The field of technology is dominated by men in both the developed and developing world. In OECD countries, there is a gap of 40–60 percent between men and women in ICT-using occupations. Thirty percent of Google’s 46,170 employees are women, and just 24 percent of Microsoft’s U.S. employee base is female. So I was pleasantly surprised to find so many women working at the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MinTIC). About half of my colleagues are women, which is more than I can say for most of the tech firms in Silicon Valley.
This female presence within the Ministry helps guarantee that women’s needs and concerns gain greater attention and import. Around the world, when it comes to technology, the physical presence of women in design, planning and implementation of technology initiatives is essential for gender inclusion. If women are not consulted during the technology lifecycle—in identifying the problem technology will solve, designing the technology for future users, training users, distributing the technology—their needs will be overlooked. It’s encouraging to know that so many women are working on projects within MinTIC, and I look forward to getting to know these women and their work during my two months here.
When I asked for a meeting to understand how gender is approached at the Ministry, it was no huge shock to find that the main driver of women’s inclusion is a woman. This is not to downplay the genuine dedication to gender equality of men at MinTIC—I have many male colleagues who are committed to women’s rights, women’s access to technology, and closing the gender digital divide in Colombia. But around the world, women continue to lead the women’s movement.
The Subdirector of Digital Culture at MinTIC is an inspiring woman with a rich understanding of women’s needs—from poor to rich, old to young, urban to rural, she talked about how her team is tailoring its projects to serve women and girls throughout Colombia. She is the leader on women’s issues and inclusion at MinTIC.
One of the most acclaimed projects in the Ministry is under her guidance: REDvolución. RED means network in Spanish, and REDvolución is an initiative to inspire Colombians who have never used the Internet to go online for the first time and discover what the web can offer them.
REDvolucion is a fun, colorful, user-friendly platform for new users to engage with technology in a way that isn’t intimidating. The REDvolutionary strategy is person-to-person: in addition to providing the website and online tools, MinTIC encourages citizens with any level of digital knowledge to introduce others to the platform and push them online for the first time. As part of their requisite community service, Colombian students REDvolutionize their communities by sharing their digital savvy and getting new users to go online for the first time. REDvolucion was awarded a Project Prize by the International Telecommunications Union at the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva in 2014. Within this program, there is an emphasis on gender equality. In the next few weeks, I’ll be trying to obtain gender-disaggregated data on REDvolución and other MinTIC projects, to see how many males and females are benefitting from its initiatives.