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Communicating in the Information Society

Abstract of the Chapter - What About Gender Issues in the Information Society?, by Dafne Sabanes Plou

Despite the work of many gender and information and communication technology (ICT) advocates from different stakeholders around the world, scant reference is made to several critical gender and ICT issues when information society issues are discussed at any level. A fully informed gender perspective should encompass the diversity and specificity of concerns of different sectors of women both in the North and in the South. This chapter seeks to emphasize that the principle of gender mainstreaming should be adopted when discussing women’s role in the information society, taking into account their communi-cation rights and their demand for full participation in ICT development more widely. This includes challenging their portrayal in the new media, considering their labour rights in the ICT work market, making radical changes in education policies, ensuring women’s participation in science and technology, encouraging their access to decision making and working toward equitable redistri-bution of available resources in the ICT field.

ICTs are one of the fields where gender relations take place, sometimes reinforcing old roles, sometimes changing them, but making us aware that the social and cultural context has an impact in ICT development and use, and that it is not possible to think of new communication technologies as gender neutral. The absence of women’s voices and perspectives in the information society also shows us that power relations in the new media replicate in many ways those in conventional media. The globalization of communications produces new challenges and impacts that must be considered in relation to gender equality. Women’s access to information sources and communication channels are crucial if they are to attain democratic participation, respect for their human rights and an equal voice in the public sphere.

Convinced that ICTs can be an empowering tool for resistance, social mobilization and development in the hands of people and organizations working for freedom and justice, the women’s movement has become an active participant in the preparatory process for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Women are struggling to ensure that gender is a cross-cutting principle when discussing ICT policies at all levels, international, regional and local. They encourage democratization of policy processes within the ICT sector, including use of ICT tools to support this process, and to formulate and implement ICT policy using principles of openness and fair participation. This collective participation in the communications field is also an essential element for women’s empowerment.

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