Despite the overarching ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) deployment in the world all the countries differently experience its development and maintenance. Developing countries remain to face issues of limited access to ICTs, little investments in ICTs infrastructure, lack of digital skills among others. At the same time, developing countries anticipate in digitalization potential improvement for the government, namely in embracing efficiency, increasing transparency and boosting citizens’ engagement.
The concept of e-government emerged in early 90th when governments began to use ICTs to complement their national and local governance systems. With different success, rank e-governments proved to be effective to increase the political participation of citizens, ensure efficient delivery of state services and even combat corruption.
However, many early adopters of e-government made a significant mistake to neglect gender aspect as an integral part of e-government adoption. Understanding the structural causes of gender inequalities from the very start is crucial in order not to exacerbate existing gender gaps in governance.
What gender issues may affect e-governance?
Firstly, women are less politically engaged than men. While there is little difference in voting participation of women and men in most countries, women are much less represented in political institutions. E-government and e-democracy tools such as e-petitions can engage more women into decision-making if they are well-informed about such opportunities and have access to them(). In addition, gender-responsive public services remain to be an issue for women all over the world. It is important to ensure that new digital services are gender-responsive meaning that everyone can have access and benefit from them.
Secondly, women are economically disadvantaged. Precarious jobs, unpaid care work, gender pay gap mean that women may end up becoming poorer than men. Their economic capacity and traditional role in families which usually requires committing unpaid housework do not leave room for actively using ICTs to engage with government. Furthermore, the poorest families may not even have access to the Internet to receive digital services.
The above mentioned issues affect women everywhere but the extent to which women in developing countries are being affected is larger and more evident. Thus, it is crucial to take them into account when designing governance systems.
What are the solutions?
One concrete way to address these issues is to guarantee that e-governance initiatives are co-designed by citizens. Most national e-government platforms were designed in a top-down way based on little or no feedback from citizens. Therefore, existing e-government platforms are heavy on e-administration and poorly address e-services especially those provided to marginalized groups. E-democracy tools such as e-consultations or e-petitions are often also designed in the way that women are not informed or trained to use them.
The assessment of socio-economic needs of men and women, the way they interact and the network is important to ensure gender-inclusive e-governance. Since women are outnumbered by men in strategic consultations and committees which design policies, specific efforts should be directed at including women’s voices into those processes.
One way to address women’s inclusion to e-government is to increase their digital literacy and inform about the benefits and opportunities of digital engagement with the government. At the same time, one cannot overlook the structural causes of gender inequality such as unpaid care work, which leaves no time and financial capacity for women to access ICTs.
To sum up, e-governance offers innovative ways to address inequalities, including those between women and men. Not only it offers a more convenient way to interact with state authorities but also provides opportunities for citizen’s engagement into decision-making processes. Women should be an integral part of those processes to ensure gender equality in developing countries.