|The Right to Communicate: Women in the Information Society|
The absence of women’s voices and perspectives in the information society indicates that 'new' information and communication technologies (ICTs) reflect many of the gender patterns (in relation to power, values and exclusion) that have been evident for decades in the 'old' media. Indeed, these patterns cannot be divorced from gender relations in society as a whole. Neither 'old' nor 'new' media can by themselves offer solutions to the problem of gender inequality. Their structures reflect much wider social, economic and political relations in which women tend to be marginalised. 'New' media - just like the 'old' - are primarily vehicles for the transmission of ideas, images and information. The issue for women then, is who makes the decisions on access, content and control. In essence, many of the issues around ‘new’ media are the same as they have always been since they relate to questions of power.
The story of a telecentre in an underprivileged neighbourhood illustrates exactly these problems. Parents in this community did not want their children, particularly the girls, to go to the telecentre, considered a ‘den of ruffians’ because of its programme for out-of-school youth. Less than 2% of the users were girls. Rather than using the computers themselves, the girls sat by the boys' side and watched them surf the Internet, play games and work on the computer. All of the trainers, managers and technical support staff at the telecentre were men; the only two female members of staff provided administrative and logistical support. The telecentre initiative was clearly failing to meet the community’s, and particularly young people’s, needs. As a result, new programmes and services for girls and young women are now being planned to improve their participation in and use of the telecentre. Looking at this example from a wider perspective, the question arises: what can policy makers do to ensure that the gender gap in ICTs will be closed?
One of the main areas of concern is that of the image of women on the internet, which too often, reinforces pre-existing stereotypes and prejudices that shape the role of women as social actors and their capacity to intervene in and influence public life. Though there are thousands of web pages belonging to women´s organisations or alternative media that give space to gender issues, news agencies using the Internet maintain the same biased policies on-line as in hard print. Technology has changed, but the fundamentals have not. When prioritising certain issues and ignoring others, when conferring a voice or an image on a group of social actors and not others, the media tells us who and what is important – the media disseminate an image of the world in which women hardly exist
Women´s participation in all areas of social life has always been undervalued. Even when women have made a decisive contribution to economic, social, political and cultural development, their commitment is not reflected in an increase in women´s presence and participation in decision-making This is in part because women’s right to communicate is being hampered.
Women’s movements around the world have repeatedly declared that they favour a communications system, at both the national and international levels, based on democratic principles which limit corporate monopolies in the globalisation of telecommunications. Women have also worked towards information and communication societies where development is focused on fundamental human needs and clear social, cultural, economic, and environmental goals, and where priority is given to the alleviation of poverty and other inequalities in a way that is environmentally sustainable. These women have committed themselves to taking a gendered approach to all concerns, including information and communication.
By Dafne Plou, Journalist and Consultant, Argentina.