As part of our Women’s Rights Online research, this series of guest blogs features on-the-ground perspectives from each of our research partners around the world. In this post, Widuri, Deputy Director of ICT Watch, illustrates the challenges of empowering women through the Web by sharing the story of one Indonesian woman.
“I am happy enough just to know how to use Facebook, Ma’am, and I don’t think I have to learn how to use the Internet.” Ani is a 34-year-old woman from Yogyakarta, a medium-sized Indonesian city of around 400,000 inhabitants. She gave me this answer while I was conducting work in the field, when I asked her whether she was still interested to learn more about how to use and benefit from the Internet.
Ani has finished primary school, and makes her living selling lotek from her home. Lotek is a Sundanese food common in West Java and made from fresh vegetable stew with mixed spices and peanut sauce.
Her first experience of the Internet was two years ago when she befriended a college student living in her neighbourhood. This young woman helped Ani create a Facebook account at a local Internet café (warung internet/warnet). Ani’s primary motivation for creating the account is to stay in touch and up-to-date with her relatives and friends. Now she accesses Facebook through her smartphone, which she was able to purchase recently: “It’s made in China, so it’s affordable for me to own.”
I asked her whether she knew about the many other potential benefits of the Web, and whether she was interested in looking for information to expand her knowledge and opportunities?
She said, “Yes, a friend of mine told me that you could find any information you wish to know on the Internet through the Web, but it’s hard for me to understand the language and the Internet data package is still expensive. I could only afford Rp. 20.000,- for a weeklong Internet data package, and I only know how to use Facebook.”
Her response is not uncommon. Many women across the developing world are yet to explore the Web beyond social media apps. In some cases, buying extra data to do so is too expensive. In others, a Web dominated by content in a foreign language – most often English – is overwhelming and difficult to navigate. And for many women, having enough time to learn basic Web skills is a serious barrier in poor communities where day-to-day life can be a time-consuming struggle due to inadequate infrastructure or public services.
As early as 2001, the Indonesian government recognised the need to overcome the “digital divide” and prioritise the uptake of information and communication technologies in the country. However, there is almost a complete absence in information and communications technology (ICT) policy of any initiatives specifically designed to improve and increase the access to and use of ICTs by women in Indonesia.
Although Indonesia is close to achieving gender parity in Internet access, women are still not using full potential of the Web as an empowerment tool. Access alone has helped women reinforce and grow social networks, but we need to go further by helping them to see the value of the wider Web to express views, find critical information, learn about their legal rights and improve their economic standing.
At ICT Watch, we plan to work with national and local governments to make this happen. The Indonesian government should consider implementing more wide-ranging digital literacy trainings and public education initiatives to ensure women are equipped with the skills they need to explore all of the Web and benefit from its opportunities.
If you enjoyed this blog, take a look at submissions from our other country partners from around the world and sign up to our newsletter or follow #WomensRightsOnline @webfoundation on Twitter for updates on the research.