Page 1

Paper prepared for an IDRC Workshop on Gender and ICT held in Johannesburg, 29 March to 2 April 2004

A Gender Lens for ICT Sara Hlupekile Longwe

Introduction The purpose of this paper is to explain how the Women’s Empowerment Framework1 can be used as an analytical tool to raise evaluation questions about how women use ICT. Or rather, more precisely, to identify the key questions to interrogate the gender differential within ICT, in such matters as access, impact and usefulness. This is therefore a continuation of the earlier paper on Spectacles for Seeing Gender in Project Evaluation2, which presented a series of ‘lenses’ to make a powerful pair of ‘gender spectacles’. These spectacles were designed for looking at – and focusing upon – the important aspects of gender issues that are intrinsic within any development project. These spectacles were made up of four quite different lenses, in order to analyse and focus upon: Different elements within a development project Different types of evaluation question Elements of a gender issue The process of women’s empowerment Here we shall continue where this earlier Spectacles paper left off, by using our analysis of the process of women’s empowerment to look at ICT. Here we shall be interested in identifying the different categories of gender questions that need to be asked about ICT. These gender questions may be concerned with looking at the gender impact of a specific ICT project or intervention. Equally they may be concerned with assessing the gender elements within a given ICT situation, which may have arisen by various social processes, whether planned or unplanned. In order to limit the scope of the discussion, and to illuminate a fairly specific context, we shall here use our ‘women’s empowerment lens’ to look at cell phones. Since we are here interested only in analytic method, and in categories of gender questions rather than all possible gender questions, we shall illustrate the analysis by suggesting a few specific questions that might arise, for each aspect of women’s empowerment. The examples of gender questions presented here are therefore not intended to be comprehensive or prescriptive. Some of them may not even be very useful or well 1

This Women’s Empowerment Framework was first introduced in Sara Longwe, Gender Awareness: The Missing Element in the Third World Development Project in Candida March and Tina Wallace (Eds), 1991, Changing Perception: New Writings on Gender and Development, Oxfam, Oxford. 2

Paper presented at a Women’s Networking Support Programme (WNSP) Africa Regional Workshop on Gender Evaluation Methodology held in Zanzibar, 18-22 November 2002.

phrased. But they are intended to map out a field of possible categories of question, so that a researcher can easily find her way around this field, find her own focus of interest, and phrase her own questions tailored to her own research purpose. By extension, this gender lens should be equally applicable for analysing the gender aspects of all ICT, and not merely cell phones. By further extension, the lens should be useful for looking at any socio-economic situation where there are gender differentials. And unfortunately, gender differentials are everywhere! A Gender Lens for Seeing the Process of Women’s Empowerment For readers not familiar with the earlier paper on Spectacles for Seeing Gender, this section provides a brief reminder of the Women’s Empowerment Framework, which suggests an analytical ‘lens’ for seeing the process of women’s empowerment in terms of five ‘levels’: A. The Five Levels of the Women’s Empowerment Framework B. Welfare Access Conscientisation Mobilisation Control Women’s welfare is concerned entirely with their socio-economic status, such as nutritional status, shelter, or income. Gender differentials in welfare are revealed by gender gaps in socio-economic status. If an intervention is confined to this welfare level, then we are here talking about women being given benefits to improve their welfare, rather than producing or acquiring such benefits for themselves. This is therefore defined as the zero level of empowerment, where women are the passive recipients of benefits that are ‘given’ from on high. The beginning of women’s empowerment is when women improve their own welfare for themselves, by virtue of improving their access to resources. Access is here defined as the first level of empowerment. Women may improve their own status, relative to men, by their own work and organisation arising from increased access to resources. Gender differentials are here revealed by gender gaps in access to resources, typically because of the underlying discriminatory practices. Therefore women cannot improve their access to resources without recognising and addressing issues of discrimination. This recognition is here called conscientization. Conscientisation 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. It involves the realisation that women’s relative lack of access to resources actually arises from the discriminatory practices and rules that give priority access and control to men. Conscientisation is therefore concerned with a collective urge to action to remove one or more of the discriminatory practices that impede women’s access to resources.


Mobilisation is the action level which complements conscientisation. 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. Collective action is therefore aimed at women’s increased control over resources. Control is the level that is reached when women have taken action so that there is gender equality in decisions making over access to resources, so that women achieve direct control over resources – including their own time and labour. They have taken what is rightly theirs, and no longer wait indefinitely to be ‘given’ resources merely at the discretion of men, or by the whim of patriarchal authority. Therefore these five levels are not really a linear progression, as written above, but rather circular: the achievement of women’s increased control, leads to better welfare, by means of improved control over resources, as illustrated in the diagram below.

Women's Empowerment Cycle Welfare






In this cycle, empowerment is seen in achieving the level of control. But more than that, it is seen essentially in the process of moving round the circle. It is the process of conscientization and mobilisation that are intrinsic to empowerment. Even if control is not achieved on one particular issue, failure can nonetheless be very valuable, because the group has acquired basic empowerment skills. Even failure can be the spur to success on the next cycle! (We shall do better next time!) It may be noted, in passing, that the Empowerment Cycle is closely related to Moser’s distinction between practical needs and strategic interests. The author found Moser’s distinction suggestive, but unsatisfactory in practice. Part of the difficulty is that Moser’s dichotomous distinction is analytic rather than empirical. In other words, any one gender problem cannot be said to be classifiable as either a pure example of a


practical need or a strategic interest. Rather a typical gender problem may be analysed as simultaneously entailing a practical need element, and a strategic interest element. Thus the distinction is analytically illuminating, but not easily used as a guide for action. The Empowerment Framework was therefore invented to try to overcome this problem by unpacking Moser’s dichotomy a bit further. Basically the practical need is reinterpreted as the levels of welfare and access, whereas strategic interest is reinterpreted as conscientization, mobilisation and control. Above all, the analysis is given a more action-oriented perspective, being seen not merely as an analysis of an issue, but simultaneously as an analysis of a process of action to deal with the issue. Using the Gender Lens to Explore the Empowerment Potential of Cell Phones The above de-contextualised explanation of our Gender Lens may make more sense when we apply its concepts to an ICT context. Here we choose to look at cell-phones as an example of ICT, and to consider the gender dimensions and differentials of cell phone use. We may imagine an African country where perhaps 2% of the adult population are regular cell phone users (making or receiving an average of one call per day, or more). In this situation, what are the main broad questions we ought to be asking ourselves about the gender differentials within this situation of cell phone usage. Let us make use of the five levels of the Women’s Empowerment Framework to prise out some of the possible gender dimensions and issues that we initially might suspect, and perhaps ought to investigate. Here we are looking for only a few questions to point to the different aspects of gender differentials that arise at each level. We may hope that more and better questions will immediately spring into the mind of the reader. Welfare. Do men benefit from cell-phones more than women? Looking at the individuals use of a phone for business or social interests, what are the gender differences? In the use of phones to ask for benefits and services, what is the gender division between those demanding rather than those providing? Access. What is the gender division in those owning and regularly using cell phones? Has the introduction of cell phones made phones more accessible to women, by comparison with the advantage to men? What is the gender differential in the way cell phones have improved access to resources, information, relatives, etc? What is the gender division of access to a cell phone within the family? Conscientization. Do cell phones serve to perpetuate male dominance within sexual relationships? Do cell phones provide women with an additional and protected private space for discussion of women’s issues and gender issues? Do women’s phone conversations reveal an awareness of issues of gender discrimination? Mobilisation. To what extent are women using cell phones to build up actionoriented networks amongst groups of women with common interests? If so,


are some such groups mobilising around collective action on gender issues? If so, what are the lessons for more extensive and effective phone networking? Control. Do cell phones enable women to exert more control over their sexual partners? Improve their position in domestic decision making? Has phone networking led to successful collective action to deal with gender issues, such as domestic violence? If not, what are the prospects for such action oriented phone networking? Here we can see that the Framework has the potential for drawing the reader’s attention towards aspects of gender issues, or aspects of women’s use of phones, which otherwise might not have come into focus. We may also notice that questions of the Welfare and Access categories are more concerned with a perspective of women’s accommodation within the present and growing ICT system. In other words, the Welfare and Access categories limit us to questions concerned with how women can better have a better life, and make good use of the opportunities available, within the present social system. If we limit ourselves to this level, we confine ourselves to a top-down question of ‘What can we do for marginalised women?’ instead of asking ‘How can all women act collectively to improve their own situation?’ It is the second question that points towards the process of empowerment. It is when we extend our questions into the categories of Conscientization, Mobilisation and Control that we are asking questions about how women themselves can use new ICT opportunities to change society. More particularly, we are asking the important gender question of whether women can make use of new ICT opportunities in the process increasing their participation in decision making, for increasing their control over their own lives. Even more politically, we are asking how women can make use of ICT in their collective networking, mobilisation and action, as one of the useful tools in the process of removing various institutionalised forms of gender discrimination and oppression. A Map of Gender Evaluation Questions on Cell Phones The chart overleaf takes the questions about cell phones a bit further, to provide a more complete map of gender evaluations questions that might be asked about cell phones. However, this is still not intended to provide a comprehensive checklist of questions that might be asked in this general problem area, but merely a more comprehensive map of the different categories of question, with examples. This map distinguishes between those questions which relate to the use of the cell phones, as against the rather different set of gender questions which relate to the internal design, organisation and management of the cell phone system. Presumably research into gender and cell phones is likely to be interested in both categories of question.

Sara Hlupekile Longwe

28 March 2004


MAP OF GENDER QUESTIONS ASPECTS OF WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT C. WELFARE Gender differentials in material benefit from cell phone system D. ACCESS Gender differentials in access to cell phones

E. CONSCIENTIZATION Women as subjects or objects Women as innovative users Use for discussing issues which are domestic/social/national

F. MOBILISATION Extent of woman-to-woman networks; Use of phones to call meetings; Networking on gender issues; Inclusiveness of networking group; Use of phones in public affairs, e.g. advocacy, petitioning, protests. G. CONTROL Women’s control over use of phone. Women’s use of phone for exerting new control or influence in decision making: domestic, sexual partner, business, social, political.

EXAMPLES OF GENDER EVALUATION QUESTIONS 1. EXTERNAL TO CELL PHONE SYSTEM 2. INTERNAL TO CELL PHONE SYSTEM A1.1 What proportion of women, relative to men, use cell phone contacts for increased business opportunities? A1.2 How do women use phones to gain material benefit? How does this compare with male usage? B1.1 What is the gender differential in the numbers owning cell phones? regularly using cell phones? regularly hiring cell phones? B1.2 What obstacles do women face in owning a cell phone? gaining access to a cell phone? B1.3 Looking at a cell user’s contacts, what is the gender differential in the number, and their social and geographical spread? C1.1 Is there a pattern that men see themselves as the subjects and women as objects in phone conversations? do women portray themselves as objects? See themselves as objects? C1.2 What is the proportion of male to male calls, as against male to female, female to male, and female to female? C1.3 Do female to female calls reveal a distinct female voice? a critique of male behaviour? an awareness of gender injustice? an interest in taking action on gender issues? a political interest in gender issues? D1.1 Are cell phones useful in enabling women to gather support from other women in times of domestic crisis? D1.2 Are cell phones important in the activities of women’s organisations, and in networking between these organisations? How does this compare with male (or male dominated) organisations? D1.3 Have cell phones contributed to networking for mobilisation on gender issues? Is there untapped potential in this area? D1.4 Do cell phones lead to more exclusiveness in women’s networking, e.g. by enabling networking amongst the more well-off who can afford cell phones? E1.1 Does access to a phone enable the individual woman to exercise increased or extended control over the behaviour of her spouse or sexual partner? over domestic matters? over her own business or productive work? E1.2 Is there evidence that women’s organisations working in the area of women’s rights are making important use of cell phones? Do cell phones assist such organisations in more consultative and effective decision making? Quicker interventions? Are there examples of a cell phone being crucially important in taking action? What is the scope for cell phones to make a bigger contribution?


A2.1 What is the proportion of women employed in cell phone production and sales? What is the proportion of women amongst the management levels? A2.2 What is the proportion of women amongst those who hire out cell phones as a business venture? B2.1 What are the gender barriers to entry into training in telecommunications technology? to employment in the phone company? to advancement within a phone company? B2.2 What measures have phone companies put in place to ensure gender equality in access to cell phones? Measures for improved access for poor women? For rural women? C2.1 Is there gender role stereotyping in the adverts put out by the phone company? C2.2 Does the phone company have a policy on the representation of women in adverts, and in all public relations and sales programmes? C2.3 Does the phone company have an internal gender policy to improve the status and image of women within the company? D2.1 Have women within the individual phone company formed an association to agitate for equal treatment for women? If so, D2.2 Is the association concerned with gender equality in all recruitment, training and promotions? And, D2.3 Is the association also concerned with ensuring that the phone company provides equal access and services to female subscribers? And, D2.4 Is there an industry-wide collaborate effort between different women’s associations in different phone companies? What success has the phone company’s women’s association seen in achieving the following objectives? E2.1 Increasing the proportion of women amongst employees, and amongst the higher levels of management. E2.2 Increasing female employees’ access to training. E2.3 Including positive gender messages in all sales promotions and public relations; E2.4 Increasing women’s access to cell phones, especially amongst poor and rural populations.


The purpose of this paper is to explain how the Women’s Empowerment Framework 1 can be used as an analytical tool to raise evaluation questi...