The Wikigender Team thanks all of you who posted comments in its first online discussion on: how can social networks foster gender equality?
Below is a short summary of the main points that came out of the discussion.
You can still view the comments of the discussion by visiting Online Discussion: How can access to ICTs promote opportunities for women and girls? .

Key points of the discussion

The positive sides of social networks

There was consensus about the added value of social networks in empowering women and girls. Examples were given by Estelle, Angini, Anna and Ousmane, among others, of the power of sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for spreading and sharing information in all parts of the globe. Such sites are accessible by anyone with access to the Internet and easily allow the exchange of best practices, practical advice and counselling for women and girls. Whether to initiate a campaign such as the right to drive or a campaign to end violence against women, such tools are powerful vehicles of information that can mobilise and sensitise the masses. Camila highlighted the power of social networks to create a sense of community to exchange best practices and find solutions using a collective approach. Anna gave the example of online professional networks such as LinkedIn – for career development and professional guidance or mentoring. For Liz, social networks allow women to remain anonymous if they wish so and express their views on gender equality issues without the fear of being judged. Finally, Crystal from the International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics (Asia Pacific region) presented the iKNOW Politics platform and the main points of an e-discussion that they hosted. For example in politics, ICTs help women to keep their campaign costs down.

The Women’s Information Centre also mentioned their publication and we would encourage them to share the link to the publication with the rest of the community.

Some limitations

Yet there were a few points that are worth highlighting as they show the limitations of social networks.

Angela mentioned the importance of involving women and girls in the early design and deployment stages of new technologies, as it is often women who have to adapt to the technology, which is not always straightforward. Somali also reinforced the point of building the skills and capacity of women to effectively use social networks – so ensuring education and training is key. Angini mentioned the technological issue of “access” in developing countries, where insufficient bandwidth may not allow women to view videos on YouTube over the Internet as easily as their female counterparts in developed countries. Simon mentioned the adverse effects that social media can have, as girls are often the target of bullying, which is increasingly facilitated by online social networks. Philippa reminded us of the necessity to close the digital divide – a gap between individuals and communities that have access to information technologies and those that don’t, according to Aleph Molinari – and within it, the gender divide, which reinforces existing economic and social divides, is caused by a lack of access to information made available by ICTs and results in a divide by which women are poorer than men in terms of ideas and information. This is echoed by last year’s finding that 90% of users creating articles in Wikipedia are male. Estelle shared a blog post about the gender differences between print and digital literacy. Finally,

Bringing the technology to a particular community

Crystal raised a very important point when trying to reduce the gender divide within the digital divide: for example, a programme was put in place in Afghanistan where instead of giving women mobile phones (which would be confiscated by their husbands and fathers), and ad campaign was put in place with the message that “good” fathers and husbands provided cell phones for their wives and daughters. This was a successful strategy in addressing persisting and discriminatory socio-cultural norms while increasing women’s access to new technologies, and therefore helping to balance their family and work time. Angela, Somali and Paula also mentioned the use of mobile phone in lifting women out of poverty, although this will be seen more in depth in future online discussions.

Looking forward

This was a very stimulating online discussion of nearly 20 comments! the discussion allowed us to think a bit more on how issues of equal access and opportunities can be resolved in developing countries and how the online world of social networks can be made a safer place for all women and girls. We also learned of some success stories of women and girls using social networks to improve their daily personal and professional lives. Now, the Wikigender Team would like you to keep your inspiration up and to in Wikigender on one of these issues!