the communications business (Skuse 2001). The time/space compression facilitated by the new technologies has become a centrepiece of globalisation. However, developing countries are profiting only marginally from the jobs associated with the new knowledge economy. International Labour Organization’s (ILO) World Employment Report of 2000 estimated that only five percent of the service sector jobs in industrialised countries could be transferred to developing countries (Alcántara 2001).

A recent World Bank report noted that there is evidence that in high-income countries, skilled workers have benefited most from information communications technologies (ICTs). In fact, the Internet has the potential to be a stronger force for inequality than earlier communication technologies because it is expensive, requires a high level of education and skill to operate, uses languages not widely spoken by the poor, and needs skilled personnel, electricity and a critical mass of users to make it sustainable (World Bank 2002). In the context of these obstacles, the barriers against women in rural communities using ICTs are likely to be even more pronounced.

At the outset, it should be noted that some of the discussion about the potential of ICTs for “leapfrogging” development processes, especially at the community level, has been wildly optimistic. It is clear that the technologies have potential to help grassroots communities gain access to knowledge and information that can have a positive impact on their lives, and also to democratise their relations with government by opening up regular channels of communication. However, they can just as easily serve to further isolate rural people, because of the complex infrastructure, cost and skill base involved in their utilisation. Some development experts continue to argue that there are more pressing problems such as clean water and good nutrition that should be addressed first and that the relationship between the eradication of poverty and information technology is not necessarily strong.

Nonetheless, it is clear that information and communication technologies are having a major impact in the North and increasingly among the elites of the South. It is reasonable to expect that there is also potential for impact on rural communities of the South. There have already been many attempts to introduce ICTs into rural communities, but the majority of the community-level ICT projects that have sprung up in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean during the past five or six years have been donor- or NGO-inspired and funded. Sustainability has been a problem. Most have been small-scale pilot initiatives and few have focused exclusively on women.

In most countries the private sector is a major partner in the diffusion of ICTs, especially cellular telephones, and it is clear that the opportunities for profits are less immediate in rural areas, particularly for Internet-related technologies. National governments have usually invested in the provision of goods and services in urban rather than in rural areas, so it is not surprising that there has been relatively little incentive to spread ICTs - apart from cellular telephones - to rural areas. Consequently much of the activity has been undertaken by NGOs or by UN-affiliated organisations.

The major constraints to diffusion of benefits of information and communication technologies to rural communities, and within these communities to rural women, are identified globally. Historically there is valid evidence to demonstrate that rural women have been disadvantaged in their access to agriculture technologies and technical education. The most common constraints are female illiteracy and the commonly dominant language being alien, lack of local content, techno-phobia, inadequate Infrastructure and technical expertise, social and cultural biases, and inadequate access. Design of ICTs-based interventions should take into consideration these gender-specific constraints if they are to harness these technologies as instruments for the advancement of rural women. Such a new architecture for ICT4D would demand a change in the traditional perspective that technology is gender and class neutral.

In this context, all solutions need to be contextually situated - what works in one country may not work in another. There is a need to consider differences in such factors as age, caste, disability, race, and religion alongside gender differences. Some of these recommendations relate to programmes that may already exist in different forms in countries of the region; others are general suggestions that could guide the implementation of new programmes.

a. Sustainability

b. Documentation

c. Content

d. Capacity building

e. Access

f. Evaluation

g. E-commerce

Distance education for rural women and girls

The goal set in March 1990 was to have basic education for all and universal literacy by 2000. Thirteen years later, it is clear that the progress has been much slower than anticipated. The response to this failure, at the global level, has been to shift the time frame forward, by another fifteen years to 2015. The goal of “Basic Education for All” remains distant for many partly because of additional population growth but also because of the inability of the present structures to cope with the scale and complexity of the challenge.

Existing educational institutions need to respond to the demands of a rapidly changing world. In the light of the failure to achieve “Education for All”, the global development community has realised that existing forms of basic education provision simply do not seem to be up to the job. Conventional educational organisations are noted for their slow pace of internal change.

Some of the critical challenges facing conventional education structures and practices are:

It is here that the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) approach becomes a crucial alternative. It can also be a supplement or complement to conventional learning. For the benefit of a wider audience it would be important to define the terms commonly used in the field of education and distance education.

Basic education is a difficult term to define. It can apply equally to young children inside or outside schools and to adults, inside or outside formal education structure or the labour market.

The Jomtien Conference of 1990 defined basic learning needs as comprising:

“Both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions and to continue learning” (UNESCO, 1990).

Basic Education thus refers to education addressed to both adults and children. It includes primary education programmes and programmes equivalent to primary and in many countries up to junior secondary education. It also includes those programmes with alternative curricula, including such areas as basic health, nutrition, family planning, literacy, agriculture and other life-related and vocational skills.

Audiences for such basic education at a distance would be:

These out-of-school audiences possess a set of characteristics far more difficult to describe than that of the more captive audiences found in the school classrooms. The characteristics vary along a number of dimensions, some of the more significant ones being age, formal educational experience, gender, physical location, health, ethnicity, culture and language.

Open learning refers to an organisational activity based on the use of teaching materials in which the constraints on study are minimised either in terms of access or of time and place, pace, methods of study or any combination of these.

Distance education is an educational process in which for the majority of the time of the learning, the teacher and learner are removed in space or time from each other. Distance education programmes that have hitherto largely been confined to the tertiary sector have to be now harnessed to expand access to education for a broader audience.

In the formal education system, ODL is used for several distinct purposes, both within conventional schools and outside the classroom context. Within the school system ODL programmes are used to supplement classroom teaching and to expand the range of programmes available in schools with limited resources.

Outside the conventional system, ODL programmes provide a substitute for face-to-face interaction for learners who cannot attend school. They also offer the official curriculum to those who are beyond the school system but want a formal qualification. Distance Learning has special characteristics, which should be used to increase access to learning for rural women and girls. The following recommendations are aimed at improving the access to distance education among rural women and girls.

Innovative partnerships for gender-responsive initiatives in the knowledge society

In the ICTs for Development agenda, stakeholders will be different from those in the traditional development programmes. The new actors will be the private sector for-profit group that is leading the ICT innovations and interventions in the Asian Region. In order to make gender-sensitive ICT4D programmes sustainable, and if they are to become an integral part of rural development initiatives, the cooperation of all interested sectors is crucial. Hence, the consultation invited the participation and views of the private sector to explore innovative partnerships for gender-responsive initiatives in ICTs for development. This section summarizes the recommendations that consider the potential for involving the for-profit sector in such initiatives. Increasingly, the for-profit corporate sector is recognising that it must play an important role in social innovations to balance corporate responsibility with motives of profitability. Social responsibility is not only an indicator of good corporate governance, but it also is an important measure by which the investing public judges the corporate entity. For these reasons, many actors in the for-profit sector have indicated an interest in becoming involved in development projects, either in terms of granting funds, providing expertise, or implementing programmes. From the cases presented in the consultation it is clear that in India, many private sector organisations see themselves as the link between IT opportunities and the rural community, and this perspective can be used to generate development advantage, particularly in the effort to increase opportunities for rural women to participate in the knowledge society.

Experience from experiments by small private groups, ranging from use of community and HAM radio as well as corporate extension services has provided important insights into the ways in which such partnerships can shape development efforts. Cooperation between government and professional groups can lead to changes in policy on the part of government, and more efficient and quicker implementation by professionals. Project implementers must recognise that rural people are both consumers and producers of knowledge, and that rural communities represent an important client group - a factor that makes such projects attractive to the for-profit sector.

But it is important to recognize the prevailing wide polarization of views on the positive and negative aspects of such partnerships and the potential risks if the partnerships are do not address the relative differences in resources and bargaining power vested among the various actors.

Suggestions made by the panellists fall into two main categories: (1) ICTs for rural development - private sector partnership innovations, and (2) ICTs in rural capacity building for knowledge sharing and social entrepreneurship with gender-balanced impacts. a. ICTs for rural development: potential private sector partnerships

While concerns exist regarding the modality and balance of power in private-public-NGO partnerships, there is a general consensus that such partnerships are both desirable and necessary to promote ICTs for development in Asia. Particularly important foundations for such partnerships are issues of sustainability, infrastructure creation, setting of clear objectives, and transferability of knowledge generated in urban centres to the rural space. It was recommended that the following concerns be addressed when such partnerships are created:

b. ICTs in rural human resource development

In this context, rural HRD is defined to include gender-responsive capacity-building for knowledge sharing and social entrepreneurship. Gender is an essential component in planning ICTs for rural capacity building. Encouraging women’s participation is critical to capacity building and to successful implementation of a project. Any successful intervention to promote gender-balanced impacts must be linked to the experiences of women. Despite all their constraints and problems, women do well as entrepreneurs, field workers, rural ICT-kiosk operator, etc., especially when they are connected to self-help groups and when financial incentives are strong. Women’s participation will be enhanced if learning centres and other places of activity are in locations where women feel safe and comfortable. Development workers must recognise and take into account the many socio-cultural factors that influence the lives and identities of women in rural communities. Power relationships are as much if not more of an issue than access, when it comes to technology and other resources. This recognition must permeate the creation of content for ICTs to include different groups of rural women. Partnerships that involve not-for-profit and for-profit groups can work well together to create access to technology provided they are sensitive and responsive to gender issues.

Specific recommendations include the following:

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