Gender issues in telecentres
Malawi SDNP
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The following papers appeared in ITU News 5/99

1. Gender perspectives in telecentres, Cathy Murray
2. Telecentres which meet the needs of women, Marie-Helen Mottin-Sylla

Gender perpective in telecentres
Cathy Murray,
Director, Small World Connections Ltd. (United Kingdom)

Some of the barriers faced by women and how telecentre projects and teleworking initiatives can help overcome these.


Women, even in the developed world, are generally lower paid than men and often do not have control over their income. For example, in the United Kingdom, women employees working full-time earn on average only 80 per cent of the average hourly earnings of men full-time employees. Women's family responsibilities, such as health and education of children, are the primary priorities for the income they earn, so that often there is little left for other less immediate needs. Women also do not have as much professional access to information technology (IT) and telecommunications as men.

Cost of technology and training

Telecentres can provide free or low cost IT training for women and free or low cost access to the technology. Any IT training should be offered in software that women can easily afford to buy. Telecentres should also consider investing in low cost and low maintenance networking technologies. For example, a telecentre could set up low cost network computers which can be used as word processing and data input terminals and as a means of gaining Internet access.


Because of their domestic and child care responsibilities women have less time to improve their skills or carry out paid employment. For example, the telling quote: "I wanted to go out and save the world but I could not find a babysitter!" In the
United Kingdom, 51 per cent of mothers with children aged five are in work compared with 89 per cent of fathers.

Any IT and telecommunications training for women has to be in their communities so that they do not spend too much time travelling to the training venue rather than learning. This means that when a telecentre is set up and is trying to train local women, it may need to 'der some type of mobile training equipment.

For example, our colleagues Ryan & Vause Associates have a bus which is set up with IT and telecommunications equipment which travels into the ethnic minority communities of Oldham. This was to overcome the cultural and religious concerns faced by Muslim women for whom attending courses outside their own communities could make them feel uncomfortable. When our company, Small World, recently provided telework training for a group of women we had a mobile training suite of ten laptops which could fit in the boot of a car. As a result we were able to offer training in an old abbey; and even in a local restaurant.

Lack of affordable child care

In the United Kingdom, nursery fees are around GBP 400 per month so they are only practical for middle class women who earn in excess of GBP 12 000 per year. Also, for every eight children under eight, there was only one place in a day nursery or family centre with a registered childminder or on an out-of-school scheme.

Any telecentre which is providing training for women has to provide child care. This can be done either through an in-house cre'che or by providing money to cover child care. For women with school age children the training has to be at a time which suits women - a time that fits in with school hours. Also, if the training is over a long period of time, it has to reflect the school
holidays. For example, there is no point in arranging a training day during the school half-term or trying to run a training programme in the month of August.

Lack of Confidence

If women have spent the previous five years looking after children they often feel they have no useful skills other than child care and domestic work. This can lead to a lack of confidence and cause women to apply for jobs well beneath their capabilities and earning potential. Therefore they tend to carry out part-time menial jobs with little skill or income.

Women can often feel uncomfortable with using computers and telecommunications. They can be afraid that they will make a mistake and the "machine" will break. This can be as a result of social conditioning where "girls do not play with machines".

Any IT and telecommunications training programme for women has to have a holistic approach and have a strong measure of confidence building. This can be through improving women's assertiveness skills and goal setting. During the training the women decide what are their alms, how and when they will achieve them.

It is also important to help the women realize that through bringing up children they have learned many new skills. For example many women find that running a household has given them excellent project management and budgeting skills as well as how to balance conflicting priorities.

To overcome lack of confidence with using technology, any training course has to acknowledge the problem and start with the basics of IT. Any course should be free of jargon and should explain how computers work and that they cannot explode! Also I have found that if people can see inside a computer - this can de-mystify it. Any course should allow as much hands on as possible. Dealing with faults, problems and basic information technology maintenance are also crucial elements so that women
have the confidence to deal with any basic faults when they occur. This has the knock on effect of making them feel more comfortable with computers.

Access to information

For many women who may already have a job, the telecentre can provide improved access to information, especially for those in rural areas. In case of women farmers in rural Africa, access to the Internet through a local telecentre will enable them to learn new methods of farming, and how to market their products.

According to an article on telecentres in Uganda from the "Panos" website, lack of information has hampered women's ability to maximize their income generating potential. They have plenty of projects but many remote villages cannot get information on where they can take their handicrafts. Here, there could also be a role for development agencies, non-governmental organizations and community organizations to repackage the available information to make it appropriate for the needs of rural
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