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Using Data To Make the Case for Gender in ICTs

by: Siobhan Green, CEO and Co-founder, Sonjara

January 15, 2013 - 02:56 PM

WISENET (Women in ICTs Shared Excellence Network) is the International Bureau’s convening platform that aims to leverage the experience, resources and connections of the international Information and Communications Technology (ICT) community to better the situation of women, their communities and their countries. As part of this work, the FCC has invited prominent women and men in technology from around the world to post blogs sharing their experiences.


I love data. I love collecting it, playing with it, and using it for decision making. My firm, Sonjara, builds custom data applications for non-profits, academic institutions and governments, so we know a lot about how valuable data is, and the challenges of collecting and maintaining it.

“Without data, there is no visibility; without visibility, there is no priority.”[1] In a world of "big data", where more and more data is needed for decision-making, no data – or data locked in a PDF document – means an issue with no visibility.

This is a serious problem in the intersecting fields of gender equality and information and communication technology policy. Those of us working in both fields see massive gender disparity in the use and access to ICT.  However, the only evidence to date of this disparity exists anecdotally and in small case studies and data sets. Without a larger data set as evidence, it is difficult to prove the importance of incorporating a gender component into ICT for development activities. There are two things we can do to improve this situation:

Measure Gender Usage in ICT Projects. Include in your indicators elements encompassing gender differences that will make disparity clearer, and give ideas on how to address identified disparities. Indicators should capture the relevant project data, broken out by gender, and include information on:

·        Access to ICTs broken down by type of access (i.e. mobile, cybercafé, etc.), type of usage (receiving messages, data entry, creating products, etc.), frequency (ad hoc, daily, monthly), cost (per minute or per session), and other relevant factors;

·        Beliefs associated with ICT, e.g., assumptions and familiarity (such as difficulty, education and training required, and any associations with status and morality) held by men and women involved in your project (at all levels) about the ICT tools you plan on using. For example, in some parts of the world, men don't want their wives and daughters to have access to mobile devices fearing that unsupervised communication can lead to assignations and other unchaste behavior.

·        Impact of different communications methods and technologies (traditional and ICT);

·        Participation rates in scientific and technological education and careers and level of existing technical capacity; and

·        Best practices and lessons learned on how ICTs can address gender disparity.

The Régentic Gender Digital Divide Indicators are a good place to start when looking to develop gender-based ICT indicators. Nancy Hafkin lists the indicators in her article “Women and Gender in ICT Statistics and Indicators for Development” (see page 31).

Share your data in a machine-readable format using global standards, such as IATI.

It isn’t enough to collect the data. It needs to be widely accessible. The international development community is embracing the concept of open data, meaning that all of its data is:

·        Available to whomever wants it (with caveats about privacy and security

·        Uses globally recognized standards whenever possible ( is a good place to start)

·        Geocoded whenever possible to allow for layering of other geocoded data

·        Available in one of the common machine readable formats (CSV, JSON, or XML).

By sharing data using these approaches, research and project administrators can help to build the global ICT and gender data set. This global gender and ICT data set can then be used to really measure the gender components of ICT intervention and make sure women are no longer invisible in the ICT revolution.

To learn more about women in ICT see: WISENET: The Women in ICTs Shared Excellence Network


[1] SeeHuyer, S. & Westholm, G. (2000). GAB/UNESCO. Toolkit on gender indicators in engineering, science and technology. Paris, France: UNESCO and United Nations Development Program (UNDP). (1995). Human development report. New York: United Nations.



Updated: January 15, 2013 - 05:08 PM
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