A gendered view on ICT and social inclusion

social exclusion, ICT
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Dr Sarah Mohammad-Qureshi, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Partner at The University of Law, presents a gendered view on ICT and social inclusion

In the current age of digital advancement, it is tempting to assume widespread access to smart technology and the internet. It may seem even more inconceivable how gender could serve as a barrier to digital literacy and digital access through social inclusion.

However, a gendered digital divide does exist globally and is in danger of widening with every advance made in digital technology. Digital literacy is largely reliant on access to technology and the education to use it. With women representing over half of those in extreme poverty and 65% of the world’s illiterate, it is less surprising that a gendered digital divide exists.

Far from being a skill limited to professional use, information and communication technology (ICT) is encroaching on all aspects of lifestyle enhancement – further empowering those with the privilege of access and knowledge.

Equitable access to technology from a gender perspective

The digital age has closed the physical space between specialist services and their users, offered faster payment systems, expanded educational resources, developed accessibility aids and widened opportunities for those with sensory or physical impairment. As technology advances, ICT skills are powerful in supporting people fully participate in society.

Equitable access to technology from a gender perspective, has the potential to break down barriers to independence, safety, health and wellbeing experienced by many women and non-binary people. Global statistics share how girls from rural areas are the least likely to attend school, leaving them vulnerable to poverty, exploitation and violence.

Data also links the education of mothers to improved child mortality. In areas where distance to school settings has reduced, the impact on girls’ education has been positive. Investing in ICT can help reduce that distance further, helping to train and resource a greater number of community educators to support more girls into realising their potential. In both rural and urban areas, education affords women input into decision-making in society and within their own households.

The progression from literacy into employment, provides financial independence which facilitates social inclusion, participation and an influence in the community.

ICT inequities are not limited to those countries or women in rural regions

However, whilst many studies on the gendered digital divide highlight disparities in low- and middle-income countries, ICT inequities are not limited to those countries or women in rural regions. In more economically developed countries (MEDC), differential ICT skills are also prevalent.

Male-dominated stereotypes, earlier access to technology during play, and greater encouragement for risk-taking, support boys in taking greater interest in developing their digital skills.

The inequal participation in certain STEM subjects widens further into higher education, with the proportion of women and non-binary undergraduate students studying computer science in the UK recorded at 16% (2018/19). Even outside the coding sector, this imbalance can have significant impact on society.

Reports during the COVID-19 pandemic uncovered how women are overrepresented in face-to-face roles in the retail, hospitality, beauty and care-related industries.

Reskilling in ICT can further prove the capabilities of women

COVID-19 restrictions enabled the continuation of professions which adapted to a remote working or a virtual environment aided by the nature of the work involved and access to ICT. Women suffered greater job losses due to their overrepresentation in sectors unable to provide a virtual service or the precarity of their employment in junior roles. The pandemic proved a great risk to even the marginal improvements made to gender equality in the workforce over the last few decades.

This in turn highlighted the need for greater focus on supporting women to achieve fully equitable and secure access to the workplace.

There are multiple steps supporting the return of women to the workforce and offering greater equity to flexible, secure and lucrative roles, with digital inclusion recognised as particularly beneficial. By upskilling and reskilling in ICT talent, women can be prepared for future-proofed employment in a variety of industries, diversifying the workforce and the range of thought and innovation this introduces.

It is important to note how the impact of digital access has the potential to reach beyond the immediate development of women. There is a role-modelling effect on younger family members and the community, which empowers a generational shift in stereotypes and ideals about the capabilities of women. The enhanced access to financial independence contributes to the economic benefit offered by the statistic that women reinvest 80% of their earnings back into their families and the community.

Overall, there is capacity to influence and improve communities through access to education and support services, informed health advice, and access to new markets for women-led businesses and services which benefits all.

Contributor Profile

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Partner
The University of Law
Phone: 44 (0)800 289 997
Website: Visit Website


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