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ICT – Empowering women for a more sustainable world

Gender inequality is a cause for concern worldwide. The world is progressing at a rapid pace, technological developments are making us lead a smarter, faster life but are we actually developing? Is the mindset changing? Is development providing equal opportunities for men and women or we are still living in the dark territory of ignorance and unfair treatment? Is the world developing enough to embrace the more educated, more aware women force or we are still plagued by the primitive thought of ‘men are the hunters.’

Thoughts are evolving, but a lot remains yet to achieve. In few countries like India, till date, a family blessed with a girl child has to face sneer and shame. Bringing to the world a being who can give life to others is actually considered a sin. A girl child is sometimes ignored to the extent that her birth is not even registered in many cases. This leaves the country with skewed gender data.

To have sustainable development in the true sense, it is necessary to empower the women. Only by empowering the makers of the society can we actually have a developed society, a society which can think and work collaboratively towards achieving sustainability.

The world is rapidly moving towards digitization and unfortunately, women have to face discrimination in this realm as well. It is alarming to discover that even areas like e-governance are not women-friendly.  While women empowerment should be a critical goal of digital government initiatives, only 28 percent of countries in Asia offer some sort of online services for women. Governments, all over the world must ensure that their e-government strategies provide opportunities and equal benefits to women through gender-sensitive public service delivery and inclusive decision-making processes. Such measures can grant more power to the gender and boost their confidence to emerge as better decision-makers.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have a vast potential for women empowerment. However, with respect to the use of ICT, a gender divide has been observed. The factors identified for this digital divide mainly include poverty, illiteracy, including computer illiteracy, and language barriers are particularly acute for women.

As a UN report suggests, unless this gender divide is specifically addressed, there is a risk that ICT may aggravate existing inequalities between women and men and create new forms of inequality. If, however, the gender dimensions of ICT—in terms of access and use, capacity-building opportunities, employment, and potential for empowerment—are explicitly identified and addressed, ICT can be a powerful catalyst for the political and social empowerment of women and the promotion of gender equality.

The gender divide can be mitigated to a large extent by mainstreaming and monitoring of a gender perspective in all ICT initiatives, collecting sex-disaggregated data on the use of ICT and women’s participation in policy-making, identifying and promoting good practices and lessons learned on the ways women and girls are using ICT, capacity-building towards gender equality in education and employment, enhancing democracy and women’s participation through electronic connectivity etc.

Climate change impact studies – biased as well

Gender is also a major point to consider within both the climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction areas. Gender-blindness leads to exclusion of women from decision-making processes, and thus sidestep their knowledge and stakes on environmental issues. This produces additional ‘gender risks’ that can worsen gender inequality by reinforcing power structures, increase poverty (due to limited access to financial resources and livelihood opportunities), and decrease the potential benefits of the proposed climate change adaptation strategy.

Ironically, while women are not made an important part of the decision-making process, climate change and environmental hazards impact women more than men. In the absence of the men of the household, when women are given land, they are often located in marginal, hazard-prone areas with the least secure tenure rights. In many developing countries, women are responsible for collecting water and fuel for domestic use. In poorly serviced areas where there is insufficient pumped water, women have to travel far distances to access water that is both enough for their household needs and of acceptable quality for consumption. Climate-related hazards, such as droughts, can dry up water resources, putting an additional strain on women. The issues are many.

To improvise the situation, ‘gender mainstreaming’ has been an internationally-agreed upon a strategy to promote gender equality. Mainstreaming gender in GIS is one approach to serve such ends.

Gender issues and GIS

Together with various gender mainstreaming approaches, GIS can shape these decisions so that they address gender inequality for more sustainable development. There is growing recognition of the power of spatial analysis in assisting development programs but to date, the importance of mapping gender in development programs remains limited and constrained. By placing ‘people on the map,’ GIS can present the actual and potential gender-differentiated impacts and implications of environmental and climate change on types of human populations and their settlements, livelihoods, livelihood spaces and resource use regimes. This kind of identification can facilitate the adoption of relevant strategies for reducing the differential treatment.

Researchers at ICIMOD, Chhaya Vani Namchu and Menaka Hamal, both working on gender data in the Hindu Kush, believe that spatial study from a gendered lens is necessary to achieve sustainable development, especially in Himalayan or rural contexts where climate-induced change and corporate globalization have led to migration, particularly of men.

UN and gender inequality

Since 2000, UNDP, together with its UN partners and the rest of the global community, has made gender equality central to its work. The UN has made remarkable progress in the area with more girls getting educated and employed today.

However, there are still huge inequalities in the labor market in some regions, with women systematically denied equal access to jobs. Sexual violence and exploitation, the unequal division of unpaid care and domestic work, and discrimination in public office, all remain huge barriers.

The SDGs aim to build on these achievements to ensure that there is an end to discrimination against women and girls everywhere. Affording women equal rights to economic resources such as land and property are vital targets to realizing this goal. So is ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health.

The Goal 5 (Gender Equality) targets by 2030 to:
  • End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
  • Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
  • Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
  • Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate
  • Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life
  • Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences
  • Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws
  • Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
  • Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels

It has been proven time and again, that empowering women helps drive economic growth and development across the board, and everyone in the world should be committed to achieving this. Gender data has to become a necessary ingredient of all data collection process such that not only women are able to reap the benefits of the various developmental programs, but also contribute effectively to development.