Context and Culture – Roundtable A
Access and Use of Technology in Developing Countries
Monday, June 13, 2005, 2:15-3:30 p.m.
Ms. Neeran Saraf, Chief Executive Officer, Saraf Solutions
Good afternoon everyone. For sake of time, let‘s get started.
My name is Neeran I will be the moderator for the panel today and I will talk about my experiences with women and technology. I will not give a biography on each speaker, but they will have 10 minutes each to speak.
The topic today is information technology, especially in developing countries. The number one priority is access to education. Is this really an issue? Should we be looking at technology as another factor in bettering women in their life?
I am the president my own IT company, Saraf Solutions. I have lived in many countries in Europe and the Middle East. As far as culture and women, in Iraq, we do not have an idea that math is for women. During the Sadam era, the only thing that I think he did that was good was to force women to go to school. If their father didn‘t want them to go, he was put in jail.
Because of the Iraq/Iran war, he needed women in jobs, so there are many women engineers and doctors. Woman suffered a lot in the 1990s because of the sanctions. They didn‘t send women
to school because we needed them in home to help out. Now we need to come back and teach 13-15 year olds to read and write. The situation today in Iraq is getting lots of funds and grants. Granters want to see their money being well spent. There are lots of cyber cafes, and socially their parents prohibit them from doing that. It makes their life easier, they are very willing, they want to catch up with the world now that they have been liberated from what they feel is a ‗prison.‘ I will speak more about this later, if you would like. But first let‘s have our first
Ms. Nicole M. Melander, Senior Director, Higher Education Strategy Worldwide Public Sector, Microsoft
I had prepared remarks, but although I am from Microsoft, I don‘t‘ like PowerPoint. The thing
that has really struck me today is that I think we are asking the wrong questions. When I first became a manager, my manager said to me, you succeed not by giving the best answers to people but by asking the best questions – probing and asking lots of questions. What I find here
is that the question we are asking is how many are in Computer Science. How many graduates or MIS graduates are women? I think that is the wrong question, and because we keep asking that question we are not doing the right things to see that results we want to see. We are not having the impact we want to have. So I will tell you some stories that I hope will get you thinking. The first is from New Zealand – I will tell 2 stories from New Zealand. The first one is about a child, little girl, 6 years of age in a rural school in New Zealand. When people think about technology, they think of big cities and cyber cafes, but the most people who use tech are from rural areas. Here farmers use it most. I was working for Oracle at the time; this girl got onto the internet and started to do things. She published her own home page, and other kids published home pages. Kids would let them know about their home pages and used sticky notes. Kids left lots of stickies to tell her she was cool. They ended up not using that system in the school
because they couldn‘t figure out what the use of it was. What were the kids learning? Not
science or math or academics. They were asking the wrong questions. They didn‘t measure the
value to her. The second story: we were launching the same program. The Prime Minister came in and saw kids using system and sending each other stickies. After the Prime Minister left, the kids began to dialogue about a kid being expelled and rumors that a teacher beat kid. They never talked about it in person – this was a safe forum. Again that system was pulled out of there. The last example is from Singapore. In Singapore if you need a taxi, call a number, and their GPS system finds you and tells you exactly when they will pick you up. The cab drivers, many of whom are illiterate, Chinese citizens, are unable to read or white, but they can use this computer system and participate in their economy. So the questions are around how is the being used and how are women engaged. What does it look like when women are fully engaged in technology in the culture? It isn‘t about more women with degrees in Computer Science. Only 2 women in
this forum are with a degree. When I took first computer course, you look at how computer is put together. What measurements do we have to see measure success?
Dr. Josephine Alumanah, Faculty, Department of Sociology/Anthropology, University of Nigeria
Nigeria is a developing economy. When we talk about Africa, you think about South Africa. You cannot compare South Africa with Nigeria. You talk about a much less developed country. Talking about places outside of the capitol, there are cultural impediments. We have been hearing about IT, and suddenly it is ICT. Last month we had a training on ICT, somebody asked, ‗what is ICT?‘ We were told it is just a cultural revolution in a developing economy; most offices/homes have computers, but no sewer. At my university, there are no computers in offices. Some cannot access email. When I started with my country profile, I talked about the constitution, which is non-discriminatory: equal rights for both boys and girls. But how do we have the equal right when there is so much discrimination? With customary – want to do what
they want. With Sharia, there are not equal rights. Women who have babies outside of wedlock, they want to stone them out to death. They need at least 3 witnesses to say this happened. How can you have these witnesses? There is nothing you can do about the customs and the Muslim law. Then you have the national policy on women – not doing any good. In Nigeria so many are
poor, when it comes to poverty, women are poorer than men. So we target most of these programs to women, particularly the girls. They are born into discrimination and it goes on and on. Who socializes the children? The primary social agents are the mothers, who socialize girls to behave as girls not boys, which affects them. Parents, teachers, peers, and media all contribute to the stereotype. When we come to IC and the girl child, we tell the girl child to wait until 1 years. Primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions: girls' rights are trampled upon. We began to use what is known as scratch cards to University examinations. We used to have admit cards; whereby it is posted to students, and they will see their numbers. But now the scratch cards are to see numbers and centers. There used to be a lot of confusion. Now things are better. At a recent University matriculation examination, last month, we undertook research in cyber cafes, 1 in town and 2 at the University to see what was happening with scratch cards. In town, it was more identifiable because we could see students with uniforms trying to use scratch cards. The girls were less than 20%. Then at the University there were mainly University students assessing with internet, and there were less than 40%. Then we looked at the academic year, 2001-2002 at the University to see the registration of the students there. The 01-02 is the latest we have from the planning units. Graduate enrollment in Computer Science 382 – 332; final
year student, 112-77, Masters program, 5-1. That is a very great improvement. Electronic, civil and others – total undergrad enrollment 1917- 195, graduates, mathematics, 234-114, etc. When we talk about ICT, talk about the fundamentals for social and economic development. We have notices that the social and economic environment doesn‘t favor people in developing
countries. Girl childs would be targeted specifically, and they should have role models. We need to train the trainers to say girl childs, ―don‘t do that.‖ The girl child is interested in
Computer Science and Engineering. They should be targeted and trained to help themselves.
Ms. Margarita Salas, Program Officer for Ballanet International‘s Regional Office in Latin
America and the Caribbean
Research just concluding dealing with women as IT professionals. How does ICT relate to more pressing needs for underdeveloped, poor countries, I was reminded that we will never be able to leave poverty if we don‘t address basic needs. We cannot make a social investment if we are
focused on poverty. This research is building bridges between sustainable human development, information society, and millennium development. The basic question is ‗why are women a
minority within the IT professional sector and what are some strategies to cover the barriers blocking their access? The national tendency is that women are less professionals in IT. Now, Costa Rica is hosting many customer services online – cheap labor, large number of women in
this sector. When you distinguish income level, women are doing ‗aquila‘ sweatshop work –
low pay, low skill work. Why does this gap exist? Local key actors answers this question. Our finding: women represent less than 30% in the professionals in the IT sector. There is a lack of policy and coordinated initiatives to address this issue. Access barriers are mainly related to reinforcement of stereotypes – very patriarchal society that doesn‘t push girls toward these goals. There is a lack of adequate conditions for women to remain in IT careers – for example, there are
no women‘s bathroom in the engineering building. Teachers discourage female students. The image of IT is as non-social, non-humanitarian field. Women that work in the IT field are invisible – there are no role models. Women in Costa Rica can not access the IT professional field with equitable conditions – leaving women behind. I have 3 questions to pose to you –
which are the main linkages between ICTs and sustainable development in your country –
economic empowerment issues, perhaps health, jobs, food – ICT should address pressing issues.
How can we transform the ICT sector in each one of out countries so that it also reflects the needs, visions, and perspectives of women? We should stop saying what is wrong with women not wanting to go into that sector. Who are the key actors and stakeholders in your country that can make this change happen? When we do research, we must think: who are the people in the place to make change and how do we reach them? There is an electronic forum to discuss this further – southern electronic forum – solving the SD = IS puzzle www.iide.org/networks
Ms. Jayshree Mehta, Director of Science and Technology for Women and Children Foundation (SATWAC); former chair of Gender and Science and Technology (GASAT) from 1996-2001
The situation in Nigeria and Costa Rica is very much alive. In 1995 when I visited several countries, I would ask, when you think about India, what are the 3 words you think of? Snake charmers, ‗sadus‘ (holy men), and poverty were the words. These images are what media projected through the world. Now when I visited a small school, the words were: software,
education, and business opportunities. It has really changed. What made India really transform? I think it is a novelty approach and opportunities to grow. When I think about India today, India has one of oldest cultures. We also have one of largest democracies for the last 50 years. We have one of youngest populations —more than 40% is less than 25 years of age. We used to
think that a big population is a big problem – but this is not so. We have a great many challenges.
How do we use this to our benefit? One small story – in science classes, girls were ignored: 4 Es
– education, employment, equity, empowerment. What kind of technology and what use of technology will you use in your country and for what purpose? Will it be used to reduce jobs and more unemployment or to solve problems? Having more women in ICT, what difference will that make? How will that impact world? When we talk about diversity, there are 6000 languages in the world. With ICT, we may loose 3000 languages. With English being so largely used, others will be lost. Language is expression of human mind, we should not loose that. We need to think diversely. We are in a global age, we cannot avoid. More than 60% live in rural area, so how will they access equally as city? Rural women were trained in basic computer for crops, crafts, etc. Internet cafes, ‗daba,‘ are a place to sit and talk and eat. It was a small
investment of 300,000 rupees to establish in 12 ‗talukas‘ – one step above small villages, more
than 10,000 pop. Share results – how did we do it? How has it worked? What problems has it
created? How to sustain it? We have used this internet for medicine. Rural health centers –
most doctors are in urban areas – 10 times more in city than rural. Indian doctors are trained and then leave. We don‘t need to transfer patients from here to there. We use the internet to discuss the patient: telemedicnice. Train the doctors in the use of ICT for telemedicine. 50% of the population is still under poverty level – how do we reach them and not leave them more behind?
How do we use ICT to better life? How can basic needs be met with technology? Value work of people and give them dignity and livelihood.
Audience Member #1
What is the coverage in India of telecoms and other types of technology?
India has made great progress. Electricity is there, but not regular flow of it. For the homes, it is the least priority – industry and farmers get priority. The important thing is what we pay for electricity. Developing countries spend the most per capita for electricity. The highest cost of internet access is in Africa. How can we balance that with low salaries? How do we see that it is not only women to be inclusive, but all people? It is a human rights issue.
Audience Member #2
I work all over the world for the World Bank on 70 distance learning ventures which are located mostly in the capitals. IC is one of the downfalls of the network. The Bank‘s initial clients are
governments. We worked in Afghanistan to use video conferencing to connect with women who were not literate. We brought together women to talk about reconstruction and how women can be involved and identify their needs. We need jobs and money, and then we work in literacy. Did this 1 time per month and linked women with development experts all over world. An unintended outcome, the session on entrepreneurship brought women to India to see what they were doing. There was lots of knowledge sharing and best practices. Issues: still a dangerous place. Would women be able to participate? Provided transportation – some wouldn‘t come if
man in room. Consider all obstacles. Child care, etc. We need to look at obstacles of women
participating and take advantage of ICTs that are available. We do need to ask the correct questions.
There are 2 statistics to look at: IT as a tool and ICT from women‘s perspective. Also need to look at ICT not as gains, but as accessing internet – communications aspect of ICT (see kids
We also need to get away from idea that gender is only women. There need to be men also involved and designing with women in mind. Think more broadly.
Audience Member #3
So far we have been talking about the internet. I am interested in other technologies, the use of cell phones for example, because it is an oral communication. There are reports that said women were using it for economic reasons. And use of radio. So, what is happening in your countries?
Nigeria – women don‘t use radio much; men use radio a lot. People in the southeast don‘t use
radio a lot. Cell phone – women use more than men – must think about costs here, women ask
men for money to pay for it. You see the women at the kiosks all over the cities. Such women, if they were trained, could go much further.
Costa Rica – mobile telephone is one of the best examples of how different views can come from women. The State has a monopoly on the use of telecommunications, which is good because energy costs are lower due to subsidized costs. 3 years ago, there was an initiative to open up communications. One proposal came from a women‘s group dealing with universal access.
Despite the large scope and large amount of services, access differs in all areas due to geography.
India – so many avenues opened for women by mobile phone. They connected people to world. Learn to reduce cost of phone; dev tech, cost lowers. Excellent opportunities.
Audience Member #4
I mentor lots of young women in engineering and computer science. Many feel that the careers are not for them. They want to be mothers and a wife, not an engineer. In your countries, do you think that a woman having a career find themselves in a position where it is a challenge to traditional roles for women? They don‘t feel they can have a job in tech and a family.
That issue doesn‘t go away once you are in the career.
Do we have opportunities to go back to the work after several years of raising kids? Sometimes no. Avenues to go back to work or to reduce/increase work need to be explored. Jobs go away. Colleagues know more than you if you leave. People feel you are less dedicated when you must leave to be with family. Do we look at output of work or number of hours? Boys don‘t want to
marry a woman that has more education than he.
Mother lives next door, so that cultural issue is great. How can we use the older generation to do the babysitting for us?! She is there, so I don‘t worry. My niece is very accomplished – she
could have gone anything in medicine – she went with ophthalmology because she can make
money and have children. As a woman, we are forced to go back home and spend time with kids, which is a blessing. Many men miss that when they wake up at 60.
In ICT, there is a lot of work that you can do from home. Even 15 years ago, I was able to work from home, but you must exceed your manager‘s expectations. It gives it more flexibility than
others jobs where you must be there.
Costa Rica – when you are a student, must spend a lot of time at lab, which isn‘t good for women in a male dominated career. Lots of programming is done over night, on weekends, etc. These are male standards.
Nigeria – with Computer Science you can actually do informal or formal work, even from home. But with engineering, this is not so. It is not the norm for mothers to leave work b/c they have children. You can get family to help out. Once you leave due to children, it is diff to go back.
I lived abroad for a long time and I met many young women interested in tech careers and never heard reproductive concerns because economic issues were larger.
Audience Member #5
Aspects of mobile telephony – gender and ICT in 6 African countries – women and men were
equivalent number of users in these countries, men, especially men who have partners, were threatened by women who used mobile phones and internet because it gave them sexual freedom – the men check on their women.