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Impact assessment: Women and girls’ empowerment

16 September 2011 - Empowering women and girls, by giving them a voice and the means to improve their own lives and those of their families and communities, is key not only to achieving gender equality but to reducing poverty and promoting social and economic development for the benefit of all. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have an essential role to play in providing women and girls with education and training, promoting literacy, enhancing job opportunities, improving access to health care, enabling the exercise of legal rights and participation in decision-making, and changing social attitudes that constrain life choices.

  • Education and training: ICTs are a valuable resource for education and training of girls and women, with the potential to overcome the handicaps and constraints arising from gender discrimination. ICT applications can deliver training in basic literacy as well as in ICT and other skills that expand economic opportunities and improve existing livelihoods, for example, in agriculture or handicrafts.

  • Entrepreneurship: ICTs open up new possibilities for women’s entrepreneurship. Village “phone ladies” ‑ a model pioneered by Grameen Telecom in Bangladesh and widely copied – sell calls and other services on their mobile phones. Where infrastructure permits, women are also managing telecentres, setting up online businesses or simply using ICTs to run their businesses better. 

  • ICT careers: In the industrialized world teenage girls use computers and the Internet nearly as much as boys do, but they are far less likely to make ICT a career, accounting for less than a fifth of ICT specialists. This is despite the fact that computer and information systems managers consistently rank among the top 20 best-paying jobs and there is a shortage of skilled staff available to meet demand. Encouraging more girls to go into ICT careers would enhance their employment prospects, help close the skills gap and provide girls with role models of successful women in technology.

  • Women’s health: ICTs, through telemedicine, mobile phone applications and other systems, are enabling better access to health care for women and their children, especially in rural areas. They can help to combat maternal mortality, still a scourge in many developing countries, and provide information and advice on health and hygiene.

  • Giving women voice: ICTs, from mobile phones to social networks, enable women to express and share experiences, concerns and knowledge, make their voices heard in decision-making processes, and access information and services provided by governments and other public agencies.

  • Social attitudes: By increasing access to information on the world outside, including through entertainment such as films and television shows, ICTs can help in changing social attitudes that constrain opportunities for women and girls.

While the potential is there, women’s ability to fully exploit ICTs is often restricted by a range of factors, including low levels of literacy, limited technical expertise and the high costs of connectivity in many developing countries. In addition, behavioural, cultural and religious traditions may discourage access to and use of ICTs. Carefully designed initiatives responsive to local conditions can nevertheless overcome or reduce these constraints.
ITU supports the empowerment of women and girls by promoting the digital inclusion of women. Its initiatives include:

  • Women’s Digital Literacy Campaign: Launched in April 2011 in partnership with Foundation, a Philippines-based non-governmental organization, this campaign aims to train one million unskilled women to use computers and modern ICT applications to improve their livelihoods. The campaign unites Foundation’s global network of 100,000 telecentres worldwide with materials and resources supplied by ITU’s 192 Member States and 700 Sector Members. By the end of 2012, training courses will be offered in at least 20,000 telecentres, each of which is expected to train at least 50 women.

  • Community ICT Centres: Through its Connect a School, Connect a Community initiative, ITU is sharing best practices on using connected schools as community ICT centres, providing ICT skills for people with special needs including women.  ITU has developed a range of digital literacy training materials designed to be used in community ICT centres and telecentres, by women, indigenous peoples and the disabled. In addition to providing basic ICT literacy, the materials show trainees how ICTs can be used to support a range of economic activities such as handicrafts, agro-tourism and agriculture.

  • Women and girls in ICT careers: ITU encourages educational institutions and public and private sector ICT entities to organize “Girls in ICT Days” on the fourth Thursday of each April to encourage girls and young women to take up a career in ICT. In February 2011, during the 55th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, ITU and UN Women also launched WITNET, the Global Network of Women ICT Decision Makers. WITNET has since developed an online Toolkit to promote “Girls in ICT Days”.  As part of this initiative, ITU is developing an interactive “Girls in ICT” portal, to be launched during ITU Telecom World 2011 taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, between 24-27 October 2011.  This portal will provide practical information to young women and girls seeking to enter or further their ICT careers.


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