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Column: On The Gender Barrier

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DQI Bureau
New Update

As I write this piece, I am besieged with mixed

feelings-joy and pride, because it recognizes me as a woman who has

established her presence in a male dominated area; anguish at this continued

demarcation and distinction in a world which professes to give equal

opportunities to all and a nagging concern, that despite all the millions of

working women across the world today, we still have very few women icons to

showcase!

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Gender disparity is a rampant global phenomena and there

have been innumerable instances, especially in the old economy businesses, when

deserving and competent female candidates have been sidelined or superseded by

less capable male colleagues.

Personally, I can only recall one instance of gender

discrimination in my working career to date, when several years ago two male

colleagues left the organization I was working with, rather than report to a

woman boss-me! Fortunately for me, all my bosses have been encouraging and

supportive individuals who gave me equal opportunities to prove myself and gave

me due recognition for my efforts. Notwithstanding that, the climb up has been

through dint of sheer hard work, complete dedication and commitment to the task

at hand, a strong personal conviction that I could do it, a supportive family

eco system and, of course, a lot of luck! Also perhaps the sector in which I

chose to make my career helped, because I do believe that the new age businesses

are more open minded and less prejudiced by the “typical” ways of conducting

business.

Over the years, given the changing face of business and the

greater integration of Information Technology at the workplace, an attitudinal

change has begun to manifest itself which is leading to a redefinition of gender

roles. Against the backdrop of globalization, IT has become a potent force in

transforming social, economic and political life across the globe. It would be

myopic, however, to see the IT revolution as the harbinger of an era of total

equality, and progressive and sustainable growth. Gender concerns in the

diffusion of IT have assumed global significance, as the celebrated potential of

IT is remote from the realities of many.

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Nancy Hafkin and Nancy Taggart, in their book titled

'Gender, Information Technology, and Developing Countries: An Analytic

Study' remark, “Most women within developing countries are in the deepest

part of the divide-further removed from the information age than the men whose

poverty they share. If access to and use of these technologies is directly

linked to social and economic development, then it is imperative to ensure that

women in developing countries understand the significance of these technologies

and use them. If not, they will become further marginalized from the mainstream

of their countries and of the world.” That women Internet users in developing

countries are not representative of women in the country as a whole, but are

restricted to part of a small, urban educated elite, is illustrative of the

layered character of the digital divide.

So what prevents women from reaping the benefits of the IT

revolution in our country? Several gender-specific antecedents impede women's

access of IT: apart from literacy and education, social and cultural norms that

constrain women's mobility and access to resources are huge obstacles. Science

and technology education is necessary for women to work in IT at the level of

computer programmers, engineers, systems analysts, and designers. Women's low

enrolment in science impedes this globally.

“The

sector in which I chose to make my career helped, because I do believe

that the new age businesses are more open minded and less prejudiced”

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It is also often argued that the concern for gender and ICT

in developing countries is not a compelling one, and should be secondary to

meeting basic needs first. This contention, however, doesn't quite hold, as it

is not an either/or situation, as both need to be addressed simultaneously.

Organizations like UNDP believe that unless gender issues are fully integrated

into policy analyses and program design, women and men will not benefit equally

from ICTs and their application. Like many other regions of the world, India too

is seeing rapid developments in the ICT domain that are reshaping all spheres of

societal life. However, information and knowledge regarding the gender

dimensions of these processes is neither cohesive nor organized and a strong

political will is required to drive change in this area.

The modern workplace, though equipped with all the benefits

which accrue with IT, needs to be made equally gender sensitive. Some steps in

the right direction have been the deployment of technology which allows many

workers to participate through flexible working schemes. This is particularly

beneficial for mothers, who remotely access their firm's network from home and

are thus able to care for their families whilst they work. Not only will this

result in higher self esteem amongst women themselves but I believe, it will

also engender an enduring mindset change amongst male members in their families.

Profitable opportunities also exist for women's

small-scale enterprises in business-to-business and business-to-government

segments, which women need to be encouraged to explore, by making viable

concessions and attractive offers available to them. Extension of

infrastructure, particularly wireless and satellite communications, to rural

areas and semi-urban areas is equally vital to enable women's access to

information technology.

In conclusion, I believe that bridging the digital divide,

especially with regard to women is perhaps one of the outstanding challenges of

globalization today. A challenge that we need to meet head on, as IT can play a

definitive role in countering gender disparity. The evidence is all around

us-in the growing number of women entering IT companies now from all strata of

society and working diligently to realize their individual dreams and

aspirations.

I would thus strongly urge the government and the private

sector to focus their energies in this direction, as IT access will not only go

a long way towards significant political, economic and social gains for women at

the workplace and outside, but also empower and enable them to walk tall,

confident and equal to their male counterparts.

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