March 2005

Promote gender equality and empower women

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The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3 to “promote gender equality and empower women”, aspires to give women an equal stand in the society, which now disregards many women's rights and women do not afford the same rights as men do.

The lives of women and men, the work they do, the income they receive, the roles they are given and the relationships that they share are all shaped by social norm and traditions which treat women and men differently. Such norms and traditions are manifested in laws, institutions and economic and social structures, such as the family and the job market. The complex web of cultural and social set up results in economic and political marginalisation of women and it starts to show early when girls are not allowed to go to school or they drop out of school due to various societal pressures.

Two-thirds of the world's illiterate population is female www.millennium campaign.org). Without the basic foundation of education, women face limited opportunities in future and become vulnerable to abuse, violence and discrimination. Keeping this in mind, Millennium Declaration has given utmost importance to education and this is evident by the quantifiable target they have placed to achieve goal 3. The target aims to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005 and in all levels of education no later than 2015.

With a goal to 'achieve gender equality', and looking at this target it seems to be narrow, leaving space for much more that needs to be done. But one also cannot ignore the fact that this is the only declaration, which has tried to put a figure to what we are trying to achieve as compared to many other previous international action plans and statements. Besides the target, it also has indicators to measure the achievement. This includes measuring the ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education, ratio of literate women to men in ages 16 – 24, share of women in wage employment in non- agricultural sector and proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. This calls on all countries to achieve the target for the development of nations.

United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), United Nations Education Scientific Cultural and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO), Commission on the Advancement of Women (CAW) are some of the institutions, which are working on diverse issues to achieve gender equality and empowerment.

Gender equality in the Information society
To achieve all the above objectives, ICT can play a crucial role in skill development in women, to deliver educational and literacy programmes targeted to poor women, bring awareness and influence public opinion about equal rights of women, give them economic opportunities, lend a voice to fight against discrimination and most important lead them to empowerment. But the barriers still persist. The stories presented in this issue of i4d magazine are woven around these issues.

A prevalent gender socio-cultural divide is one of the key reasons why women are under represented in the information society. Though lack of infrastructure is a problem to all, irrespective of gender, its impeding access is acute for women due to poverty, illiteracy and language barriers.

Though the socio-cultural conditions might differ somewhat regionally but a grim picture exists worldwide. In October 2004, the Seventh African Regional Conference on Women was held in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. It was an African regional decade review of the implementation of the Dakar and Beijing Platform of Action (Beijing +10). In the conference, the Economic Commission for Africa stated, “women's access to ICTs in Africa is limited. Poverty, lack of electricity and limited infrastructure in rural areas, is a hindrance to the spread of ICTs”. It reported that Burkina Faso, Mali, Uganda and Tanzania have national policies on ICTs dedicated to the promotion of women and gender issues. The report also gives a positive sign as the number of women in ICTs and the media in general in Republic of Guinea has doubled to 39 percent of journalists; while Tunisia has 7 feminine newspaper titles and 34.38% of people working in the media are women.

ICTs (including radio, television, mobile telephony, computer, Internet) can empower women and help them surmount gender inequality by raising awareness of their social and political status and creating new economic opportunities. However this potential can be realised only when gender dimensions of equitable access conditions, policy framework and action oriented strategies undertaken at several levels including the MDGs, International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the outcome of the Twenty-Third Special session of the General Assembly (2000)

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