women-only hours at community Internet centers? why?

This is a blog post I made on 31 August 2009, on my first, now long-gone blog host. Just finally managed to find it at archive.org

women-only hours at community Internet centers? why?

Back in August 2003, I had the pleasure of co-hosting an online discussion at TechSoup regarding Gender and the Digital Divide. It was a discussion regarding the barriers that keep women and girls away from computer and Internet-related classes and community technology centers (telecenters, Internet cafes, etc.). One of the things that came up in this discussion back then was that the barriers for women and girls to tech access are even more pronounced in developing countries, where family-obligations and cultural practices keep large numbers of women from ever stepping foot into a community technology center, telecenter, Internet cafe, etc., whether nonprofit or privately-run.

I was reminded yet again of this recently while corresponding with an Afghan female colleague: her employer has blocks on hundreds of web sites, including several she needs for her own career and skills development. But using an Internet cafe is not an option for her, and thousands of other women in Kabul like her, because:

    • her family would never allow her to go to such a place without a mahram (a male relative she could not marry, such as a brother, uncle, or father, acting as a safety and social escort), and most men aren’t willing to devote a few hours a week to accompany a female relative to an Internet cafe.
  • given the atmosphere of many public Internet sites — the posters in the wall, what’s being looked at on some of the computer screens by male patrons, men coming and going — it’s not an option for her to use a public Internet site even with a mahram.

My friend — and thousands of other women in Kabul — need a place that’s either devoted only to women Internet users, or, a public site that has women-only hours. I have yet to find either using Web searches and posts to various online communities.

But it’s not just in Kabul. Cultural practices keep women out of public Internet sites in communities all over the world.

I appreciate so much that I have the freedom where I live to walk into any public place with Internet access, and not have to worry about any social or legal ramifications as a result. But I also have to acknowledge that not every woman on Earth does have this freedom and, until they do, community technology centers run by nonprofits and Internet cafes run for-profit need to think about their accommodations for women and girls.

Public Internet access points in Kabul, elsewhere in Afghanistan, or in other developing countries, can encourage more women to use their services by:

    • creating women-only hours at a time that is appealing to women, or creating a women-only space with its own supervised entrance/exit and its own bathroom
    • providing women-only classes
    • staffing women-only hours, women-only spaces or women-only classes by women volunteers or women paid staff members, and with just one or two male staff members (if any) closely supervised and never, ever alone with any woman (staff or customer)
    • providing childcare for women using the site (it’s okay to charge a nominal fee for this)
  • a computer user space free of any images that might be deemed offensive to a conservative culture

How else can community technology centers, telecenters, Internet cafes, etc. in conservative areas be more accommodating of women and girls? Let’s hear from you.

— end of original blog —

This blog lead to the creation of this web page, Women’s Access to Public Internet Centers in Transitional and Developing Countries, which I’ve just updated.

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