Verse to Voice Weblog

A writer who reads for enjoyment, inspiration, ideas, and the need to nurture her creative voice

Gender, the digital divide and literacy: Why Communication Technology Must Help November 5, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — mywritevoice @ 10:49 pm

I love books and my ability to read and write is a gift that continues to enrich my life. I want that experience to be available for everyone, but it isn’t.


The digital divide along gender lines is an issue that a global society, open to what the advances in communication technology can offer, should not ignore.


When her gender puts her at a disadvantage and causes a young girl or a woman to experience lack of exposure to, and use of, communication technology, her family, her community and the global society lose, too. And that is where the aptly named “digital divide,” or as some call it, the continued knowledge gap, is problematic to individual empowerment and group advancement.


Estimates from the United Nations say there are 771 million illiterate adults globally – 18 percent of the world’s population. Women, the study says, “account for 64 percent of the adults worldwide who cannot read and write with understanding.”


I believe the availability and use of communication technology can impact literacy. A woman who knows how to read and to write gains not only for herself, but she can better pass those skills along to her children – male and female – to her extended family, and in some cases, her village or town. A literate and educated community increases economic potential, helps to shape societal norms and civic responsibility, and gives voice to those who otherwise might be excluded.


A few years ago, I heard author Ray Bradbury speak about writing during a literary festival. Bradbury said that for him, walking into a library is a bittersweet experience because when he sees all of the filled shelves he thinks: Look at all of the books that I’ll never have time to read.


For Bradbury the sole barrier to reading is time – the finite amount of a lifespan that all of us have. For a girl or woman who is illiterate; lives in poverty and does not have access to technology; is excluded from giving her input, or who does not have an advocate or voice fighting for her at the technology resource table, the barriers beyond time multiply.


That at-the-table resource is where we see the other extreme of barriers caused by the gender digital divide that affects women who do have technology education and access. Women continue to be under represented in the traditionally male field in employment, study and teaching. That lack of female presence impairs the ideas and connections that could better bridge the effects of the gender digital divide.


Women bring a needed perspective and should be present and have a voice in the decisions, policies and innovations in communication technology going forward. That way, everyone benefits when working toward a happily ever after for all.


2 Responses to “Gender, the digital divide and literacy: Why Communication Technology Must Help”

  1. bdishman Says:

    Hi Suzanne,
    I really enjoyed reading your EOTO assignment regarding the gender digital divide and literacy. You have really made a good argument about how the digital divide along gender lines affects all of us, both at home and abroad. I did not know that there were 771 million illiterate individuals until I read your blog, but if I really stop and think about it, there could easily be that many. The illiteracy problem is prevalent in developing countries, but here in America as well. Statistics show that 42 million Americans can’t read at all. Another 50 million can’t read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. You have done a good job of outlining the gender digital divide affects all of us – if women aren’t able to read and write, they can’t become proficient in technology. If they are not proficient in technology, then their families and the community as a whole suffer.

    The six websites you refer to are excellent sources of information. You have chosen sites that are professional, easy-to-navigate and give information about the problem as well as possible solutions. You have pointed out that networking with others, developing your own skills in technology, and supporting literacy and technology nonprofits with money, service and ideas are ways to help address the problem. I did some further research and found a site about getting girls to learning computer technology early on. The site points out that girls have made great strides in math and science and spend as much time on computers as boys, but when it’s time to go to college, there are not as many girls going for technology-based careers as boys. The writers suggest incorporating computer classes into English and art classes as ways to appeal to girls. Of course this approach won’t work unless the girls have access to basic reading and writing skills, much less the computer.

    Compounding the gender digital divide problem are cultural norms in some country. Another site I found addresses the problem of the patriarchal society in Africa as a cause of digital divide problems. The Feminist Network on Gender, Development and Information Society Policies points out that while African women are the primary custodians and upholders of culture, they are often relegated to subordinate positions. This cultural norm, along with poverty and lack of education and infrastructure, compound the problem.

    Betty Dishman

  2. Tyler Ritter Says:

    Suzanne, I am so glad you wrote about this topic. I’ve spent some time looking into these issues, too, and believe there is much work to be done globally, and in our own back yard. Although your essay could have drawn a clearer division between problems of illiteracy and digital divide issues, the truth is they are very closely related.

    Gender disparity in education is more prevalent in some cultures than others, but even with social attitudes and cultural norms being what they are, the increasing availability of technology is a game-changer. Organizations like Practical Action can make a real difference for women by helping them find ways to integrate educational goals into their cultures and daily lives.

    Even though the daily lives of women in the U.S. are much different from those of women in Kenya or Peru, there are still cultural boundaries here. recently launched a program called Project Working Mom that provides scholarships for online learning programs to working mothers. “Women unable to pursue education because of life circumstances often become trapped in a cycle of underemployment.” They also note that 60% of all working moms make less than $30,ooo per year, 60.7% of mothers of children under 3 work, and 80% of single-parent families are headed by women.

    I was recently talking with a friend about some of these issues and we remembered a 60 Minutes story about the trend of women aggressively pursuing careers early in life, achieving financial and professional success, and then regretting the fact that they found themselves in their 40s, desperate to raise a family, and unable to conceive because they waited too long. In contrast, it seems as if those who didn’t get on that track and stayed home are not in such a great place either, with limited financial resources and less education. What we wondered was why women don’t combine early child-rearing with education and career preparation, so that when their children move on they will be in their prime and ready to enjoy professional success. With all the options distance education provides, this could be a very real and practical solution for women in the future!

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