21 March 2009

Women empowerment in a Digital Society

A Digital Society is one which is economically strengthened with digital products, technologies, solutions and capabilities, nurtured by a thick matrix of digital technologies for communication and collaboration.

This society laden with tools and devices to break the barriers of distance and time has given a panacea to women who seek to reach out and utilize their knowledge and skills without compromising their privacy and security.

Information and Communication Technologies have benefitted women in many ways. Vast archives of information available on the Internet are now at a click’s reach and in some countries at very affordable prices. The number of IT professionals and users has been growing over the years, and increasingly women have taken serious interest in IT-enabled services. It is more common to see women working in banks, airline reservation systems, call centers, software development centers, etc.

One of the Millennium Development Goals of the UN is to promote gender equality and empower women. This can be achieved by increasing literacy rate among women especially through primary and secondary education. This target also addresses issues related to empowerment of women in rural areas and increase job opportunities for women who are more commonly found to be trapped in insecure and low-paid positions. Progress in achieving these goals varies largely between different regions and technology can serve as an effective facilitator in achieving this target. Technology can spread the cause of education wider through modern communication means and it can get engagingly interactive through multimedia.

In the academic scenario of Oman, the enrolment of girls is equally balanced in computing and information technology related higher education programs. The acumen of women in logic can be effectively applied to computing profession and more specifically software and system development. There are quite a few pioneering IT teachers / lecturers as well as programmers and operators in Oman. Yet the numbers significantly low. Women are as well suited as men, and on some aspects more suited, to work in the new organizational and IT environment where the emphasis is on building relationships and on seeing different connections between people and technology. In countries like Singapore where the government’s focus is on using IT for national development, over 55% of the workers in the IT sector are women. This is indicative of the potentials of women in technology as a national skilled work force contributing actively economically and socially.

The next few decades will see a large number of women on the Internet, creating content as well as exchanging expertise. Women power is yet to be tapped in this context and several educational institutions and training centers have a key role to play in this direction. The government of Oman in its part has recognized this as a focus group and is putting in plans targeting women for IT training as well as provision of computing equipments with a subsidy.

There are efforts taken through the Omani Woman’s Association, to empower Omani women with hands on skill in IT through formal training. The Women in Technology (WIT) program organised by the Omani Women’s Association - Muscat (OWAM) for MENA region, funded by the US Department of State and managed by IIE through the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), aims to promote economic reforms and the empowerment of women in the region. WIT program aims to train 10,000 women by 2010 and induct them into mainstream workforce.

The program delivers IT training through Microsoft's Unlimited Potential (UP) curriculum along with Professional Development workshops to improve women’s standard of living and quality of life by building their knowledge and skills and to eliminate illiteracy in information technology (IT). Microsoft's Unlimited Potential (UP) curriculum is designed to narrow the digital divide and aid global workforce development by providing access and training opportunities for communities underserved by technology including women.

The WIT program project centers of OWAM at Muscat, Musanna, Sohar, Ibra, Ibri, Taqa, Salalah, Rustaq, Saham, Buraimi and Khaburah are equipped with computers, some of which have been donated through the Microsoft Authorised Refurbishment program and about 40,000 RO worth Microsoft software has been donated to the OWAM. Through cooperative efforts, about 1350 Omani women have commendably been certified as IT literates through the WIT program in just 2yrs. The WIT program gives preference to young unemployed graduates and members of low-income families and includes scholarships to deserving students.

Omani women have been pursuing higher levels of IT literacy through formal training programs offered at educational centers and through private study. Many of them own prestigious vendor certifications and are placed in highly specialized technical positions. But there is much more to invest in terms of faith, time and resources to bring the true potential of women in the field of technology. Women in general are creative and with the imaginative mind can engage successfully in the field of web design, graphics and multimedia as well as education technology. Very limited opportunities are currently available in such exclusive studies or vocational training and they are also unaffordable for many.

As the saying goes, ‘when we educate a girl, we educate her whole family' is a clue to the realization of the Digital Society of Oman.


Bobby said...

I never even thought of an Omani lady in IT - though I know they are really clever! Nice post!

And your new blog template looks awesome! :)

Sangeetha Sridhar said...

Glad to have u back in Muscat Bobby!

About the post, I'm speaking at WIT Conference on 1st April - So this is part of my compilations.

For text intensive posts like mine preferred this broad sheet format. I haven't done much about Personal Branding anyway:)

Women are heading IT organisations, while some serve even as IT heads and DGs in public sector. I've come across smart programmers and indeed in academic IT programs they are real cool cats.

Thanks for dropping by!