2.3.3 Develop content and training materials with and for women
Women’s information needs are closely related to their economic and social circumstances (e.g. whether they live in a rural or urban area, their literacy level, whether they are self-employed or work as an employee, etc). Consequently, for content to be relevant, women and girls’ local needs must be assessed on the basis of their social, educational and economic context, as well as on the opportunities available to them for development and empowerment through ICTs. Access to available content will be predetermined by its relevance for women and girls’ specific needs and whether it is in a language used in the community. The Internet is growing as a provider of information on health issues, women’s rights, and on economic and employment opportunities, such as the availability of training and financial services. But if women do not have basic Internet and computer skills, the Internet will remain out of their reach.
As part of a programme to expand access to ICT, one can:
Develop new online content with indigenous knowledge;
Translate information into local languages and dialects;
Use the Internet to disseminate information on local traditions and cultural expressions; and
Provide information on local events and services.
New content can be produced to challenge local stereotypes pertaining to women and girls. For low-income or vulnerable women, the production of new content cannot be solely market-driven. It is a source of more autonomy, empowerment and self-determination for empowering women, and ought not to be available only to those who can afford it. Ongoing training should also be provided to enable women to develop Web content for themselves. Simple first steps can include using local languages and incorporating a strong visual component. Both have been found to improve engagement for women (and men) with limited literacy.
An example from the region of Uvira, Democratic Republic of Congo, shows how women farmers are using ICTs to learn about agriculture. A local organisation, IFDAP (Initiative des femmes pour le développement de l’autopromotion et la paix), formed a support group for women farmers. In early 2009, the group increased access to agricultural information by facilitating Internet access to rural women farmers. Through this, and IFDAP’s recently launched information center, so far, up to 150 men and women have received needed information on agriculture.15
Fact of Interest: men and women may have different information interests
The APCNews of 201016 carries a series of case studies on ICT initiatives that have been evaluated using gender-evaluation methodology. The first case is the Bumawa telecenter, located in a small town on the Ugandan banks of Lake Victoria. The telecenter was seldom visited by women. A GEM17 study uncovered that men and women were interested in different information – women in health, vocational training and food security – whereas men searched for information on politics, economics and business.
Women users were much less likely to read English than the men, and were frequently frustrated in their search for relevant content. Often, they would return home to unfinished household chores - never to return. In comparison, if men couldn't find the information they were looking for, they still lingered at the telecenter, playing games and familiarizing themselves with the facilities. Following the evaluation, the telecenter began to offer equal-opportunity training targeting women over 30 years of age and catering content specifically to their interests.
Content drives traffic. A community center that delivers services and/or information pertinent to women’s needs and interests will automatically attract women. By extension, a community center that offers a range of IT-based services and information to women will attract regular visits by women. These services can be both private (“individual in nature”) or public (“collective in nature”), and the content can range from generic learning software, to specific training materials with qualifications (see Amref e-learning for nurses) and context-specific content developed by local women for their own use.
Fact of interest: Telecenters in the Philippines attract more women
In the Philippines, public telecenters tend to attract far more women than men. A study looked at two rural telecenters, using the Association of Progressive Communication’s (APC’s) gender-evaluation methodology. It found that because the telecenters did not allow games or pornography, men were less interested in occupying seats in those centers.
These tools are profoundly pluralistic, democratic, and hyper-individualistic, yet globally collaborative and interdependent, and extremely powerful. As these community ICT centers link in with formal and informal school and vocational training networks and become part of the ”learning fixture” available to all levels of learning, women should gain a higher potential for using the facilities and influencing the range of services and training offered.
Fact of interest: ICT training and holistic programming in India
The Seelampur Community ICT Center deploys innovative IT solutions for skill enhancement, and provides holistic programming for women and girls, including content related to education and skill building, health, legal rights, micro-enterprise and entrepreneurship, information sharing and networking and non-formal literacy. It uses interactive multimedia tools to support vocational and life-skills training to poor girls and women, including awareness-building on health issues and food preservation, as well as support to professional activities such as tailoring and quilt-making. Vocational training programs include fashion design, media development and basic computer literacy, beauty culture, and arts, crafts and painting. Further, the Gender Resource Center offers monthly health camps (with access to doctors, medicines and referrals), nutrition and AIDS awareness camps and legal awareness sessions twice a week.
An information center is also run where beneficiaries can ask about old-age pensions, loans and financial aid. The information help desk organizes weekly meetings about beneficial schemes, self-help groups, life skills and awareness programs, and it has Internet connectivity. The center also assists women with issues such as feticide, dowries, family violence and injustice. It partners with the Delhi government to ensure welfare schemes reach the most marginalized women of the community. See Datamation Gender Resource Center Case Study for more information.