Technological developments are transforming how people live and interact with one another. However, since technology mirrors the societies within which it exists, it is evident that it has failed to bridge the gender gap in the current society adequately. The existing power relations in an organization determine the enjoyment of technological advancements. In this regard, it is apparent that technologies are not gender-neutral. In effect, the technologies that are designed by men in North America carry the prejudices and beliefs of these societies and may fail to address the need for inclusivity in modern society adequately.
Fig 1 Asian women using personal computing devices (Zhao, 2018)
Gender-inequality and online platforms
Online platforms provide an opportunity for battling gender inequalities, but may also perpetuate power differences and prejudices. For example, the rise of the incel movement has resulted in the creation of platforms that allow individuals to organize and engage in reactionary movements aimed at undermining the identity and dignity of women. Many women are the victims of trolling on social media platforms because anonymity enables people to act on their worst impulses.
However, feminists have utilized online platforms to organize against misogyny and to create public awareness about the threats posed by gender inequality. For example, the #MeToo movement relied on social media to educate the public about sexual harassment of women and ensured that men were held accountable for their actions. The viral conversation ensured that people across the world understood the necessity to respect the dignity and individuality of women. It contributed to a better understanding of the concept of consent and its implications in society. People across the world were able to learn about the threats facing vulnerable populations and the necessity for implementing appropriate intervention measures.
Internet penetration has created an opportunity for ensuring that more people across the world understand essential issues such as female empowerment. For instance, women in the West have inspired their counterparts across the globe to demand more agency. Considering the role of ICT and the intersectional theories provides a framework for understanding how much people are actively participating in shaping conversations about their communities. Women who have access to the internet can learn about their rights and the opportunities that exist in their environment.
The existence of a gender gap in access to ICT means that technology can entrench existing power differences in society. This observation underscores the necessity for ensuring that inclusive approaches drive the design and deployment of technologies. In effect, the willingness of stakeholders to seek to bridge the gap actively will determine the impact of ICT in reducing gender inequality.
According to Amy and Caroline (2018), in 2016, about two-thirds of the world’s population had access to mobile phones. More people can access the internet through shared devices. As the proportion of the global population that has access to the internet continues to increase, there is a growing opportunity for the positive disruption of the global economy. About 60 percent of the global population will have access to the internet by the end of 2020 (Amy & Caroline, 2018). Bringing 4.7 billion people online will create an opportunity for increasing inclusive economic growth in contemporary society (Amy & Caroline, 2018).
Factors that affect access to ICT services
Besides gender, other factors affect access to technological services such as race and class. Policy, cultural differences, and power have a consequential effect in defining access to digital services. For example, women are 10 % less likely to own a mobile phone as compared to their male counterparts (Amy & Caroline, 2018). The gender gap may be higher in some regions than in others. For instance, women in South Asia are 26 % less likely to own a mobile phone, while 70 % do not seek internet services (Amy & Caroline, 2018).
Gender intersects with other social constructs that affect the advantages and disadvantages that are available to a person. For instance, Middle-class women in urban areas are more likely to enjoy internet access as compared to their counterparts in rural areas. The poorest and marginalized women who would benefit the most from technology are likely to be the last to access these platforms.
Technological advancements play a vital role in contributing to the achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs). The growth of ICT is creating opportunities for the growth and development of communities. Besides, data and technology have played a crucial role in increasing innovation in policy formulation.
ICT and Sustainable development
There is a need for international development professionals to ensure they focus on increasing access to the internet for women. It is vital to ensure that the adoption of technology in promoting sustainable development is rooted in increasing the agency and ability of the corporations which are involved in the implementation of development programs. Ensuring that an organization can achieve sustainable development requires a holistic approach in creating inclusive digital economies.
Creating an inclusive digital economy requires investing in the empowerment of more women to participate in the process. Presently, careers in technology are dominated by men, undermining the gender-sensitivity of technological products and solutions. The technologies that could benefit everyone tend to meet the needs of men, undermining the gain for women. Increasing diversity in ICT will enhance the capacity of the modern economy to create solutions that are responsive to the needs of their population. It is vital to ensure that more people are aware of the impact that technology can have on their capacity to achieve positive outcomes.
Call to action
Stakeholders have to evolve from just focusing on access also to address the opportunities that can be created by empowering women and other vulnerable groups. The proliferation of digital media is creating new opportunities that must be exploited to increase awareness of the needs of different groups. However, it is also imperative to ensure that there is sufficient representation of all groups in contemporary society. A failure to create an inclusive ecosystem may entrench gender inequalities instead of overcoming them. There is a necessity for empowering women to take an active in the ICT industry to ensure that they challenge prejudice and advance more inclusive technological ecosystems.
Amy O & Caroline S. (2018). Introduction: Gender, development, and ICTs. Gender & Development, 26 (2), 217-229, DOI: 10.1080/13552074.2018.1489952
Zhao, H. (2018). The time is now for gender equality in tech. Retrieved from https://news.itu.int/press-progress-gender-equality-tech/