3.2 Links between digital literacy and women’s socio-economic empowerment
In the hands of women, ICTs can be a source of greater autonomy and self-determination, which are often missing in women’s lives. In other words, with access to information and communication channels, women may gain more say over the decisions that affect their lives. This represents a significant form of empowerment. Being ICT-literate can generate a positive impact for women in many spheres, including:
Education and life-long learning: ICTs serve as a teaching aid and a tool for developing skills. Women can access basic and advanced education courses and life-long learning, as well as different training courses via the Internet. Women can access books, articles and general information in e-libraries and on the Web, and are able to get in touch with others to perform joint projects regardless of physical location.
Information services: Women can access information that is important to nearly every activity they do, ranging from health care to small business management. If they need information concerning how to price their products to get better prices orweather forecast data, for example, they can learn how to obtain it from reliable sources. This can contribute to women and their families having longer and healthier lives.
Communication and networking: In many countries, women entrepreneurs are often social entrepreneurs first and foremost. Their business motives are driven less by profit than by a need or desire to earn income so they can provide for the health and welfare of their immediate families and communities. The majority of small-scale women entrepreneurs often bear several community responsibilities beyond the immediate household -- for instance, in the local orphanage, the local faith institution, environmental awareness groups, information and advocacy groups. These women need to build on existing modes of networking to extend their reach out to business intermediary agencies and wider markets, and to engage their competitors, in order to secure their business livelihoods. This means that women need a range of support provision to connect the big picture with their business objectives, to draw on leadership resources for effective execution, and to connect strategic communication and networking with implementation. When women are ICT-literate, they can participate in online social networks, keep in touch with family members and friends, and organize and advocate for their rights through civil society movements.
Indigenous knowledge, values and culture: Women can transmit their own cultural values and traditions through ICTs, and so preserve their cultural heritage. They can produce Web content in their mother tongue and put it online. Migrant women can stay in touch and establish links with their home communities. Women can also access museums, listen to concerts, and watch cultural programmes through ICTs. ICTs have also played an important role in preserving and identifying threatened or marginalized cultural artefacts and traditions. Visitors to http://www.maori.culture.co.nz/ for instance, can read histories of the Maori people, view images of cultural artefacts and the unique tattoo patterns common among Maori men, obtain Maori recipes, and order cultural products from an online shop. Communities have a wealth of indigenous knowledge that remains “untapped” and unshared. This knowledge is passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth and is not documented. Involvement of communities from project inception and in content generation can lead to sharing of the indigenous knowledge and its fusion with scientific knowledge to tackle practical problems those communities. Community involvement in this regard has an added benefit; indigenous communities take responsibility and shared ownership of the content development process.25
Access to job opportunities: ICTs open a wide range of opportunities for increasing women’s income. Women with ICT skills will have more opportunities to find interesting and well-paid employment. Also, ICTs can be used to buy and sell products. Additionally, women can work from home using ICTs, which can reduce time constraints in women’s daily agendas.
Political participation: ICTs provide women with information on government activities, political parties and candidates for public office. When women can freely access information regarding their communities and government actions, they can more easily participate fully in the political process.
Human rights: Women and men with basic ICT skills can more readily (and if they wish, anonymously) report on human rights violations. With the use of ICTs, the international community has become more aware of the abuse of women’s basic human rights.
Content example: Using ICTs to empower fisherwomen in reef conservation and management, Southeastern India
To reduce pressure on coral reef resources and lessen the economic vulnerability of coastal communities, local fisherwomen Self Help Groups (SHGs) have been empowered through the provision of ICTs and adult education in five coastal villages in the Tuticorin district of the Gulf of Mannar (GoM) in south-eastern India. Improved literacy levels, environmental education, and computer training and equipment have enhanced villagers’ ability to take up alternative livelihoods and improve their living conditions.
The project demonstrated SHGs’ potential as a non-threatening mechanism for mobilizing resources and providing affordable finance and social benefits to poorer fisherwomen. The SHGs also promote self-reliance, awareness creation, capacity development, social solidarity and empowerment. Village coordinators from five targeted villages were trained, and each village was provided with a computer, printer, mobile phone, and internet access. The SHG members in the targeted villages were also trained in other alternative livelihood activities such as vermi-composting and hygienic fish drying methods.
The creation of awareness about the environment, along with the adult education, computer training and other livelihood options, helped the fisherwomen to earn additional income for their families. It was also a key factor in reducing destructive fishing practices and enhancing living conditions in the coastal areas of GoM.