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GEM workshop in Latin AmericaGEM workshop in Latin AmericaFindings from gender evaluations on ICT use, point to the fact that women over the age of 35 are often times considered “too old” to use ICTs and learn about computer technology. This is especially true in rural areas of Latin America, where women over 35 complain that their children in particular think that they are not fit to surf the internet because of their age, and that it would be hard for them to learn to send emails and handle computer software.

The lives of many women in rural Latin American areas have changed significantly in the past few decades. Most young women now know how to read and write, they have attended at least primary school, they know about their citizens´ rights, and are also informed about land rights, labour rights, environmental issues, and market prices. The media, especially radio, has played an important role in keeping rural communities informed about what is going on in big cities and in the rest of the world, and has also opened spaces for these communities to share their interests and concerns.

In these rural communities, most women in their thirties are already mothers of young teenagers. They marry young and work as housewives or in the fields, with their husbands or relatives. However, although they know a lot about crop or poultry production, they seldom own the land or have a say when family finances or economic plans are being discussed. Their presence in the community decision-making meetings is almost non-existent and they are expected to accept whatever others decide with no questions.

Time to speak up

Cybercafes and telecentres are not common in rural Latin America, but in some countries, such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, government and social organisations are working hard to bring connectivity and ICTs to small towns and villages. Because of these policies, many people have become new ICT users, especially older children, and teenagers. Young and middle-aged men have started to use the internet to find information about market prices, the climate, and possibilities for the production of new crops in their region.

Women are still far from this access, mainly because of prejudices and stereotypes that continue to limit them to the household. Many of them have started using their own cell phones, mainly with pre-paid cards to send SMSes or for short calls. Despite this fact, they are still seen as incapable of understanding ICTs. But they are no longer willing to keep quiet: they want to have their own chance to learn and decide for themselves if they find ICTs difficult to grasp or not.

Women’s interests in access to ICT tools and knowledge are varied and include many different skills. Some want to learn how to download the photos they take with their cell phone cameras and keep them in a virtual album that they can update themselves. Others want to participate in discussion lists on issues of interest to them, like the education of their children and teenagers, health, violence against women, field production, environmental problems in their area, etc. They also want to learn new techniques on making handcrafts or on keeping their poultry healthy. Many also expressed their interest in becoming members of women’s online networks that keep them updated about activities in their communities. Access to news and information is another increasingly growing need.

Telecentre facilitators and those coordinating community access to ICTs, be it the government or social organisations, should take these needs and interests into account. The lack of participation by women in the access to ICTs needs to be looked at from gender perspective, taking into account all the social and cultural issues that cross-cut what can be perceived as shyness or reluctance, especially for women over 35, who are still eager to learn these technologies. Otherwise doors will remain closed to women into the world of information and communication and they won’t be able to benefit from it for personal, family, and community lives.

Dafne Sabanes Plou, is the PARM regional coordinator and GEM adaptation for telecentres coordinator

GEM – the Gender Evaluation Methdology is an evaluation methodology that integrates a gender analysis into evaluations of initiatives that use information and communication technologies (ICTs) for social change. GEM provides a means for determining whether ICTs are worsening or really improving women’s lives and gender relations, as well as for promoting positive change at the individual, institutional, community and broader social levels. GEM has been developed by the women’s programme of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC WNSP).