CT Initiatives, Women and Work in Developing Countries: Reinforcing or Changing Gender Inequalities in South India?

Shoba Arun, Richard Heeks and Sharon Morgan


Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are increasingly used by developing countries in strategies that see the new technology as having the potential to deliver economic growth, employment, skills generation and empowerment. There is growing agreement, however, that the impact of ICTs in developing countries is not gender neutral, necessitating an engendered approach to ICT-based projects. This paper argues that ICTs as a form of new technology are socially deterministic, with varied implications for women in terms of employment and empowerment dependent on the context within which the ICTs are utilised. The paper presents findings from two ICT initiatives in South India showing significant impacts on women's employment, income and social roles. One ICT initiative - "gender-blind" and pursued within the globalised, competitive context of an increased role for markets and 'flexibility' - has generally reinforced gender inequalities. By contrast, a gender-focused ICT initiative involving significant state intervention has brought about positive changes to livelihood outcomes and empowerment of poor women.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What is the relationship between gender, ICTs and work? [part A]
  2. What contextual factors may impact the two cases described? [part B]
  3. What has been the impact of the TechnoPark ICT project? [part C]
  4. What has been the impact of the Kudumbashree ICT project? [part D]
  5. What main lessons can be drawn from the two contrasting approaches to ICT projects? [part E]

Development questions

  1. Can ICTs be part of the solution to gender inequality?
  2. Is it reasonable to draw general conclusions from just two case studies based in a single state in India?
  3. You are a consultant asked to give advice to an NGO that wants to use ICTs to promote women's development. What advice would you give?
  4. Can you draw any lessons from the paper about globalisation?
  5. Given that government is strongly shaped by the prevailing socio-cultural context, can it really be any better than the market/private sector at addressing gender relations?
  6. Are there any ways in which men may be more disadvantaged than women by ICTs?