Sunday, May 27, 2012

ICT : Women & Girls in Bangladesh

Md. Azizul Islam
MD, BTCL (in-charge).

ICT (Information and Communications Technology - or technologies) is an umbrella term that includes any communication device or application, encompassing: radio, television, cellular phones, computer and network, hardware and software, satellite systems and so on, as well as the various services and applications associated with them, such as videoconferencing and distance learning. ICTs are often spoken of in a particular context, such as ICTs in education, health care, or libraries.

Information technology (ICT) has become a potent force in transforming social, economic, and political life globally [1]. But the uneven distribution of these technologies within societies as well as across the world has been termed "The Digital Divide." Bangladesh is a poor country with 45% people living below the poverty line (Save the Children, 2008). Gender inequality, lower education, unemployment, income inequality, business failure, poor infrastructure, political instability and environmental degradation are the main causes of poverty in many developing countries like Bangladesh (Szirmai, 2005). The gender gap in the digital divide is of increasing concern; 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 [2]. Without full participation in the use of information technology, women are left without the key to participation in the global world of the twenty-first century.
Access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) is essential for economic growth, productivity, employment and, especially, sustainable economic and social development on a global scale. The power of the Internet grows stronger day after day and its potential looks inexhaustible. ICT is a self-propelling, self-replicating and self-sustainable driver of welfare and development.
ICTs and related e-applications are key instruments in improving governance and rural services, such as providing community health care, safe drinking water and sanitation, education, food and shelter; improving maternal health and reducing child mortality; empowering women and the more vulnerable members of society; and ensuring environmental sustainability. As ICTs increasingly dictate lifestyles and behavior patterns and power the growth of trade and commerce, rural communities must not be allowed to fall behind cities in their quest for connectivity.

ICT and Women in Bangladesh:

In Bangladesh, women play a central role in family, community and social development. However, women often remain invisible and unheard. Women more than men have to balance the complexities of surviving in extreme poverty, yet these women are excluded from discussion because they are often illiterate, they lack confidence and they lack mobility. ICT offer the opportunities for direct, interactive communication even by those who lack skills, who are illiterate, lack mobility and have little self-confidence.                 

There is no reliable statistics on women’s use of ICT in Bangladesh but it is clear that the numbers are small. Most women in Bangladesh who use information technology use it at work. Except in upper-income enclaves, access to a computer or the internet at home is not a typical phenomenon. A series of factors including literacy and education, language, time, cost, geographical location of facilities, social and cultural norms, and women’s computer and information search and dissemination skills constrain women’s access to information technology.

Information technology can offer significant opportunities for virtually all girls and women in Bangladesh, including poor women living in rural areas. However, their ability to take advantage of these opportunities is contingent upon encouraging policies, an enabling environment to extend communications infrastructure to where women live, and increased educational levels.

Though there are many constraints against women in ICT but there are some aspects of life which have a direct influence of ICT especially on women in Bangladesh. These are:

(i)            Increase of Women’s access to job Market using ICT: In the past women were only considered for household work and were left outside the mainstream of development. In today’s Bangladesh, The scenario has not changed much. But with the advent of ICT, this conservative outlook about women is diminishing gradually. As a result we find more women are employed in various knowledge based industries such as computer-aided designing, graphic designing, composing etc. With this growing number of women employment the job environment is becoming more convenient and friendly for women. The provisions for ladies common room, green room etc are considered as a necessity now a day. This changed scenario indicates a positive attitude towards women employment.
(ii)          Improve Women entrepreneurship using ICT: ICT is not only creating employment for women but also creating a chance for them to emerge as entrepreneurs especially in SME. Women are encouraged to take initiatives to invest in ICT and they are also improving their competence using ICT as an entrepreneur in different sectors.
(iii)         Women empowerment: Women role in the family affairs, especially in decision-making, are no longer ignored. Now women earn for their family by means of ICT and this substantial revenue stream has elevated the women positions in their own households, and the society they belong to. The role models of women who actively participate in the socio-economic development can increase self-esteem and self-confidence of other women and therefore encourage them to push for changes in their own social status. Information and communication technology (ICT) is not just a technology but an inalienable weapon of women empowerment. In the era of knowledge-based culture, Bangladeshis can achieve excellence through proper use of the ICT.
(iv)         Easy to collect Information: Women in Bangladesh now acquiring more bargaining power as they are exposed to ICT specially World Wide Web through mobile phone, computer, Internet. They have become a potential store house of various news and reports.
(v)          Improved e-Governance: ICT is also particularly useful in increasing the transparency and accountability of government.
(vi)         Easy-Family communication: The use of mobile and Internet even at home has given a widen opportunity to women in general to communicate the world. Women remaining in close-doors or of a conservative atmosphere to have the privilege to know about, the where about their relatives and friends by the blessing of ICT.
(vii)        Increase Social awareness: Mass media have up righted the position of women in ICT sector all the more, advertisements, cartoons, telecasting, broadcasting all this projects female awareness in society. Female no more lack in knowledge in fitting themselves in right places. This positively highlights the influence of ICT.

ICT and Girls in Bangladesh: As in many developing nations, girls in Bangladesh are still not enjoying equal educational, economic, and social opportunities. But the advent of ICT is inviting girls to join the new domain of navigation. Girls need to access to ICT for the same reasons as boys. They need to learn ICT skills for their educational achievements, personal development, and employment  opportunities.  However,  the capacity of girls to  take  advantage of  the  new Prospects in life even if they have to pay a fortune for their child’s education.

Technology as tools for empowerment is restricted by socio-economic and cultural factors. English language proficiency is required to explore the diverse options of ICTs. Beside ICTs girls have to gain English language skills because the language is a remarkable media for better communication. IT skilled girls with internet connection even in rural areas are able to grip the world for learning the tools of the survival. IT expertise and knowledge of communicative English can enhance their employment opportunities. Now a days, parents are becoming more aware about ICT and are interested to send their daughter to study computer science for bette
Despite this progress, gender disparities in education, access to training and access to Resources, Illiteracy, Economic imbalances: Training and education imbalances are the disadvantages that many women face. There are distinct differences between men and women in their access to resources, information and support structures. Women usually face higher barriers than men in accessing the kinds of applied training or resources that can equip them with digital literacy or applied ICT skills for engagement in ICT-related employment.

ICT Education and Training Initiatives in Bangladesh :

The knowledge economy is underpinned by literacy, basic education and communication skills. Increased literacy creates the demand for information, news and content. Beyond these fundamentals, a digital workforce requires training at all levels from data entry to network-management to entrepreneurial-management. At the national level, Bangladesh is ahead of most South Asian countries in primary school enrollment and in the ratio of female to male primary pupils. However, nearly three out of five students drop out of primary school. This weakness threatens to undercut the nation’s growth prospects in the 21st century by leaving it short-handed and in need of a large, literate workforce capable of competing in technically-demanding sectors with other developing countries.

Education and training opportunities through distance and open learning are one of the few educational areas in which women in the developing world are well-represented. Distance and open learning help women and girls overcome some of the challenges they face in traditional education, such as mixed classrooms. However, this trend may be reversed if women lack access to and control over the technologies themselves, or are not supported in overcoming their wariness of technology in general.

Bangladesh Open University, the only university that offers distance and open learning programs, provides eighteen formal and nineteen non-formal courses ranging from secondary to postgraduate levels within six academic schools, including a diploma in computer applications programs.

Besides this, there are a number of independent community-based ICT training Initiatives across the country that engaged women and children. These pilot-programs are established by public/private partnerships between NGOs, private sector interests, educational institutions, government and donors7.

Telecommunications in Bangladesh : In Our Country the total number of Mobile Phone Active Subscribers has reached 89.457 million8 at the end of March 2012, the total number of PSTN Phone Subscribers has reached 1028.19 thousand8 at the end of May 2010 and the Internet subscribers has reached 31140.8048 thousand at the end of February 2012. The present Government has set the vision of building a “Digital Bangladesh” by 2021. Digital Bangladesh means it will be an e-state combines with e-governance, e-banking and e-commerce, e-learning, e-agriculture, e-health, and so on. However the vision encompasses much more; there is a strong correlation between economic and social development of a country and its proficiency in science and technology. We need a knowledge based society, efficient management and skilled human resources as well. So, we need to extend ICT facility in each and every village in Bangladesh. Therefore, high level of internet penetration is a must for the development of ICT. Extending broadband connectivity up to rural area is a challenge for BTCL. BTCL is planning to extend it’s optical fibre connectivity up to 4,400 Union Parishad (UP) Centers in Phases. The connectivity will be used to install community e-Centers at the UP Complex so that the rural people can avail the online services from a single point. Therefore, government-owned BTCL has greatly helped to increase IT-related activities and awareness in the country.
Also ICTs are increasingly in demand to meet the Millennium Development Goals. In the rural context, ICTs provide update information that enhance opportunities to generate income and combat poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy.
Rural women in our Country have limited access to resources and public spheres due to socio-cultural restrictions. Women suffer from severe discrimination, and it is thought this is heightened due to a lack of access to information. If rural women in Bangladesh were educated and empowered using ICT tools such as computers, the Internet and mobile phones, then poverty could be alleviated and development would be possible in social, economic and all other levels of human life.
Information communication and technology (ICT) is a potential tool that can reach rural women and enrich their knowledge. Therefore, The theme of this year’s 2012-WTISD, " Women and Girls in ICT ", aims to ensure that this vulnerable female half of the world’s population will march forward as equals. In Bangladesh perspective ----- women’s involvement in ICT industries and ICT based government and non-government organizations changes the behavioral aspect of Girl’s & Women’s lifestyle and thereby affects the society as a whole.

References: Different sources

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