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Gender in ICT-led Social Innovation programmes

The Connect-for-Change programme has as one it its ambitions to contribute to an improved collective understanding of how the introduction, uptake, and embedding of ICT-based tools and solutions in health, education and economic development activities impact the relationships between men and women, as well as supporting locally driven shifts gender dynamics in a particular society.  micro entrepreneur

On Feb 3rd & 4th 2014, 50+ C4C stakeholders convened at the AmLab, home to two of the Connect-for-Change alliance members, to share their experiences and insights generated from their work in coordinating, facilitating and supporting C4C programmes in the field.

5 C4C partners joined the 2-day conversation to provide detail on what is working well in ensuring that their ICT-led Social Innovation programmes generate equal opportunities for both men and women to benefit, and inform C4C stakeholders on which issues are most important to tackle for the remainder of the programme period.

The first day’s programme brought out a lot of local experiences and different approaches to using ICTs to address gender in development.

To (re-)frame our purpose and jumpstart our brains into a mode of critical constructive reflection, Prof. Mirjam de Bruijn  from Leiden University, took us through some main streams of thinking around development and societal change, as well as some of her anthropological research around the impact of mobile phones in Africa (link to here presentation *here*). Prof de Bruijn challenged us to embrace the notion of individuals co-shaping their use of technology, not only at organisational level but also and especially at end-user level: “The effect of ICT may not be what you intended it to be!”, and cautions us: ‘If the transformative power of ICT is multidirectional, it can bridge gender gaps but also increase them.’

Technology only works for people’s emancipation when people embrace it” -Mirjam de Bruijn

With these and more triggering statements, we moved from academic research and thinking to C4C’s local practitioners’ experiences. In their kick-off presentations Stephen, Betty and Fredah shared some background information on what they do, followed by their reflections on initial assumptions they had around Gender in their programmes, whether those were valid, what new insights they acquired, and what changes they made during implementation of their programmes. To have a(nother) look at their presentations, follow these links: C4C Learning Days Presentation Stephen (ICT-for-Education), C4C Learning Days presentation Betty (ICT-for-Health), C4C Learning Days presentation Fredah (ICT-for-Economic Development).

Participants then formed groups around the theme/sector of their interest to dig deeper into the C4C local partners’ experiences and to compare & contrast these with their own experiences in implementing ICT4D programmes. The discussions surfaced some initial questions to challenge ourselves, e.g. should ‘Gender’ be the label around which we organise our thinking and strategising, or should it rather be ‘Inequalities’?

Fishbowl C4C Learning Days

The thinking from the groups was brought back to centre in a fishbowl, in which the C4C local partnerswere joined by Prof. Mirjam de Bruijn and Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative Nina van Lanschot.

Conversation topics ranged from designing and furnishing ICT capacity building activities in a gender-sensitive manner to gender neutrality of ICTs and how to identify a larger cadre of champions and change agents who can scale a programme’s successes, with again another challenge coming from the group:

What would a smart phone look like if the conceptualisation and design were conducted entirely by a design team of female ICT project managers, female designers and female users?

Put forward with a somewhat jestful undertone, nevertheless the challenge resonated with some participants to see how all this talk of gender roles and individual/group preferences would translate into actual hardware and software for ICT-for-Education, Health and Economic Development purposes.

The fishbowl conversations triggered some passionate contributions, challenging the Connect4Change alliance, in its goals to support positive social change, to identify and work with those individuals that want to challenge and change the status quo. “Where can we find the sense of  urgency in the C4C programmes? Who wants real change? Will these be the champions to scale the activities and outcomes during the remainder of the C4C programme period?”
It seemed that the more we discussed gender and the roles of women and men, the more allergic participants became to the idea of clear cut male and female categories. Drawing from a more marketing oriented approach, the question was put to the group: “What will trigger a particular individual to engage with the communication technology tools for his/her own benefit?”  In order to have C4C programmes address the needs and opportunities of diverse client groups even more, C4C should look at personal psychology and behaviour change triggers as well as group psychology, with these being shaped by many different determinant factors, incl. but not limited to, sex, age, income, education, ethnicity, place of residence, culture, and more.

Day 1 finished with a few simultaneous presentations whereby different C4C alliance members brought more depth and updates on relevant new developments into the group.

  • Miet Chielens and Herman Kruijer from C4C member Edukans showcased their work with The World Starts With Me programme, platform and content in Ghana (link)TTC presentation
  • Eunice Gnay from C4C preferred technology partner Text to Change gave a presentation about the C4C mHealth program in Tanzania
  • Julian Sarria from Peruvian C4C local partner organisation PROMUC went into more depth on their ICT-for-Microfinance work for rural female entrepreneurs (link), and
  • Laura Roverts and Anna-Marthe Sessink  from C4C member Akvo demo’d the new Android app for the Akvo RSR system (link)

A lot of interest and buzz resulted from all these different and complementary contributions, once again showing why and how all alliance members and partners form such a strong partnership for ICT-enabled change!


Day 2 of the 2014 C4C Learning Days
The second day was only a half day programme, and  consisted of a review of gender-related statements coming from C4C-related monitoring and learning workshops in the country programmes. Miep Lenoir, IICD’s M&E officer, presented response data to questions related to gender in the client feedback survey tool to trigger discussion and sense-making with Learning Day participants.

Ramon Salat then discussed his findings from his review of gender in academic ICT4D literature. In general he found a lack of recent thorough research studies, with the bulk of the research dating back to 2004 and 2005. Many reports with case studies and anecdotal evidence are available, as well as useful primers for practitioners that will likely be useful for C4C partner organisations and other like-mindend initiatives.
A few useful resources are listed here below for reference:

  • Gender & ICT wikibook (link)
  • Engendering ICT toolkit checklist (link)
  • e-agriculture.org gender-related resources (link)
  • ITU newsfeed ‘Gender’ (link)

During the final session all participants broke out into thematic groups again and discussed the main bottlenecks that C4C needs to address in order to steer the remainder of the programmes towards maximum possible benefits for both men and women.


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