Table of contents
Part 1
What are ICT and internet policies?
Part 2
The internet, markets and access
Part 3
National ICT and internet policy and regulation
Part 4
Specific issues in internet policy and regulation
Part 5
Organisations active in ICT

  18. Gender and ICTs

- Education, training and skills evelopment
- Industry and Labour
- Content and Language
- Power and Decision Making
- Pornography, trafficking, violence against women, and censorship
- Strategies to incorporate gender considerations into ICT policy-making
- Conclusion

“Women constitute 50 per cent of the population but do 60 per cent of work, earn one-tenth of the income and own 1/100 of the assets”.

The digital divide in access to ICTs, between the developed and developing world, is the result of various factors including poverty, lack of resources, illiteracy and low levels of education. In many societies women are the most impoverished with the least access to resources and with little control over decisions that affect their lives. For this reason, women are on the wrong side of the digital divide, with limited access to and control over ICTs.

When considering the factors that contribute to these inequalities it is important to understand the ways in which ICTs are allocated between women and men (the gendered allocation of ICTs), the different opportunities that exist for men and women with respect to education, training and skills development, employment and working conditions, content development and access to power structures and decision-making processes.

Beyond questions of access to technology and software, training programmes for women should focus on how to find, manage, produce and disseminate information, and how to develop policies and strategies to intervene effectively in and make use of new media. Other major concerns are illiteracy and language as obstacles to information access; the need to break down gender and cultural barriers to women’s access to careers in technology; and the design of software, that often does not respond to the needs of women and girls.

The table reflects the general fact that women do not use the internet as much as men. Despite the fact that there is very little reliable, sex disaggregated data, the numbers suggest that the gender digital divide is related to income and access. In low-income countries women are excluded to a greater extent, but when access improves and becomes widespread, women use the internet as much as men do. When exclusion is widespread, women suffer from it more than men do. We need to understand why this is the case.

Recommendations of the APC Women's Networking Support Programme to the Global Knowledge Partnership

- Equity principle: women and girls must be explicitly included amongst the beneficiaries of the ICT revolution - Promote the global knowledge commons as part of a poverty reduction strategy
- Gender perspective in all ICT initiatives - Women in ICT decision-making
- Promote gender-aware training and content development
- Science and technology education for women
- Safe and secure online spaces for women and girls - Women as ICT entrepreneurs
- Content for women  

Source: APC Women’s Networking Support Programme

Access to and use of the internet / Women internet users, 1998-2000

Year % total population
All Internet users


< 0.1











South Africa







































Hong Kong SAR




















Korea (Rep.)





































Czech Republic
























































Russian Federation
















United Kingdom









New Zealand




Source: Compiled from ITU World Telecommunication Development Report 2002; United Nations The World’s Women 2000: Trends and Statistics; UNDP Human Development Report 2001.‘

All people and groups have the right to access and effectively to use the information and knowledge required in order to address their developmental needs and concerns. This is the strategic starting point for all those concerned with gender equality and social transformation.

Education, training and skills development

Education, training and skill development are critical to ICT interventions. Problems with ICT training for women in the past included the fact that they were often ad-hoc, alienating and not customised to women’s needs. Solutions point to learning practices that should be extended to girls and women, made gender-sensitive (making training women-specific, ensuring ongoing user support, and mentoring in the communities where women live), and deepened (for women as users, technicians, policy and change-makers).

Industry and Labour

In the ICT industry, labour is highly sex-segregated. Women are found in high numbers in the lowest paid and least secure jobs. The gender dimension of ICTs also affects telework, flexi-time, and work from home arrangements, where women have few rights, meagre pay, and no health, social or job security. A woman’s wage-labour outside (or inside) the home as a result of the new technologies does not necessarily entail a change in the family division of labour. Men still get out of doing the housework, and women find themselves with dual or triple burdens. Poor working conditions, long hours and monotonous work routines associated with ICTs are often injurious to women’s health.

In its employment report released in January 2001, the ILO reveals a “digital gender gap”, with women underrepresented in new technology employment in both developed and developing countries. The ILO report also finds that patterns of gender segregation are being reproduced in the information economy.

According to Professor Swasti Mitter of the United Nations University Institute for New Technologies (UNU/ INTECH), who directed a UNIFEM sponsored research project on gender and new technologies, the growth of transnational teleworking has opened up many opportunities for women in the South, including data entry, medical transcription, geographical information systems and software production: “The work of UNU/INTECH in the context of China and Vietnam shows that globalisation has brought new opportunities to young women with familiarity with English in new, service sector jobs, but has made a vast number of over 35-year-olds redundant, either because they are in declining industries, or have outdated skills.”

Content and Language

What content will predominate on the internet and in new media? Who creates it? What is its cultural bias? Are women’s viewpoints, knowledge and interests adequately reflected? How are women portrayed? These are some of the questions that have been raised relating to content, whether in internet spaces, video games or virtual reality.

Women’s viewpoints, knowledge and interests are not adequately represented while gender stereotypes predominate on the internet today. Some of these concerns are an extension of those formulated in relation to sexism and portrayal of women in the media in general. But they also relate to a broader range of issues such as the need for women to systematise and develop their own knowledge and perspectives and make sure they are adequately reflected in these spaces.

The dominance of English language content, often from countries in the North, on the internet, is another major concern raised by women’s organisations. Language barriers to information access require the development of applications such as multilingual tools and databases, interfaces for non-Latin alphabets, graphic interfaces for illiterate women and automatic translation software.

Power and Decision Making

Although women are acceding in ever-greater numbers to jobs and expertise with ICTs, the same is not necessarily true of their access to decision-making processes and control of resources. Whether at the global or national levels, women are under-represented in all ICT decision-making structures, including policy and regulatory institutions, ministries responsible for ICTs, boards and senior management of private ICT companies. One problem is that decision making in ICTs is generally treated as a purely technical area (typically for men experts), where civil society viewpoints are given little or no space, rather than a political domain. Deregulation and privatisation of the telecommunications industry is also making decision making in this sector less and less accountable to citizens and local communities, further compounding the problems experienced by women in gaining access to decision making and control of resources.

The 'Empowerment Framework': welfare, access, conscientisation, mobilisation, control

Welfare is defined here as the lowest level at which a development intervention may hope to close a gender gap. We are here talking about women being given these benefits, rather than producing or acquiring such benefits for themselves.

– the first level of empowerment – is the opportunity to make use of ICTs – both in terms of technology and information and knowledge. Control refers to the power to decide how ICTs are used, and who has access to them. Women’s access to ICTs and control of them (or lack thereof) is dependent on many factors. Factors such as gender discrimination in jobs and education, social class, illiteracy and geographic location (North or South, urban or rural), influence the fact that the great majority of the world’s women have no access to ICTs or to any other sort of modern communication system, and possibly will not in their lifetime. It is logical to deduce that as information dynamics accelerate their migration towards the Internet, people without access are bound to suffer greater exclusion. But there are also voices that insist that connectivity in itself is not enough, and that providing women with computers and modems is not sufficient for them to resolve their development problems.

is defined as the process by which women realise that their lack of status and welfare, relative to men, is not due to their own lack of ability, organisation or effort.

is the action level which complements conscientisation. Firstly it involves women’s coming together for the recognition and analysis of problems, the identification of strategies to overcome discriminatory practices, and collective action to remove these practices.

is the level that is reached when women have taken action so that there is gender equality in decision making over access to resources, so that women achieve direct control over their access to resources.

Therefore these five levels are not really a linear progression, as written above, but rather circular: the achievement of women’s increased control, leads into better access to resources, and therefore improved socio-economic status.

In evaluating a project, we need to ask ourselves whether the project is intervening merely at the level of providing improved welfare, and access to information. Or is it enabling women’s participation in a process for increased conscientisation and mobilisation, as a means for increased action and control?

Source: S Longwe, The Process of Women’s Empowerment,

Pornography, trafficking, violence against women, and censorship

The picture that emerges from most analyses of new information and communication content is of masculinist rhetoric and a set of representations that are frequently made sexual and often sexist. Pornography, email harassment, ‘flaming’ (abusive or obscene language), and cyberstalking are well documented. It is estimated that 10 percent of sales via the Internet are of a sexual nature, whether in the form of books, video-clips, photographs, on-line interviews, or other items. New technical innovations facilitate the sexual exploitation of women and children because they enable people easily to buy, sell and exchange millions of images and videos of sexual exploitation of women and children.1
These technologies enable sexual predators to harm or exploit women and children efficiently and, anonymously. As a result of the huge market on the Web for pornography and the competition for audiences among sites, the pornographic images have become rougher, more violent, and increasingly degrading. The affordability of and access to global communications technologies allow more users to carry out these activities in the privacy of their home.2

Even more disturbing is the use of the internet as a tool in the prostitution and trafficking of women. In 1995 an estimated 1.8 million women and girls were victims of illegal trafficking, and the numbers are growing. The internet is used in multiple ways to promote and engage in the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women. Pimps use the internet to advertise prostitution tours to men from industrialised countries. The men then travel to poorer countries to meet and buy girls and women in prostitution. Traffickers recruiting women from the Baltic States use the Web to post advertisements for unlikely jobs in Western Europe (such as waitress or nanny). Information on where and how to find girls and women in prostitution in cities all over the world is posted on commercial Web sites and non-commercial newsgroups.3In response to the growing problem, the Council of Europe in 2001 established a working group to study the impact of new information technologies on trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation

There are numerous organisations working on the issues of women’s trafficking which have done much to impede the use of the internet for trafficking in women and children, and the explosion of pornography on the internet While recognising that traffickers and pornographers have moved their businesses to the internet, women’s organisations have also been aware of the dilemma of calling for government measures to curb this.

One of the fiercest debates in the area of internet rights regards the issue of freedom of expression and censorship. Some organisations have used the presence of pornography on the internet to call for stricter policies for monitoring and censuring content on the internet, including the development of software devices that would track down the creators and consumers of pornographic materials. But child porn on the internet is as illegal as it is offline/outside. There is no need to create special laws for cyberspace. Some women’s organisations have been at the forefront of pointing out the danger of inviting censorship measures that could very easily be extended to other content areas, and limit freedom of expression far beyond the issue of pornography and trafficking.

Legislation can be interpreted widely, leaving it open for states to decide what they would consider “illegal” or “harmful practices.”

The priority is that women should be informed, aware and included in the discussions and debates taking place around this trend, and consulted in the development of any policies and practices that are advocated by state agencies and other bodies involved.

In this spirit, UNESCO is already carrying out a number of research and awareness-raising projects to combat trafficking in women and children in the Asia-Pacific region, and has been collaborating with the Open Society Institute in the creation of the ‘Stop Trafficking’ network in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in Central Asia. In December 2002, UNESCO also co-hosted an international symposium on the theme of freedom of expression in the information society, where discussion focused on three issues: the new possibilities and limitations offered by cyberspace with regard to freedom of expression; all the obstacles limiting freedom of expression in cyberspace; and the issue of regulation of content in cyberspace. The participants concluded that:
“We must resist the temptation to demonise the Internet. The offences committed on the Internet are not particularly original (apart from attacks by hackers); they reflect behaviours that are specific to social life, and which already found carriers in the traditional media. Thus we need to look at the Internet as a tool for democracy, and not from the angle of its real or potential failings.”4

Current initiatives to regulate and control the internet, both in relation to content and use, strike at the heart of the power of new technologies – a system of tools that allows people to communicate with one another, one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many, across traditional and entrenched power structures. To threaten this potential, through initiatives which censor, monitor and survey people, movements, actions, information and communication, will severely limit peoples abilities to learn, network and participate in the decision-making processes which govern their lives.

Violence against women on the internet

In this series, we will explore the various ways in which violence against women is facilitated through the use of the Internet, as well as ways in which the Internet may be used as a site of resistance to such violence. Violence against women is a critical social problem that affects all of us in some way. Whether we have directly experienced abuse, know a friend who has been victimized, or have been confronted with the myriad other forms such violence take, it impacts how we view the world and shapes our experiences and opportunities.


Module 5: The Internet as an Organising Tool
In the past three Modules, we have looked at serious social problems involving violence against women and the role of the Internet in perpetuating it. In this Module, we will turn the tables and explore the power of the Internet as an organizing tool to fight violence against women.
The Internet has become a critically important form of media. News dissemination through the Internet is unprecedented. Never before has news been distributed so widely and instantaneously as it is currently on the web.
All of us have had experience with Internet activism in some way. Friends send emails asking us to sign petitions; news services inform us of something important happening in the field; or a political organization tells us about some impending crisis, like an environmental group updating its listserve on the possibility of drilling for oil in Alaskan nature reserves.

Source: Berkman Center for Internet & Society BOLD site for “Violence Against Women on the Internet’

The Centre for Mayan Women Communicators (CMCM)

The CMCM in Guatemala is a non-profit organisation whose web site is hosted by the Sustainable Development Networking Programme, which also provides technical support: The Centre’s activities are determined by indigenous women who participate and co-ordinate through a directive committee. The functions of the Centre are primarily to unite and communicate, develop skills in communications technology to enable them to ‘ameliorate’ the way they are perceived, viewed in the world and in the local media. Video and photography are often the tools used for research reflection and organisation. Using the (internet) services offered by the Centre, Mayan women living in isolated communities have the opportunity to sell their products by accessing alternative markets thus keeping their traditional crafts and artwork alive.


Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM)

GEM, developed by the APC’s Women’s Networking and Support Programme, is a guide to integrating a gender analysis into evaluations of initiatives that use Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for social change. It is a framework that provides a means for determining whether ICTs are really improving women’s lives and gender relations as well as promoting positive change at the individual, institutional, community and broader social levels.
The guide provides users with an overview of the evaluation process (including links to general evaluation resources) and outlines suggested strategies and methodologies for incorporating a gender analysis throughout the evaluation process. GEM does not contain step-by-step instructions to conducting evaluations and it is not simply an evaluation tool. It can also be used to ensure that a gender concerns are integrated into a project planning process.
GEM is an evolving guide: the developers encourage critical thoughts and creative adaptations in its practical use.


Strategies to incorporate gender considerations into ICT policy-making

The following recommendations relate to strategy and lines of action that will enable women to overcome the many obstacles that they face, and help guarantee them more equitable access to new and emerging communications technologies and electronic information sources.

• Promote the access of women, girls and women’s organisations to new and emerging communications technologies and computerised information resources
• Promote the development of computerised information resources on issues related to the advancement of women
• Support the development of initiatives of women and citizens’ groups in the field of computer networks that promote the advancement of women and gender equality
• Support women and girls’ access to training in using computer networks and promote a gender perspective in training and methodology in the field of new technologies
• Promote equal access of women to advanced technical training and careers in computer communications
• Promote and support the equal participation of women in international and national decision-making relating to use of communications infrastructure and access to computer networks
• Create content that reflects women’s needs and voices
• Facilitate and encourage the involvement of women in technological innovation


As pointed out in the five-year review report of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, traditionally, gender differences and disparities have been ignored in policies and programmes dealing with the development and dissemination of improved technologies. As a result, women have benefited less from, and been disadvantaged more by, technological advances. Women, therefore, need to be actively involved in the definition, design and development of new technologies. Otherwise, the information revolution might bypass women or produce adverse effects on their lives. The outcome of the five-year review recommended that further actions and initiatives have to be explored and implemented to avoid new forms of exclusion and ensure that women and girls have equal access and opportunities in respect of the developments of science and technology.

APC-WNSP : Mapping gender and ICT policy advocacy

Since 1993, APC-WNSP has played a leading role in gender and ICT advocacy in national, regional and international arenas. Our ICT policy work began during the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. Since then, the ‘gender and ICT’ agenda has steadily gained legitimacy as a serious area of concern through painstaking work by women’s groups and gender and ICT advocates. During the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process, we continue to work with civil society groups to ensure that a gender perspective is integrated into all deliberations and drafting of documents of the Summit.

ICTs offer immense possibilities for reducing poverty, overcoming women’s isolation, giving women a voice, improving governance and advancing gender equality. This potential will only be realised if all factors which contribute to the current ‘gender digital divide’ are recognised and addressed in the WSIS process and in all ICT policy-making spaces. Nonetheless, there continues to be a serious lack of acknowledgement and commitment to redressing gender imbalances in women’s participation and benefits from the envisioned ‘Information Society’ at all levels of policy.

Our message is simple and clear: if these concerns are not addressed we face the danger that WSIS and other policy processes, will fail in addressing the needs of women, and will contribute to reinforcing and reproducing existing inequalities, discriminations and injustices.

The following guide provides an overview of key gender and ICT policy concerns.

1. Acknowledge, protect and defend Women’s Rights in the Information Society

Human rights and freedoms, of which women’s human rights and freedoms are an integral part, must be located at the core of the information society. In order to be realised, human rights and freedoms must be interpreted, enforced and monitored in the context of the Information Society.
All women and men, communities, nations, and the international community have the right to access and effectively use the information and knowledge they need to address their development concerns. This is the strategic starting point for all concerned with gender equality and social transformation. In a globalised world that continuously undermines localised democratic institutions, the Internet provides an essential means for defending and extending participatory democracy.

2. Gender equality, non-discrimination and women's empowerment are essential prerequisites for equitable and people-centred development in the ‘Information Society’.

An equitable and inclusive ‘Information Society’ must be based on the principles of gender equality, non-discrimination and women's empowerment as contained in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the CEDAW Convention.  These are central elements of social justice, political and economic equality strategies. Women and girls must be explicitly included as beneficiaries of the ‘ICT revolution’ as a fundamental principle of equality and an essential element in the shaping, direction and growth of the ‘Information Society’. They must have equal opportunities to actively participate in ICT policy decision-making spaces and the agenda setting processes which shape them.

3. ICT governance and policy frameworks must enable full and equal participation 

Global, regional and national ICT governance and policy frameworks can either enable full participation in the information society or inhibit people’s access to the technology, information and knowledge.

Policy frameworks deal with the development of national communications infrastructure, to the provision of government, health, education, employment and other information services, to broader societal issues such as freedom of expression, privacy and security. All of these policies have implications for women and failure to take account of these will certainly lead to negative impacts for women in relation to those for men.

4 All ICT initiatives must incorporate a gender perspective

A gender perspective must be incorporated by all stakeholders involved in the process of planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating ICT initiatives. Hence, all stakeholders must of necessity develop quantitative and qualitative indicators, benchmarks, and ‘ICT for development’ targets that are gender specific.

5. Every woman has the right to affordable access

Universal access and community access policies must be underpinned by an understanding of the gender and rural-urban divide and take into account gender differences in mobility, available time, income, literacy levels, and general socio-cultural factors.

National ICT policies must create an environment where more investment is directed to the expansion of basic telephony and public ICT access infrastructure that links women and others in remote and rural areas, at affordable costs, to information resources and populations in urban areas.

6. Education and training programmes must promote gender awareness

All stakeholders must seek to empower women's and girls' access to and effective use of ICTs at the local level through gender-aware education and training programmes. Maximum use must be made of ICTs to eliminate gender disparities in literacy in primary, secondary and tertiary education, and in both formal and informal settings.

7. Women and girls have a right to equal access to educational opportunities in the fields of science and technology

Governments must design and implement national policies and programmes that promote science and technology education for women and girls, and encourage women to enter into high ‘value-added’ ICT careers. It is imperative to counter the reproduction of historical patterns of gender segregation in employment within the ICT sector, where men are more likely to be found in the high-paying, creative work of software development or Internet start-ups, whereas women employees predominate in low-paid, single-tasked ICT jobs such as cashiers or data-entry workers. 

8. Women count: their viewpoints, knowledge, experience and concerns must be visible.

All stakeholders must support initiatives that facilitate women’s and girls’ ability to generate  and disseminate content that reflects their own information and development needs. Women's viewpoints, knowledge, experiences and concerns are inadequately reflected on the Internet, while gender stereotypes predominate. These concerns around content relate both to issues of sexism and the portrayal of women in media generally, as well as to the need for women to systematise and develop their own perspectives and knowledge, and to ensure that they are reflected in these spaces

9. No Public Domain of Global Knowledge without women’s knowledge

Human knowledge, including the knowledge of all peoples and communities, also those who are remote and excluded, is the heritage of all humankind and the reservoir from which new knowledge is created. A rich public domain is essential to inclusive information societies and must fully embrace women’s knowledge including knowledge that is contextual, rooted in experience and practice and draws from local knowledge in areas of production, nutrition and health.

The privatisation of knowledge and information through copyright, patents and trademarks is ceasing to be an effective means of rewarding creative endeavour or encouraging innovation and can contribute to the growth of inequality and the exploitation of the poor. All stakeholders must promote the maintenance and growth of the common wealth of human knowledge as a means of reducing global inequality and of providing the conditions for intellectual creativity, sustainable development and respect for human rights.

10. Every woman and girl has the right to communicate freely in safe and secure online spaces

Women and girls have a right to access online spaces where they can share sensitive information, exchange experiences, build solidarity, facilitate networking, develop campaigns and lobby more effectively. They have a right to a secure online environment where they are safe from harassment, enjoy freedom of expression and privacy of communication, and are protected from electronic surveillance and monitoring.

The internet can be used to commercially and violently exploit women and children, replicate and reproduce stereotypical and violent images of women and facilitate sex-trafficking of women as well as trafficking in persons.

Policy and regulatory frameworks to address such use of the internet should be developed inclusively and transparently with all stakeholders, particularly women, and be based on the international human rights framework encompassing rights related to privacy and confidentiality, freedom of expression and opinion and other related rights.

1 Frank Rich, Naked Capitalists, N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE, May 20, 2001.
2 Hughes, Donna M, 2002, “The use of new communications and information technologies for sexual exploitation of women and children,” Hastings Women’s Law Journal, Vol 13:1,
3 Hughes, Donna M, 2001, “Globalization, Information Technology, and Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children,” Rain and Thunder – A Radical Feminist Journal of Discussion and Activism, Issue #13, Winter 2001,
4 UNESCO, 2002, Freedom of Expression in the Information Society. Final Report. International Symposium, organised by the French National Commission in partnership with UNESCO,

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