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 Organizations (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.
The movement to digitise government services (such as land title provision) could be harnessed to provide the infrastructure (in the form of community e-government access points) to expand access and use of community ICT kiosks. E-governance programmes could be extended to incorporate social services; these access points could also be a means of providing otherwise non-profitable community education.
Capacity building should be promoted for networking among women (womens or community user groups at village level) who may be better equipped to fund/manage/sustain the management of telecentres.
Content modules should be locally appropriate. Development of such modules in some cases may be self-financing but in others will require sustained subsidy and support.
At times, national regulatory policies adversely impact access to ICTs among the rural population; measures are needed to overcome these barriers.
IT literacy should be broadly defined not only in terms of IT familiarity and user skills but also to include support services and maintenance of IT equipment in rural environment.
There should be positive discrimination of girls, women and other disadvantaged groups to encourage a larger number to acquire competency in IT user skills and to access services.
To help girls and women enter the information economy and knowledge society, it is important to support mentoring and positive discrimination at a very early age to increase girls enrolment and participation in hard sciences and technology centred education. It is also important to reexamine how IT is conceptualised and taught, and to become sensitive to gender biases in the instructional framework and methodology.
A collection of case studies should be designed and carried out to understand the thinking that drives innovative national ICT policies and for-profit projects that support rural ICT initiatives.
Successful and failed ICT4D projects should be systematically analysed to create learning that will then facilitate development of sustainable interventions.
Processes should be carefully documented (how the project is introduced, participants chosen, nature of the partnerships, financial details, which group is providing what resources, lessons learned, weaknesses, strengths) and evaluated. The results should be disseminated to all parties concerned; this process should be a built-in component of every ICT project.
Gender differentiated information and sex segregated statistical data should be produced for all ICT initiatives.
The idea should be promoted that rural women are information/knowledge providers (not simply information consumers), particularly of indigenous knowledge. This should be reflected in the design of ICTs.
The state/national government should provide directives emphasising that relevant information from various departments be regularly updated and made available in time to rural user groups - district and block level agencies can be given responsibility for updating content on a regular basis.
There should be guidelines for ensuring quality and authenticity of content.
Content should be specific to the local situation and need. Material should be in the local language and presented in a user-friendly manner; it should be sensitive to gender concerns.
Use of ICTs should be promoted in a manner convergent with the traditional media in use. Traditional communication forms should be kept in mind while developing content and planning dissemination modalities.
d. Capacity building
Design of training curricula should be based on the local context and must include gender sensitisation for both men and women.
Training should facilitate the development of problem solving skills. The training approach should treat users as active interpreters of information and not just passive recipients.
E-extension should receive special attention in the region both in terms of ICT application and content of the programmes so as to expand technology access to rural women.
It is crucial to improve the capacity of staff serving the extension system in terms of IT competency and the application of IT based systems of information management and technology transfer.
All training curricula should be developed in a participatory manner involving the intended learners, particularly rural women.
Research and Development should be promoted to build cost-effective technological solutions for rural contexts/ public needs.
Positive discrimination in favour of women and other under-served groups should be part of ICT policy at the national level.
Inter-sectoral collaboration and partnerships should be promoted between relevant national and local level agencies to design comprehensive programmes to bring information to rural women for livelihood support. Departments like rural development, agriculture, animal husbandry, natural resource management, horticulture, etc. should be included.
Pilot projects should be evaluated and monitored to develop a set of lessons that can serve as prototypes that can then be modified or implemented on a larger scale.
Community ownership (participation in decision making) should be promoted, with sensitivity to gender, caste, class, education and other divides.
Telecentres or information kiosks should be managed by a village representative committee to promote a sense of ownership. Such committees should be encouraged to come up with creative ways to earn money from services in the telecentre and from other sources in the village to defray the cost of maintaining the centre.
A certain percentage of the budget of government organisations working in rural development should be allocated to enhancing the capability of rural women in using ICTs.
ICTs-driven learning systems provide opportunities to offer integrated information packages addressing the multiple needs of communities and households. Hence efforts should be made to develop integrated information packages for ICTs-based learning systems to assist rural communities.
Multidisciplinary approaches should be used to develop pilot initiatives consisting of anthropologists, human-development experts, technologists, information specialists, language experts, etc. Such projects should be promptly evaluated using carefully chosen indicators of outcomes, focusing not only on success and failure but on learning accrued and impact achieved.
The appropriate tools for evaluation should be developed to include participation of beneficiaries, especially women and under-served groups.
In assessing the effectiveness of information the focus should be on the active learning process of the learner.
E-commerce initiatives should be supported by institutional mechanisms and capacity building exercises to ensure that women benefit from these opportunities.
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:
Increasing access to educational opportunities.
Providing educational input of good quality.
Making educational opportunities available at affordable cost.
Enhancing the relevance of education to societal and individual needs.
Providing opportunities for life-long-learning.
Reaching disadvantaged groups.
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:
children in classrooms
out-of-school children and adults who have lost out on the opportunity for education with their peer group for whatever reason.
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.
Educational opportunities for overall improvement in quality of life of rural women and girls should primarily be related to livelihood and be appropriate to their localities in terms of skill development and capacity building with facilities available as close to the community as possible.
While the component of income generation for individual and self-help groups should be inherent to any educational programme, opportunities for life-long learning and for certification should also be fostered.
Focused short-term programmes should address varied issues and themes of relevance with immediate applicability.
These distance education opportunities should be designed so as to emancipate and empower women.
The prospective users (rural women and girls) should be involved in the entire process of developing the programmes, content, delivery methodologies, learning processes, and assessment, and in the use of innovative technologies. Such a participatory approach can help ensure quality, relevance of content and technologies.
Working partnerships of a non-exploitative nature should be nurtured at different levels among existing agricultural educational systems, open and distance learning systems, private sector, grassroots NGOs and local government for life-long learning through all modes of education, Key participants in the partnership should be the learner-beneficiaries (rural women and girls).
The available infrastructure, operational mechanisms, resources and technologies of the open and distance learning systems should be used wherever they are available. Delivery mechanisms, i.e., ICTs, should be appropriate, deliverable, as well as acceptable and readily available to rural women and girls.
Governments must actively develop and pursue gender-focused policies as opposed to maintaining a gender-neutral stance and take specific steps to develop and disseminate critical gender-disaggregated data. Such data should be evaluated and monitored on a regular basis.
All such policies must be embedded in a holistic, cultural, historical and socio-economic perspective with respect to traditional and rural womens indigenous knowledge systems. Synergies between ICTs and traditional knowledge systems already existing in rural communities must be identified and promoted.
Sustainability includes financial, technological, academic and social aspects. It is critical that these aspects be addressed as a continuous process of policy formulation, programming, planning and monitoring of all aspects of knowledge systems of rural women.
Rural women should be encouraged to take advantage of extensive and mature open university systems to learn about emerging new technologies (IT, biotechnology, agriculture technologies, improved production and processing methods) and the curriculum of the open university and distance education should be adjusted accordingly.
It is important that young girls are encouraged to take up the study of science and math education at school level in distance education based programmes to facilitate their effective participation in the knowledge society.
Capacity building should ensure the development of a pool of service providers to translate and interpret knowledge and technology so that they may be applied to benefit rural women.
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:
The needs of the community concerned must be continuously assessed and objectives spelt out at the beginning. The content and design of ICTs must reflect changing needs and the desired objectives of the community.
It is important to identify and nurture good leadership from the outset in all projects.
Value creation must be a continuous process if the project is to be sustainable.
Constraints must be turned into opportunities.
Solutions must be comprehensive, and cover every sector of the rural economy.
The focus must be on practical applications of ICTs. Software must suit the needs of the rural community.
Reliable and speedy advisory services must be made available.
NGOs must sensitise the for-profit sector to bring gender perspectives to their projects. Supplementary support programmes are needed to take care of the extended needs of women and children (e.g. childcare for working women, or women in training, counselling).
NGOs must be willing to pay for what they want, on reasonable terms, since private sector may invest considerable resources in research and development.
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 womens 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. Womens 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:
ICT applications must emerge from the needs of rural women and men as farmers and producers and project implementers must ensure that they are not simply adding to the burden women already carry.
A combination of professionals and community activists would make the project sustainable.
Villages should be given ownership of the scheme so that they can make it sustainable.
Women should be targeted as primary clients in information campaigns.
Efforts should be increased to include more female extension workers in projects.
Programmes and projects should have a good communication strategy.
Partnerships should include different kinds of agencies and organizations, each with a different area of responsibility.
The focus should be on skills and knowledge transfer to rural communities, so that they can sustain the project.
Decision support systems should be developed at the farmer level.
Services must be provided for a fee, so that they are valued.
Technological information needs to be translated into market information, because farmers need support in terms of information that can empower them as actors in a competitive market.
Every project and every village must be treated as a unique situation; there is no universal solution.