January 31, 2013 - 10:01 am

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.

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Several years ago, as a Peace Corps volunteer, I worked with women in rural Guatemala and had the opportunity to witness, first-hand, the challenges that Latin American women and young girls face every day – gender discrimination, limited access to education, and lack of health care, just to name a few. My experience with those women continues to motivate me and my team at Bixal to seek out opportunities that use information and communications technology (ICT) to address gender disparity

Gender inequality in Latin America does limit women's access to ICT. But for years, researchers have been unable to provide definitive metrics on the issue.  Instead, routine theories have persisted on the topic, such as that "women face barriers that include lack of access and training, and are confronted with software and hardware applications that do not reflect their female needs." Relying on anecdotal evidence, some studies have even concluded that women in Latin America are less likely than men to use digital technologies because they are "technophobic" and/or less tech-savvy than men.

Gratefully, some researchers are favoring a more empirical approach. One such study, conducted by Martin Hilbert, has found that indeed women's access to and use of ICTs are often negatively impacted by gender-related discrimination, under-employment, low pay, and a lack of education. While previous studies have relied primarily on anecdotal evidence, Mr. Hilbert’s study relies on an analysis of data sets from 12 Latin American countries.   Hilbert also discovered that when he controlled for such variables as education and income, Latin American women actually tend to be more tech-savvy than men. 

Hilbert suggests that we need to re-think overall policy around women and ICT, and move away from the anachronistic concept that women are less "digitally capable," an assumption made by many global policymakers, and acknowledge that "the digital gender divide exists only as a direct reflection of existing gender-related inequalities….” 

Hilbert's findings indicate that, all things being held equal, women may be more technically inclined than men and insists that policy actions should make use of the natural communication skills and media capacities of women and their proven embrace of the new digital opportunities to overcome longstanding gender inequalities.

 

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