Basic Gender Concepts
• What is Gender?
• What are Gender Roles?
• Practical Gender Needs and Strategic Gender Interests
• Gender-transformative Strategies
• Works Cited:
GENDER EVALUATION METHODOLOGY (GEM) is a guide that integrates gender analysis into evaluations of initiatives that uses information communication technologies for social change. This section draws out the basic definitions that are used in this methodology, particularly around concepts related to gender. It is important to understand that GEM is a tool that undergoes continuous development through its implementation and creative adaptations in different initiatives, as well as from feedback on its applicability. GEM does not present itself as a hard and fast set of instructions and rules that cannot be broken. It is only through this evolving and participatory process that the practicality and effectiveness of GEM as a useful methodology can be realised.
Gender is a concept that refers to the social and cultural constructs that each society assigns to behaviours, characteristics and values attributed to men and women, reinforced by symbols, laws and regulations, institutions, and perceptions. The basis of these constructs lies behind the idea that they are natural or intrinsic, and therefore, unalterable. On the contrary, gender constructs are shaped by ideological, historical, religious, ethnic, economic and cultural determinants. These are then translated into social, economic and political inequities; where men’s activities and their gender attributes are perceived as essentially superior to women’s.
It is important to note that gender does not mean man or woman per se. Biological traits that men and women are born with are termed as ‘sex’, which refers only to differences in sexual organs and anatomy. The concept of gender on the other hand, is used to understand the social and personal relations between man and woman, as well as how the concepts of femininity and masculinity are constructed. Gender attributions are often justified on the grounds of sexual or biological difference. For example, women are perceived to be "naturally" nurturing, a characteristic linked to their reproductive capacity as childbearers.
Gender attributions are often oppressive – concepts that were passed on through centuries and ensured by societies to be rigidly adhered to. The typical characteristics assigned to women and men are discriminatory that limit and even damage individual lives. Historically, it is woman who has lost in the relations of the sexes. As such, gender is at the same time a category that has to do with relations as well as politics.
Gender attributions have also permeated the field of science and technology. Often categorised as “hard” and therefore “masculine”, it is a field traditionally considered more suited for men than women. For example, the perception that women fare poorly in science and technology relative to men is often attributed to biological limitations of women, rather than to gender stereotypes in educational materials, teaching approaches, study opportunities, and technological design that contribute to a gender gap in ICT use. Unchallenged gender role stereotypes are built into these resources and methods, which in turn continue to maintain these stereotypes. Consequently, men are assumed to be better equipped to pursue science and technology compared to women, creating greater obstacles for women from entering the field.
- Gender relations are context specific.
- Gender relations intersect with other social relations like class, ethnicity/race, and age.
- Gender relations can and do change in response to altering political and socio-economic changes.
- Gender relations can be resistant to change because like other social relations, they are expressed in the institutions of society.
Examining gender roles leads to a better understanding on how women and men use ICTs differently, or to what ends men and women use them. For example, in the field of e-commerce, many projects only taught women to use the internet to shop online. E-commerce applications for productive areas like monitoring prices of farm products were mainly designed for farmer communities predominantly led by men. In the past few years however, ICT applications have begun to focus on training women entrepreneurs in e-business. While many of these applications do not necessarily challenge changes in the reproductive roles of women, they now recognise women’s productive roles which in some cases have opened up changes in the status of women in the household. Many experiences in introducing using ICTs in communities have resulted in changes in the status of community members who now have access to and know-how in using ICTs (for example, in telecentres). In some communities, women have been able to transcend traditional barriers of leadership that were previously seen as man’s domain by becoming information brokers or trainers in telecentres.
Likewise, the effects of using ICTs impact differently on women and men. For instance, do ICTs save time or in effect create more demands in terms of time because of gender roles? To be more specific, does telecommuting create the potential for more work because it blurs the distinction between private (home) and public (office) domains? In what aspects do gender roles come into this set-up? What are the expectations? Are they different from men and women? Does the availability of a home computer facilitate work management through telecommuting or does it create unrealistic time demands because the worker (male or female) is always connected? Does a woman’s work time increase or decrease? Drawing attention to different and multiple gender roles and responsibilities will enable practitioners to understand that women’s ICT needs are often different from men’s, and meeting those needs may entail specific planning requirements.
The body of literature in gender analysis points to three common roles: reproductive, productive and community management.
Reproductive roles include childbearing/ rearing responsibilities and domestic roles usually performed by women who are required to reproduce and maintain the labour force. Although these roles are actually work, they are however differentiated from what is understood as ‘productive’ because performing these roles are not recognised as ‘work’. As such, work in this category is unpaid. These tasks are not reflected in any country’s GDP or GNP.
Productive roles comprise work done by both women and men that generate income (in cash and/or in kind) and have an exchange value.
Community roles are those undertaken primarily by women at the community level as an extension of their reproductive roles to maintain scarce resources of collective consumption such as water, health care and education. (Of course, there are other participants in a community that engage in this type of work like senior men and women, infirmed or those who have disabilities, underemployed and unemployed members of the community.)
Because women tend to assume multiple roles (caring for children while engaged in productive and community roles), it is important to take these into account when formulating an evaluation plan or analysing the impact of a particular ICT project in relation to gender. It is necessary to take note on how ICTs impact on these multiple roles and examine the changes that the new information economy bring to women and men’s gendered roles. Take the case of telecentres that employ women. Some evaluations usually pay attention only to the infrastructure or hardware issues and fail to consider the social context and content of information that can negatively affect women and girls. Cybercafés or information centres for instance may be open during hours unsuitable for women who have to juggle their time between their productive and reproductive roles. Or the costs of accessing these centres may be prohibitive to women and girls because they don’t have as much disposable income relative to men and boys. In which case, it would be best to look into why women do not have as much income: could it be because the spending scheme of women must factor in expenses in the performance of their multiple roles (e.g. household expenses, family needs, etc.) leaving a small amount or hardly none at all for their needs? Or could it be because women lack the necessary skills for employment? Or since they shoulder most if not all of the reproductive roles in their family, they end up having no more time to engage in productive work?
Gender is a socio-economic variable for analysing roles, responsibilities, constraints, opportunities, and needs of men and women in a given context. One aspect of gender analysis is exploring the nature of gender differences and their political meanings by systematically asking questions about how different men are from women in a given population, with respect to their:
Roles and Activities
- who does what: productive activities? household reproductive activities (child care, cooking, water and fuel collection)? recreation? who does the work: women? men? girls? boys? is it done by both women and men? by only one of them?
- how long does it take? is the work seasonal? monthly? weekly? daily?
- where is the work carried out: home? farm? city? factory?
- how rigid is the gender division of labour?
Resources and Constraints
- what resources do men and women have to work with?
- who uses/owns/controls each of these resources? who is excluded from use/ ownership/control?
- what decisions do men and women make: in the household? in the community?
- are constraints to participation in social and economic life different for men and women?
Benefits and Incentives
- who controls productive activity? reproductive activity?
- who benefits from economic activity?
- who receives income? who controls income? what about non-income benefits?
- do men and women have different incentives for participation in these activities?
Source: "Unit 1: A conceptual framework for gender analysis and planning"
Practical gender needs are needs identified by women that do not challenge their socially accepted roles. These needs relate to fulfilling their productive, reproductive and community roles and responsibilities, which include basic, practical necessities such as shelter, employment and food.
Strategic gender interests on the other hand, challenge existing gender roles. They reflect demands that aim for equity for women, and begin with the assumption that women are subordinate to men as a consequence of social and institutional discrimination against women.
In practice, an approach that emphasises practical needs may make room for recognition and consideration of strategic interests. On the other hand, practical needs may reinforce the existing sexual division of labour, which subordinates women to men. Having access to telephones or the internet, for example, provides women access to means of communication but does not, however, automatically change their relative position to men.
Project interventions may target gender disparities in one of two ways. They can address immediate short-term needs without necessarily challenging the structural causes of gender inequality, or they can address broader strategic issues related to the gender interests of men and women to create conditions for gender equality. For example, in many developing countries, computers are being introduced in schools as tools to support the learning process. Researches have shown that classrooms are not free from gender bias.
A gender assessment in 2001 in four African countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Uganda and Ghana, found that despite efforts to make the programme gender-sensitive, gender inequalities in access persisted. In some schools in Uganda and Ghana, girls do not enjoy equitable access to the computer labs. High student-to-computer ratios and firstcome- first serve policies do not favour girls who are heavily outnumbered by boys at the secondary level. Girls have earlier curfew hours and domestic responsibilities that limit their access time. [Gurumurthy 31-32] A gendersensitive planning for this project is to implement a fair-use policy that ensures equal access and use of computers. But, the project may not be able to address a more strategic need – create the condition that will give rise to an increased enrolment of girls.
Differentiating practical needs from strategic gender interests provides insights for gender planning and evaluation and can be used as basis for identifying positive actions. For evaluation purposes, assessing the extent of responding to both practical and strategic gender needs can inform the impact of projects and initiatives.
Gender-transformative policies advocate and work for change and transformation of existing inequalities. On the other hand, genderspecific policies favour one gender over another to achieve gender goals while gender-neutral policies dismiss gender differences and do not advocate any change on the gender division of labour and resources.
Gender-transformative policies should provide women with enabling resources that allow them to take greater control of ICTs, to determine the kind of ICTs they need, and to frame policies that will help them reach their goals.
Top-down strategies aim to change ICT institutions and agencies to promote women’s equality and empowerment in ICTs. Examples of top-down strategies include:
- using political pressure at international conferences and consultations to demonstrate the importance of gender-sound policies and interventions
- serving as a ‘watchdog’ that monitors ICT impacts on women
- conducting researches and gathering data on gender concerns as central to ICTs for more effective lobby work
- promoting the use of gender analysis tools such as frameworks, guidelines, checklists and rosters of women, and ICT and gender experts
- working within structures to effect change through gender training, financial allocations, staff appointments, and obtaining internal legal mandates
Bottom-up strategies are aimed directly at women, supporting their entry into the mainstream of ICTs. They include:
- removing legal or social barriers that limit women’s access to ICTs
- enabling women to take initiatives in their involvement in ICT planning and policies
- extending financial or technical assistance to women to facilitate access to and control of ICTs by providing credit, training, and education
There are multiple frameworks of gender analysis that can be adopted in using GEM as an evaluation tool. We share two frameworks: “Spectacles for Seeing Gender in Project Evaluation” by Sara Hlupekile Longwe and “Gender and Information and Communication Technology: Towards an Analytical Framework” by Peregrine Wood. Longwe’s examines gender and ICTs through its impact on women’s empowerment while Wood’s looks at the relationship between women and technology from various feminist perspectives. Both of these approaches have been used in our work.
“Unit 1: A conceptual framework for gender analysis and planning.” ILO/SEAPAT’s Gender Learning & Information Module. OnLine. http://www.ilo.org/public/english/region/asro/ mdtmanila/training/homepage/mainmenu.htm (n.d.)
Gurumurthy, Anita. Gender and ICTs Overview Report. UK: Bridge, Institute of Development Studies, September 2004. 31-32. Online. http://www.siyanda.org/search/ summary.cfm?NN=1458&ST=SS&Keywords=icts&Subject=0&donor=0&langu=E&StartRow=1&Ref=Adv
Tinio, Victoria. “ICT in Education”. e-ASEAN Taskforce and UNDP-APDIP, May 2003.