Information Communication Technology as Better Opportunities for Women

 Dr. Lalita Vatta*

Globalization has made deep inroads in India post-1990. It sets off, inter-alia, market technology, particularly the Information and Communication Technology (ICT). ICT is viewed as a potent force in transforming social, economic and political life across the globe. However, there are two major areas of concern that have emerged due to variations in production and consumption of ICT in different countries. They are Digital Divide and Gender Divide. The term digital divide refers to those who benefit from ICT, and those who don’t. Also, gender-based inequalities limit how women can benefit from the opportunities offered by Information Technologies (ITs) and how they can influence the developing global knowledge economy, creating a gender divide. The World Summit on Information Society in 2003 affirmed that despite significant regional variations, IT development affects women and men differently and in all regions women face fundamental barriers to benefiting from it as well as influencing IT development policies.This article deals with fundamental role of ICTs in modern economic growth and development, entrepreneurship and employment opportunities offered by ICT.

In many instances, the continuous development and application of technology has created vast new economic and employment opportunities. Most developing countries are harnessing the use of technology to accelerate their development processes. Since women represent a significant majority of those who do not have access, there is a clear gender dimension to the technological divide. Therefore, the technology divide is multifold. It refers to a gap between countries that have or do not have easy access to technological advances. Within countries, the divide is between the socio-economic strata of societies that have access to technology and those that do not (particularly in rural areas). In addition, there is a gender gap across and within. In order to meet the technological challenge, there is a need for development strategies that combine new technological capacity with investments in a broad variety of traditional and non-traditional economic sectors. These strategies need to be supported by improvements in education, skills development and vocational training and research.The support of women’s entrepreneurial activities is an important benefit of IT, which has not been realized properly in many developing countries. However, there are isolated experiences where IT is judiciously utilized for the economic empowerment of poor women.

ICT in economic growth and development

ICT becomes the foundation for every sector of every economy, everywhere. The reasons are-

  • Reduced transaction costs and thereby improved productivity.
  • Offer immediate connectivity- voice, data visuals- improving efficiency, transparency and accuracy.
  • Substitute for others, more expensive means of communicating and transacting, such as physical travel.
  • Increase choice in the marketplace and provide access to otherwise unavailable goods and services
  • Widen the geographic scope of potential markets, and
  • Channel knowledge and information of all kinds.

These attributes underline the important part ICT has played in firm and macro-level growth. At the macro level, various studies have shown significant, positive impact on GDP from information technology, telecommunications, and mobile telecommunications investment, in bothdeveloped and developing countries. These attributes are also critical in expanding individual economic opportunity, enabling people to enhance their knowledge and skills; identify, apply, and quality for better-paying jobs; use their disposable income more wisely; manage their own business efficiently; and tap into broader markets for their goods and services. In developing countries, ICT offers tremendous potential to eliminate or at least work around a number of critical obstacles to economic growth.

ICT removes obstacles

  1. Geographic isolation- ICT collapses distance and time, overcoming geographic isolation and substituting for expensive travel and lost work time. For example ICT can facilitate information exchange, long distance money transfer, tax returns and other government business, even medical diagnosis.
  2. Lack of competition and high prices for consumers- faced with few options in the marketplace, in absolute terms, for what they buy. Broad, real- time access to market information and transaction capability through telephony and the internet effectively increases competition, allowing consumers to maximize their incomes and driving reductions in price over time.
  3. Lack of information and low prices for producers- the internet and mobile phones can give farmers, fishermen and other local producers access to market information for multiple, competing marketplaces, enabling them to get the best prices for their goods.
  4. Legal exclusion- A mobile phone with a camera can document that specific people live in a particular place, and this can facilitate access to land title validation. We are also seeing water and electricity payments made by mobile phone.
  5. Political voice- Mobile phones, the internet and text messaging are all now tools of knowledge acquisition and political empowerment. Repressive governments are deeply concerned that these tools are in the hands of the disenfranchised, as they are proving to be powerful means by which they organize, amplify and transmit needs and demands, both domestically and internationally.
  6. Social capital- Maintaining strong family ties is critical to mental and physical well being, especially while working from home. ICT allows people to pursue economic opportunity whenever they find it, or at least, they reduce the social cost of doing so.

Entrepreneurship and ICT

Technological “catching up” is also supporting the transition from the informal to the formal economy. In some countries, the growth in women-owned businesses is greater than for private firms as a whole.  Women entrepreneurs are increasingly becoming the driving force of many economies. Studies show that they account for a good number in business. These businesses are often micro- and small- scale enterprises, in the informal economy and may not offer the same job security, social protection, access to training and career development as the formal economy. In fact, formal employment, with all its inherent advantages in terms of job quality and quantity, remains an elusive goal for many women. Supporting women entrepreneurs to introduce new technologies in their enterprises enhances the potential to increase productivity, create employment, reduce poverty, and promote local development. Women go into business in a variety of forms, including self-employment, social entrepreneurship, cooperatives and many more. For women to recognize their entrepreneurial potential, it is important to promote role models that coincide with their realities and aspirations. Women also need to overcome other barriers when deciding whether to start a business, such as limited access to credits or traditional patterns preventing women from taking part in income-generating activities or controlling financial resources. To address these barriers, the ILO has adopted a twin-track approach of mainstreaming gender equality in entrepreneurship development and approaches, while at the same time providing targeted approaches to women’s starting, formalizing and growing their enterprises.

Skill development paves the way for women to create and sustain productive employment. In order to increase productivity and diversify into higher value-added activities, women entrepreneurs need to be empowered to access and adopt new technologies and apply them in different sectors of the economy. Promoting women entrepreneurship to help close the technology gap thus contributes to more decent and productive work. Yet education and training are not enough. To be fully effective, these need to be part of integrated national economic and employment development policies and strategies. Other key factors include the creation of an enabling environment for sustainable enterprise development, social dialogue and fundamental investments in basic education, health and physical infrastructure.People welcome the freedom to fulfill family commitments, dislike lack of access to public and social spaces. Telecenters can solve these problems by combining home work with social spaces and organizations. One way to do this is to move to entrepreneurship on the internet. The internet can offer great assistance to entrepreneurship by women. It offers databases, put together by women’s groups, from which women can find relevant links, connections, resources and information and develop partnerships, not just for their services, but also for financing, mentoring and business coaching. It can even mitigate the effect of lack of access to capital. Support groups can be formed through electronic bulletin boards. Thus, the internet itself can help to organize and build solidarity with and between people working from home offices. It can break down isolation, aid job related concerted action, or just increase information, opportunities and interaction. Rural women in developing countries may be able to sell their products directly without going through middlemen. One of the most powerful applications of ICT in the domain of knowledge networking is electronic commerce [E?commerce]. E?commerce refers not just to selling of products and services online but to the promotion of a new class of ICT? savvy women entrepreneurs in both rural and urban areas. E?commerce initiatives can link producers and traders directly to markets at national, regional and even global levels, allowing them to restructure their economic activities and bypass middlemen and the male?dominated and exploitative market structure. Significantly a number of non? profit organizations have diversified their services to provide support to this class of entrepreneurial women.

New opportunities and jobs for women

Revolutionary changes in IT have been reinforcing economic and social changes, which in turn have been transforming business and society. There are different views on the involvement of developing countries in the IT revolution. Not only do most developing regions lack economic resources and indigenous techno-scientific capabilities to develop and deploy modern information system infrastructures, but they also tend not to make the best use of the opportunities of technology transfer. Comparisons with advanced economies show poor exploitation of the IT in developing countries. The participation of developing countries in the production of information technology (as opposed to the use of information technology in other industries) poses significant opportunities and challenges. IT industries are likely to constitute the largest industrial sub-sector. The IT effects on employment pattern are complex and shifting. It has been observed that because of lower wages, developing countries gain skilled jobs. IT will affect employment pattern all over the world mainly in three ways:

  • As an industry, it creates new jobs in various companies;
  • It will change the pattern and level of employment in other industries, which are using IT for competitive advantage;
  • It will create opportunity for creating new economic activity.

It is generally believed in India that for getting an employment in IT industry one needs to be an expert in computer. However, the fact is that a large number of young people, especially women who are matriculate or graduates in any discipline, can get suitable remunerative jobs in IT. According to John Gage of Sun Micro-systems, three fundamental changes in IT responsible for explosion in their use to promote economic development are plummeting cost, expanding access to network, and more powerful human to machine interfaces. These three changes will continue and accelerate. IT promises an endless stream of benefits through technologies that generate employment and economic growth, link people closer together and promote mutual understanding, and applications that serve societal needs of people. The World Employment Report states that ensuring that workers have access to the technologies and that they possess the required education and skills to use them are the fundamental policies that the developing countries need to consider. The report places formidable emphasis on the independence of work from any physical location. Work that is independent of location has a growing share of employment in industrialized countries. Women are often thought to benefit from the new independence of work location. Call centers and data processing in developing countries are predominantly female occupations. As per the ILO report, through telecentres, countries like Bangladesh, India and Senegal have been able to create direct employment for thousands of women and men. Such local entrepreneurial activities are likely to have positive externalities on local economies as well. It has been estimated that women-operated telecentres increase the participation of women as consumers of these services. Among the poor families, risk families are being identified based on the following nine risk factors.

  • People who have no house of their own
  • People for whom potable water is not available within 150 meters of their houses in urban areas and 300 meters in rural areas
  • People having no primary facilities like washroom
  • At least one member of the house is illiterate
  • Dependence on one member for the income of the family
  • People who have no means to get food twice a day
  • Families having children below the age of five years
  • A member of the family is liquor or drug addict
  • If they are scheduled caste/scheduled tribe (lower caste) families

If any four or more of the above risk factors are applicable to a family, such a family is treated as a risk family. These micro-enterprises owned by poor women functioning in various locations have established credibility and they are getting regular work for data entry, data processing, and DTP works from various government and private organisations. They even compete with big private and government companies and emerge successful in getting state level contract for data entry and data processing. The data entry work of revenue cards for the whole state, state level B.P.L family survey, election identity cards etc. are some of the state level projects, which are being handled by these units. Some of these units are engaged in software development, web design and manufacture and supply of computers. Despite many areas of strengths, the promotion of IT based micro-enterprises is constrained by several major and interdependent weaknesses. The factors identified as weaknesses are:

  • High cost of IT training
  • Insufficient number of IT-trained women
  • Lack of facility for micro-credit
  • Lack of supporting organization

Though the growing market due to rapid computerization and outsourcing presents good opportunities, there is little reason for complacency as there are potential threat factors. The micro-enterprises are facing tough competitions from large-scale private sector organizations. The unstable political situation and frequent bandh and hartals were also highlighted as potential threats to the growth of IT-based micro enterprises in the state. It requires a high degree of entrepreneurship for the success of IT enterprises. One of the most important things that a woman needs in order to be successful as an entrepreneur is to become empowered. In order to

become empowered, women must be able to:

  • Breakthrough barriers
  • Develop a strong will to achieve objectives
  • Know and accept her capabilities and limitations
  • Know her desires and convert these into objectives
  • Know that she can acquire the abilities needed
  • Look at herself confidently
  • Overcome shyness
  • Talk and act confidently

The government with the help of NGOs, financial institutions, and private agencies should conduct intensive entrepreneurship development programmers for the educated unemployed women. They should be fully equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that the IT offers them. It is also necessary to provide short-term training in IT to the educated unemployed in the state and encourage them to take up self-employment. IT provides an enabling potential to improve women’s lives. IT can be an important tool in meeting women’s basic needs and can provide access to resources to lead women out of poverty. It is fortunate that the state has a conducive environment for the promotion and growth of IT based activities. The state’s core competence in education can be transformed into economically rewarding and employable skills by deploying the tools offered by IT.

It is a widely recognized fact that the IT revolution is resulting in a widening global ‘digital divide’. The digital divide between the developed and developing countries is also being replicated within each country, widening the income gap between those who share in the digital revolution and those who live on the other side of the digital divide. Digital divide is soon becoming the most visible component of a development divide. For developing countries, the digital divide, unless tackled, has several potentially harmful consequences, including further marginalization in terms of gender, rural, urban and poor- rich gap.

What can be done

A number of steps can be taken to promote education, skills training and entrepreneurship development to equip women and men to overcome the technology gap and benefit from emerging opportunities. Education, training and skills development can be encouraged by:

  • Increasing the training and employment opportunities for disadvantaged persons, including women, young people and people with disabilities.
  • Empowering women to study technology-related subjects and be trained in new and higher skills, providing career guidance to widen the interest of girls and women in existing and emerging opportunities related to technological developments.
  • Creating awareness on the need to overcome cultural and social barriers preventing girls from studying technology-related subjects. This also includes upgrading the informal apprenticeship systems in developing countries by enhancing relevance and quality of training, ensuring formal recognition of skills and providing women with access to apprenticeship training.
  • Addressing low productivity and persistent poverty in the informal economy through the improved access of women and men to quality skills development outside high-growth urban areas, combining remedial education and employment services with technical training, implementing systems for the recognition of prior learning so as to open up jobs for them in the formal economy and providing entrepreneurship training that encourages and enables the formalization of small enterprises.
  • Developing effective means for women and men in urban and rural communities to learn about new technologies, production techniques, products and markets to improve agricultural and non-farming productivity.

Entrepreneurship can be promoted through

  • Mainstreaming gender in ICT policies and strategies to help promote women’s access to, participation and leadership in IT.
  • Supporting media campaigns, workshops, trade fairs, exhibitions and other promotional events-involving governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations and local communities-to provide women entrepreneurs with a platform to promote voices for change and be inspirational for other women.
  • Improving ways for women to access micro-credits allowing them to buy and make full advantage of new technologies, thus enhancing their productivity and access to new markets.
  • Promoting policies that assist women in establishing small- and micro-businesses, including providing business skills training, access to communication technology and credits to enhance the productivity.

Conclusion

It is universally accepted that IT offers immense opportunities for the comprehensive social and economic development of developing countries. Without its adoption, there is little chance for countries or regions to develop. The term women’s rights refer to the putative freedoms and entitlements of women and girls of all ages. These rights may or may not be institutionalized, ignored or suppressed by law, local custom, and behavior in a particular society. These liberties are grouped together and differentiated from broader notions of human rights because they often differ from the freedoms inherently possessed by or recognized for men and boys and because activists for this issue claim an inherent historical and traditional bias against the exercise of rights by women and girls. Issues commonly associated with notions of women’s rights include, though are not limited to, the right: to bodily integrity and autonomy; to vote (suffrage); to hold public office; to work; to fair wages or equal pay; to own property; to education; to serve in the military or be conscripted; to enter into legal contracts; and to have marital, parental and religious rights. Women and their supporters have campaigned and in some places continue to campaign for the same rights as men. It illustrates how IT can be effectively used as a technology for small scale industries, which are promoted by women under self-employment scheme. This paper discusses the establishment of small scale industries which can promote such business for their economic empowerment. The IT based micro-enterprises by the self-help groups of poor women have helped the demystification of the common man that a few elite ones in the society are the only beneficiaries of the powerful IT. They have begun to consider IT as a tool for attaining knowledge and development by everyone. The strategy to encourage the participation of the poor women in the digital revolution is expected to reduce the gap in digital and gender divide in this state. The economic empowerment of women via IT enables them to challenge discrimination and overcome gender barriers.

References

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