Bridging the Gender Digital Divide

During a recent Technology Salon on Girls and information and communication technologies (ICTs), Linda Raftree (of Plan International and wait…what? blog) raised a question often asked in the international development world: How do we bridge the gender digital divide?

After a decade of ICT capacity building programs from Afghanistan to Lebanon to Palestine to Zimbabwe, WLP has learnt a lesson or two in the science of bridging the gender digital divide. I will use our most recent technology trainings in Jordan to illustrate a few best practices that we have gathered over the years.

Digital Divide (cc) Josie Fraser

Digital Divide (cc) Josie Fraser

First, a brief description of the project(s): WLP in collaboration with Sisterhood Is Global Institute, Jordan/WLP Jordan convened a series of technology trainings that started in 2007 and culminated in a Youth Tech Festival in 2009. Phase 1 of the project was a training of trainers institute for a group of young women at the Madaba e-Village in 2007. Phase 2 saw a smaller group of alumni (life events such as marriage and migration had whittled down the original number) in a second training in Amman in 2009. This time the young women had an additional mission – they were co-facilitating a youth training immediate afterwards. Phase 3 was the grand finale – a Youth Tech Festival in Amman where alumni facilitated and led youth groups that created cool technology projects while indulging in friendly competitions with other groups.

How to bridge?

Address the many divides: Digital divide is a pervasive problem, but within the larger issue, there are many sub-groups that need to be specially addressed. Gender, location (urban-rural), and class all play a role in creating obstacles and opportunities. In the initial stages of our project, providing exclusive spaces where young women can explore and learn at their own pace was especially helpful. We also consciously bridged various other divides. For instance, scholarships and accommodations were made available for young women from rural areas, thus getting community and family support for them to attend the trainings.

Female role models: Amman Youth Tech Festival was tremendously successful, thanks to the Jordanian young women trainers who were confidently leading groups of young women and men through various learning activities. The trainers were the most powerful example at the Festival. They were boosting participation from young women attendees. Young men reacted to other women (both the trainers and participants) as their respected peers and team mates. Both of these were significant achievements and neither would have been possible without the women trainers leading the festival.

Provide access AND opportunities: While Phase 1 and Phase 2 provided access to technology tools and training skills, it is in Phase 3 that the young women trainers got an opportunity to put these tools and skills to use. While access is critical, it is the opportunity that provided the necessary confidence to put the access to community use. All facilitators expressed initial doubts about being able to handle the Youth Tech Festival. But by its conclusion, they were amazed at their own capability to do so and were in fact wanting to do more such. (Of course, this also provided a perfect case study for WLP’s credo of “inside every one of us there is a leader”).

Partnering in the process and project: Many times projects for young women are designed with minimal or no involvement of youth in the planning or implementation processes. We found that collaborating together as partners in both the process and the project can be an enriching experience for everyone. For example, as we were brainstorming about the issues that can crop up during the Youth Tech Festival, one of the facilitators brought up the fact that in any activity with a mixed group, girls generally are quieter than the boys. Another facilitator came up with a brilliant way around this intractable issue. At the Youth Tech Festival, all the facilitators had a small stuffed ball at their table with the rule that whomever they threw the ball at was required to speak for the next 30 seconds about the issue on hand. This not only created a more even participation among genders, but it also was quite handy when a group member was distracted. Thus the larger problem of girls’ participation was discussed and solved in a fun and imaginative way by other young women. I can go on and on with more such instances where we all gained immense value from an equal partnership.

These are but some of our organization’s own learning process. We are making a concerted effort to capture some our knowledge sharing at conferences and workshops. I will try to write more in the weeks to come. Wait…may be I should not make promises of writing more considering our schedule for the next two months. I will try to write more in the weeks to come future.

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