Blogging sparks activism, but I’m under the firm belief that these are not forms of activism in and of itself. The people doing the activist work are working from the ground, quite literally. But I don’t want to undermine the value of technology, as it has been very helpful in successful activist movements. Take, for instance, the recent pro-democracy movement in Egypt and other Middle East countries, or the elections in Iran. The Internet (with the help of Facebook, Twitter and bloggers) provided an outlet for activists to voice their concerns and give first-hand accounts and updates of what was going on, even when the governments tried to shut down these portals.
Access to the Internet is an economic privilege. While almost everywhere is connected to the Internet, it certainly doesn’t mean everyone is able to use it. Especially in underdeveloped countries, the majority of people using the Internet are men, because in many of these countries families cannot afford computers at home or Internet connectivity. There are Internet cafés all around, but some countries have issues with power—it’s not reliable and goes off frequently. Also, women don’t always know how to use a computer [PDF].
Additionally, there are cultural norms that don’t allow women to access to computers. Women in underdeveloped or developing countries tend to be less educated than men, providing another barrier to computers and the Internet.
Internet access is not just an economic privilege; it also intersects with lack of education, lack of infrastructure, lack of foreign aid, cultural belief and, as articulated above, gender inequality. And the discrepancy between men and women accessing the Internet means that women often don’t have the opportunity to voice their opinions like men do.
However, women have found ways around cultural and economic blocks to Internet access. For example, there are many Internet cafés in underdeveloped countries that offer women-only hours. There are also places that have women-only Internet cafés and offer training to women. This is a great start. I want to highlight some examples:
- Girls Technology Camp in Nigeria is “helping girls develop an early interest in computers and other information technology, as well as enabling them to develop positive image of technology-related careers. The long-term goal is increased numbers of women working with and using information technology productively for professional and leadership activities.”
- A woman-operated tech center in Cape Verde is basically an Internet café for women’s use only.
- This Internet Café caters to women in Baghdad.
- Women in Technology in the Middle East (Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen) offers skills training in information technology; their goal is to “empower women to play an integral role in shaping their country’s future.”
Bottom line, more women need access to the Internet to get their voices heard–whether through activism and/or developing their own independence. How else do you suggest women gain more access to the Internet? Do you know of any organizations similar to the ones listed above helping and training women to use computers? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Reprinted with permission from Gender Across Borders. All rights reserved.