Information and Communication: Two Sides of Information Communication Technologies

Global Usage of Information Communication Technologies

In the past twenty years, the world has experienced tremendous progress in the accessibility of information communication technologies (ICTs). According to the World Bank, the percentage of global Internet users has soared from zero percent in 1990 to nearly forty percent today. Other key forms of information communication technologies include mobile phones and satellite televisions. Approximately 66 percent have satellite televisions, according to the Information Technology Union.[1]  By the end of 2013, there will be 6.8 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide. Given a global population of 7.1 billion, this prevalence of mobile phone use is astounding, enhancing connectivity and ICT accessibility globally.[2]

Though the accessibility of ICTs has improved greatly, there remain stark discrepancies between regions, classes, and gender. Nonetheless, the increased presence of information communication technology throughout the world is transforming social structures. People now have an online platform through which they can build better societies: instead of settling for the status quo, individuals can now express their views freely with others who hold similar social and or political priorities. And because this opportunity exists at all levels of society, from nuclear families to national governments to international regulative bodies like the United Nations, global discussion is wider-reaching. Challenges to the creation of a truly connected global public remain, however.  Those able to build virtual communities are, naturally, only those with the access and ability to use the Internet and other forms of information communication technologies. Nonetheless, those that do have access to ICTs are perhaps able to make greater impacts than ever before: ICTs are a tool for social change, and as a scholar of the Arab Spring, Ekatarina Stepanova explains, “No region, state, or form of government can remain immune to the impact of new information and communication technologies on social and political movements.”[3]

ICTs can infiltrate every aspect of a community or nation, from the ways people interact to the methods by which laws are passed and elections are held. ICTs have been indispensable in many recent activist movements, particularly feminist ones, during which groups unrelentingly used the Internet to voice views that would have been very difficult to project effectively without a web platform.

International Atmosphere and Attitudes Towards ICTs

The catalytic role of ICTs during the Arab Spring has led to two widespread attitudes toward ICT development: cyber-utopianism, the idea that the Internet will have purely beneficial impacts on a group and that all have equal voices and impacts online, and internet centrism, the idea that Internet possesses an unfailing ability to shape and transform its surrounding communities.[4] Touted as a “Facebook Revolution,” the Egyptian Revolution was kick-started by a social media campaign called the “April 6th Youth Movement.” International media accredited Twitter and Facebook for the uprisings. The success of protests coordinated online set an international atmosphere that ICTs are incredible instruments for change.

In addition to enabling connection and the dissemination of information, ICTs are also accredited for tangible progresses in health, education and economic opportunity. The trendy term “ICT4D” (ICTs for Development) is popular among politicians and activists at all levels. On key news search engines like Lexis Nexis, the terms “Information Communication technologies and women’s empowerment” yielded 997 hits, while the terms “Information Communication technologies and women’s oppression” yielded only 41 hits. Similarly, “Technology women’s empowerment” yielded 999 hits while “Technology women’s oppression” yielded only 253 hits.[5] There is more attention paid to the benefits of ICTs.

ICTs have provided benefits to feminist movements, which have also been widely celebrated by international media. This paper seeks to prove that because of cyber-utopianism and Internet centrism, increasing ICT use poses significant challenges to feminist movements, especially ones that do not receive enough international attention ICTs have hampered feminist progress for two central reasons; opposition movements almost always reap the same benefits from ICTs, and ICTs may deepen a dangerous gender divide between men who can access and use ICTs, and women who can do so to a significantly lesser degree.

Women and ICTs

The Context

Around the world, women’s access to ICTs is arguably higher than ever. In fact, 37 percent of women are Internet users, just four percent fewer than the percentage of men, and of those women between ages 15 and 24, 77 percent use social media.  Unfortunately, gender divisions are evident. For example, although there are nearly six billion mobile subscriptions and the data is not gender-disaggregated, estimates predict that women are 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men.[6] Additionally, 66 percent of households have televisions, though the accessibility of these TVs to women varies widely.[7] In the developing world this technology gap is greatest, with 16 percent fewer women using the Internet than men.

Benefits to Feminist Progress

ICTs have undeniably aided efforts for feminist progress. By granting the ability to connect and organize “defenders” of women’s rights, especially to those unable to make their voices heard or join movements, ICT’s have helped foster the formation of many key support networks that act as springboards for action and support. [8] For example, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) has staff in places as widespread as Bangalore and Toronto.[9] The Association organizes feminist efforts and projects around the world, provides helpful information on health and political rights for women, and offers a safe space to share grievances. AWID even has a program called the “Young Feminist Wire”, a webpage where female adolescents in the developing world can share their experiences, ask questions, and get advice from specialists in women’s empowerment. These users may become more assertive and inclined to fight mistreatment in order to break cycles of oppression.

Another organization is MIDEAST Youth, an innovative online forum for Middle Eastern youth, which houses human rights discussions.[10]Kolena Laila” is a blogging project in which countries in the Middle East blog for a week, discussing the injustices facing nations’ “Lailas.”[11] This has helped bring women’s issues to the forefront of people’s awareness and inspired discussion about preventing the mistreatment of women. Another example of the connectedness and support that these online feminist networks provide is Isis-Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange. This group has an evocative website and social media presence. In Uganda, they provide psychological support for women in areas ravaged by warfare.

Feminist groups capitalize on this support, forming political movements through ICTs. An online campaign that proves the success of these endeavors is the “One Million Signatures Campaign” from Iran. In an effort to stop the enactment of a tax on prenuptial agreements, the One Million Signatures Campaign started to circulate online. Although the group was pursued by the Iranian government and had to change domain names and site location often, they alerted their followers each time they did so. The One Million Signatures Campaign succeeded not only in preventing the bill from passing, but also in raising awareness about how important the cyber world is for feminist efforts.

Furthermore, ICTs and social media have drastically increased the speed at which activists can respond to social occurrences. In fact, Studies of the Arab Spring have shown that Facebook now disseminates news faster than Al-Jazeera in the Arab World.[12]  In Azerbaijan, activist Layla Yunusova was arrested for libel, despite only revealing the widespread problem of police officials kidnapping children. The fast and forceful responses that her unjust arrest evoked online pressured the government to release her.

ICTs also enable initiatives like “Harassmap”, an Egyptian project designed so that women can report where they are sexually harassed or catcalled. Once women have reported their experiences, government officials and trained activists reach out to communities where the greatest amount of harassment occurs and work to reduce it.[13]

ICTs provide women with opportunities to improve their health, education and economic situations. These three basic pillars are central to the well-being of any woman and thus certainly have the potential to make an activist group stronger. Activist groups have empirically provided such improvement services more efficiently through ICTs. Examples include OneWorld School House Project, which provides virtual education to women and children in rural locations worldwide, and Jordan’s E-Villages project, a program responsible for connecting rural female producers with wider networks of consumers to increase each woman’s customer base.[14] Yet perhaps the most important form of education that women access through ICTs is information about how to use ICTs themselves. AWID leads a campaign called “Take Back the Tech!” which aims to increase women’s voices in the media to create a safe source for women to learn about technology and its uses.

ICTs also empower women to help build cyberworld culture. The lack of female participation online makes it easy and common for the Internet to propagate harmful stereotypes about women and improper standards of female treatment. However, by engaging online, women can change sexist cultures. Websites such as, which collects videos from online sources about women’s empowerment projects, have even been created in response to a dearth of feminist media available on YouTube and Wikipedia.[15]

Challenges that ICTs Create for Feminist Progress

Just as the Internet has given feminist groups the opportunity to shape web culture, it does the same for misogynistic organizations. Unfortunately however, the administration for ICT’s is predominately male, so oppressive, male-dominated groups have an advantage. Globally, women account for only 21 percent of people working in ICTs. The gap is even greater in developing nations.[16]  Since women cannot strongly influence ICT culture administratively, sexist stereotypes prevail online within a cyber-culture that alienates women. This makes it very difficult for feminists to effectively use the Internet. The Saudi fight for women’s right to drive faced such obstacles. The movement began in 1990 when 47 women drove in 14 cars down a main street in Riyadh. In 2006, a group drove again, and ever since, there have been numerous online campaigns, petitions and videos related to the cause, but they have been unsuccessful. Retaliations from media sources, political officials, social leaders, and even scholars have been tremendous, effectively impeding any social progress. As Eman al-Nafjan, a prominent Saudi blogger and founder of Saudiwoman’s Weblog summarizes:

“Since 2006, every few months there would be a study, petition, video or campaign but to no avail. This is no surprise, because there are just as many studies, videos, petitions and campaigns calling on the government to maintain the ban.”[17]

There is a sort of cyber warfare occuring, and just as activists groups have broadly reaching platforms to express their opinions, so do the most misogynistic conservatives who cut at the core of feminist efforts. Al Jazeera reported that conservatives responded with their own “Iqal” campaign attempting to persuade people to beat women found driving. Their Facebook page earned 6,000 likes. The response to the Saudi women’s campaign shows that ICTs give oppressive groups the same abilities to connect and collaborate as they give feminist ones.

Oppressive groups around the world have created an unprecedentedly misogynistic culture online through skillful ICTs use. In the Association for Progressive Communication’s Statement to the UN’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women representatives wrote,

“Violence against women (VAW) that is mediated by technology is increasingly becoming part of women’s experience of violence and their online interactions. In the same way we face risks offline, in the streets and in our homes, women and girls can face specific dangers and risks on the internet such as online harassment, cyberstalking, privacy invasions with the threat of blackmail, viral ‘rape videos’ and for young women in particular, the distribution of ‘sex videos’ that force survivors to relive the trauma of sexual assault every time it is reposted online, via mobile phone or distributed in other ways. These forms of violence may also be mediated through technology but they cause psychological and emotional harm, reinforce prejudice, damage reputation, cause economic loss and pose barriers to participation in public life. Reporting and responses of these violations are generally limited and the harm and abuse are poorly understood.”[18]

Online social media has created more ways to exploit women than ever before. Other new developments include newsgroups for postings on how to locate and sexually exploit women, websites to distribute prostitution information, chat rooms for child sexual abuse, and live chats to facilitate human trafficking.[19] Fighting against these forces is very difficult since men have much control over the online domain, especially in the Middle East. Recently a report called the “Facebook Fatwa” was published with examinations of 40,000 online postings by extremist Saudi figures. The study found that while pleas for international violence were only five percent of the postings, seventy-five percent were xenophobic, intolerant of minorities or misogynistic.[20] These kinds of posts make the web hostile for all women and minorities.

The lack of female representation in those employed as ICTs administration renders men in control over female ICTs use. This level of control seems to impede feminist movements. As Asma Barlas quotes, “The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.”[21] There is a risk that technology is commoditized for women by men, allowed only during supervised and limited hours. In certain parts of the world, the use of technology poses increasing conflict between men and women, as men grow fearful of women having too much independence. In a case study across developing nations in Africa and the Middle East, 300 women were given cell phones. They were then monitored for three years. Women with cell phones were twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence, in part because men feared their wives were cheating on them through text messages.[22]

Men are using technology to track women like never before. When women leave Saudi Arabia, their husbands are notified by text message. Columnist and activist Badriya al-Bashar writes, “the authorities are using technology to monitor women… women are kept in a state of slavery.”[23] These dangerous efforts to control women, which sometimes result in violence, have the potential to become deeply rooted in an already sexist ICT culture

Although feminist groups may be able to break into the ICT world through web pages, call centers, TV channels, and other venues, the accessibility of ICT’s for women still remains dubious. Women are 21 percent less likely to own cell phones than men. Men are twice as likely to own personal computers—and even if women have access to the technological devices they need, it is questionable whether they will have the skills to use technology. As Kofi Annan stated at the World Summit on Information Society,

“The so-called digital divide is actually several gaps in one. There is a technological divide—great gaps in infrastructure. There is a content divide. A lot of web-based information is simply not relevant to the real needs of people. And nearly 70 per cent of the world’s websites are in English, at times crowding out local voices and views. There is a gender divide, with women and girls enjoying less access to information technology than men and boys. This can be true of rich and poor countries alike”.[24]

Moreover, the communal aspects of technology further exacerbate this problem. If a group of people is using a certain technology, it is more likely that others in that community will start to as well. Furthermore, the level of skill with which they use technology rises since they can pool knowledge and seek help when they face difficulty. But because there are immense entry barriers for women, cyclic problems wherein entire groups of women do not use technology or feel comfortable with online resources arise.

The greatest risk related to ICTs however is total exclusion of women from the cyber world. Here the “Arab Spring” example comes into play. Historically, governments have taken extreme measures to curb online activism. In Egypt, the government employed unprecedented measures by attempting to shut down all media and Internet providers. Not every provider complied, but 93 percent of the Internet was shut down in Egypt, including all services provided by Telecom Egypt, Vodaphone, Raya, Link Egypt, and Etisalat Misr. This led to the use of proxy servers, the path diversity method, and Google voice. Though the government caused this technological block, it is a problematic precedent in terms of the way that online activism is handled. It would be a tragedy for feminist activism if women were excluded from the Internet or other ICTs. However, given feminism’s transnational nature, this would be an incredibly difficult ban to place, though bans could occur in particular regions. Reuters has reported that cell phones have been banned for women in a small village in the Indian town of Bihar. There has been discussion of instating this policy in other villages, and potentially the entirety of the region. [25]

This complete and total restriction of ICT access to women exemplifies the possible “commoditization” of access to technology as a right that can be granted and denied rather than one that exists freely due to the existence of technology. Viewing technology as a commodity or privilege is very risky, as doing so sets the groundwork for oppression, the hindrance of feminist movements, and restriction of the opportunities and qualities of life that ought to be afforded to all women.


Empirically, increasing ICT usage has posed challenges to feminist progress, and the discrepancy in media attention might become extremely problematic. Indeed, authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Evgeny Morozov, through their concerns with cyber-utopianism and Internet centrism, have provided a meaningful framework to evaluate the challenges and risks of online activism. By employing the same benefits ICT provide for feminists, patriarchal, extremist groups have stymied attempts for change.

It is clear that increasing ICTs offer benefits to both feminists and oppressive forces. Increased ICTs also pose challenges to both groups. Ultimately, the central question will not be which group reaps greater benefits or faces more challenges, but rather which group uses the benefits and tools that ICTs afford better than the other. The next productive question to ask is about steps that the international community can take to ensure that women are best able to use ICTs.

Viable recommendations include prioritizing acquisition of gender-disaggregated data on ICT use and funding initiatives to provide women with education and skills to use ICTs. Other key initiatives yet to occur are international programs to teach women how to use and understand ICTs. Since ICT jargon is not accessible to most people in the world, many women cannot engage fully with their use. Perhaps the recommendation worth stressing the most is gender mainstreaming in all ICT policies, ranging from regulations about media providers to pornography. According to the United Nations,

“Mainstreaming involves ensuring that gender perspectives and attention to the goal of gender equality are central to all activities – policy development, research, advocacy/ dialogue, legislation, resource allocation, and planning, implementation and monitoring of programmes and projects.”[26]

In 2002, a study revealed that in 80 ICT development projects, gender issues were not even considered because donors did not require this information. Yet the effects of policy on both genders must be considered before any ICT policy is passed, especially if ICT policy is to play a role in shaping the future of feminist movements. Historically, a Gender Evaluation Method developed by APC-WNSP has proven its efficacy through its contributions to 27 projects in 19 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America, suggesting the necessity of an international gender mainstreaming protocol. Feminist progress depends on women’s ability to engage meaningfully with ICTs globally, and as such, the world needs to recognize this engagement should be a development priority for many years to come.[27]

Alessandra Powell (’16) is a sophomore in Trumbull College.

4. Appendix: Media Analysis

Media Analysis

5. Appendix: Primary Source Blogs

  • Association for Women in Development; Young Feminist Wire,
  • MIDEAST Youth:
  • ISIS Womens Cross-Cultural International Exchange:


“2013 Facts and Figures.” International Technology Union. 2013. Web.  <>.

Abdelrahman, Eman. “Blogging Initiative Amplifies Voices of Young Arab Women.” April 14, 2010. Web.<>.

“Allowing Women To Drive Would Mean No More Virgins, Saudi Arabia Religious Council Says.” The Full. Feb. 12, 2011. Web. Mar. 07, 2013.

Al Khatib, Layla. “Lebanon: Bloggers Participated in ‘Kolena Laila/'” Global Voices. January 2010. Web. <>.

Annan, Kofi. “Address by the UN Secretary General to the World Summit on the Information Society.” United Nations, Geneva. Dec. 10 2003.<>.

Association for Progressive Communications, “Homepage” 2013, Web.

Barlas, Asma. “Globalizing Equality: Muslim Women, Theology and Feminism.” On Shifting Ground. Feminist Press at the City University of New York: 2005.

Cabrera-Balleza, Mavic. “ICT Skills Gap=Online Security Risk.” Sept. 2011. Web. <>.

Cavaliere, Victoria. “Text Messages Alert Saudi Male Guardians When Women Try to Leave the Country.” NY Daily News. Nov. 23, 2012. Web. Mar. 07, 2013. <>.

Dosari, Hala Al. “Saudi Women Drivers Take the Wheel on June 17 – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.” Al Jazeera. Jun. 16 2013. Web. Nov. 7 2013.

“E-Village Initiative”, The Communication Initiative Network. September 2006.<>.

HARASSmap. <>.

Kee, Jac. “Cultivating Violence Through Technology?” Association of Progressive Communications.  2006. <>.

Mideast Youth. <>.

Nafjan, Eman Al. “Saudiwoman’s Weblog.” Saudiwomans Weblog. Web. Mar. 07, 2013. <>. <>.

Schanzer, Jonathan, and Steven Miller. “The Facebook Fatwa.” The Facebook Fatwa. Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 2012. Web.

Stepanova, Ekaterina. “The Role of Information Communication Technologies in the Arab Spring.” PONARS Eurasia, May 2011. Web. <>.

Tahmincioglu, Eve. “For Tech Jobs, Women can Get with the Program” NBC News. February 2008.<>.

“Target 8: Ensure that All the World Has Access to ICT.” International Technology Union. 2010. Web. < /wtdr_10/material/WTDR2010_Target8_ e.pdf>.

Watunuma, Kutoma, Dr. “Implicating Mobile Phones in Violence against Women: What’s Gender Got to Do with It?” Web. <>.

“Women 2000 and Beyond.” UN Women Watch. Sept. 2005. Web. <>.

[1] “Target 8: Ensure that All the World Has Access to ICT” International Technology Union. 2010, Web. <>.

[2] “2013 Facts and Figures,” International Technology Union, 2013, Web. <>.

[3]Stepanova, Ekaterina, “The Role of Information Communication Technologies in the Arab Spring” PONARS Eurasia, May 2011. Web. <>.

[4]Mueller, Milton. “What is Evgeny Morozov Trying to Prove? A Review of ‘The Net Delusion'” Internet Governance Project, January 2011.<>.

[5] See Appendix. Powell, Alessandra. Media Analysis of Oppression or Empowerment.

[6] Abdelrahman, Eman. “Blogging Initiative Amplifies Voices of Young Arab Women” April 14, 2010, Web. <>.

[7] “Target 8: Ensure that All the World Has Access to ICT” International Technology Union. 2010, Web. <>.

[8]Cabrera-Balleza, Mavic. “ICT Skills Gap=Online Security Risk”, September 2011. Web.


[9] Abdelrahman, Eman. “Blogging Initiative Amplifies Voices of Young Arab Women” April 14, 2010, Web. <>.

[10] Mideast Youth, <>.

[11] Al Khatib, Layla, “Lebanon: Bloggers Participated in ‘Kolena Laila'” Global Voices, January 2010. Web.

[12] Stepanova, Ekaterina, “The Role of Information Communication Technologies in the Arab Spring” PONARS Eurasia, May 2011. Web.

[13] HARASSmap, <>.

[14] “E-Village Initiative”, The Communication Initiative Network September 2006, <>; OneWorld School House, <>.

[15], <>.

[16]Tahmincioglu, Eve. “For Tech Jobs, Women can Get with the Program” NBCNews, February 2008.<>.

[17] Nafjan, Eman Al. “Saudiwoman’s Weblog.” Saudiwomans Weblog. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2013. <>.

[18] Association for Progressive Communications, “Homepage” 2013, Web. <>.

[19] Kee, Jac. “Cultivating Violence Through Technology?” Association of Progressive Communications, 2006. <>.

[20] Schanzer, Jonathan, and Steven Miller. “The Facebook Fatwa.” The Facebook Fatwa. Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 2012. Web.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Watunuma, Kutoma, Dr. “Implicating Mobile Phones in Violence against Women: What’s Gender Got to Do with It?” Web.

[23] Cavaliere, Victoria. “Text Messages Alert Saudi Male Guardians When Women Try to Leave the Country.” NY Daily News. Daily News, 23 Nov. 2012. Web. 07 Mar. 2013.

[24] Annan, Kofi,Adress by the UN Secretary General to the World Summit on the Information Society” United Nations, Geneva, 10 December 2003.<>.

[25] Kamm, Rebecca. “Women Banned from Cellphones.” The New Zealand Herald, 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 07 Mar. 2013.

[26] “Gender Mainstreaming”, the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. <>.

[27] “Women 2000 and Beyond” UN Women Watch, September 2005, Web. <>.


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