Technology Salon

Washington DC

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a discussion at the intersection of technology and development

We Still Talk About Women as if They Were a Sector

The title of this post is the most memorable quote from our May 2017 Technology Salon, asking the question “Are We Really Closing the Gender Gap in ICT4D?“, a discussion led by:

We’ve talked about gender and ICT4D before at Technology Salons and the title is inspired by – or perhaps uninspired by – our continuing need to address the state of gender in development, from our external programs to our internal organization structures and processes.

A few highlights from our discussion:

Development is sexist.

Full stop. Not going to sugarcoat that. This is one area where we our field is falling victim to its own hollow buzzwords: our work needs to reflect an enabling environment not just an “empowering” one. For our programs, for example with improving online connectivity, it’s taking the additional steps understand the conditions in which women are allowed to participate, not just if they are online or not.

Internally, we need to address why the Salon had nearly 40 people, and only four men among them. We need more collaboration and greater participation from our male colleagues. On the other end of the spectrum, the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has one female in a director-level position and one other full time contractor.

“We still talk about women as if they were a sector.”

Gender is about people and cannot be treated wholesale in the same way we approach infrastructure programs. Incorporating community culture is still a massive barrier for successful programs. The likely reason is that it’s expensive and less quantifiable and thus underdeveloped in our engagements. But gender is deeply personal and the failure to incorporate community culture undermines results from the start. Are we too standoffish from this topic because we do not want to offend?

This is absolutely one area that can’t afford to be siloed.

Let’s leverage those existing working groups like the Interagency Gender Working Group (IGWG) and the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on the Gender Digital Divide to name a couple. New initiatives are likely not the answer compared to bringing in existing teams and toolkits to help address issues.

This was our most vibrant conversation to date and it’s always a good sign in our Tech Salons that I have to kick people out of our meeting space 45 minutes after we end the discussion, because they are still too deep in conversation to notice the time. That much opportunity and appetite for collaboration is encouraging to say the least.

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