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OPENING REMARKS

His Excellency Luis Gallegos, Ambassador of Ecuador to the United States; past chair of the UN Ad-hoc Preparatory Committee of the Convention; and G3ict Chairperson

THE ROLE OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES IN EMPOWERING WOMEN WITH DISABILITIES

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great honor for me to be here with you today.  As the former Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, from 2002 to 2005, and as Chairman of G3ICT. 

The adoption and ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has meant a change in the vision  of a rights based society for all..

In the meeting rooms of the UN, we witnessed how the disability community transformed the world, from one divided by disability, into a world where persons with and without disabilities can work side by side toward the same goal of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.

Our common objective finally became a reality when an enforceable international convention on the rights of persons with disabilities was negotiated and approved by the international community. We owe this victory to the leaders of the disability community who have tirelessly demonstrated how the battle against discrimination and oppression can be won by determination, hard work, perseverance and flexible and innovative minds.   

A new chapter of history was written by those who have been struggling in pursuit of universal human rights for persons with disabilities. On December 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a milestone in the history of the UN, being the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century. As of today, the Convention has recorded 145 signatories and its Optional Protocol 89. The Convention has 87 ratifications and its Optional Protocol has 54, demonstrating the strong commitment of the international community.  

The Convention – throughout its 50 articles and the Optional Protocol -reaffirms that every person with disabilities should enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and it codifies a comprehensive set of rights, ranging from the civil and political to the economic, social and cultural spheres.

It has been said that the Convention will positively affect the lives of more than 650 million people with disabilities, but it will have a profound effect on many more, such as families and friends who should also be mentioned.  Consequently, we are talking about billions that will and should be touched by a Convention that will encompass not only the rights of persons with disabilities but the society of the world. 

Women with disabilities face particular disadvantages in various areas of life compared to men and have to live with multiple discriminations in many cases, being women, with disability and in poverty from a developing country. 

Areas of specific concern related to women with disabilities include:

Education: education levels and literacy rates of women with disabilities tend to be lower than those of men with disabilities. 

Work and Employment - three quarters of women with disabilities worldwide and up to 100% in some developing countries are excluded from the workforce—though the majority contribute significantly to their families through cooking, cleaning, caring for children and relatives. Consequently, the vast majority of women with disabilities live in poverty. Disabled women are twice as unlikely to find work as disabled men and earn 50% less than disabled men.

Health - when ill, girls and women are less likely to receive medical attention or to be taken to hospitals, especially in developing countries. Women and girls with disabilities face many barriers to basic health care. Medical research is often based on studies of men and disabled women are not included in the mainstream health care programs.
 
Family Rights - for many women with disabilities, both in developed and developing countries, neither marriage nor childbearing and motherhood are seen as a viable option. Women who became disabled after marriage are at higher risk of divorce than disabled men and have often problems to maintain custody of their children or to adopt children.

Violence and Abuse - women with disabilities are at high risk from physical and sexual violence. They are viewed as “easy targets”. 

Women comprise 50% (about 300 million women) of all people with disabilities worldwide, according to United Nations data. 240 million of them are living in developing countries. They comprise 10 per cent of all women worldwide. There are a lot of benefits from being able to make good use of Information and Communication technologies. Efforts to enable access to ICTs by disabled people are under way. One such effort relates to the development of adaptive technology, which is a major prerequisite for many people with disabilities to use computer technology. These are modifications or upgrades to computer hardware and software that provide alternative methods of entering and receiving data. Many of the modifications can be made at a relatively low cost. There are standards and guidelines for World Wide Web and electronic document accessibility for individuals with disabilities. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines set out by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is the world standard for WWW contents accessibility.

An adequate use of the Information and Communication Technologies makes it possible to transform disabilities to abilities, and empowerment of women. 

For many decades, disability rights advocates, experts, policymakers and practitioners dedicated themselves to combat ignorance, discrimination and oppression against persons with disabilities. They have demonstrated that through determination, hard work, perseverance and innovative minds, we could achieve any goal for this noble cause as long as we are united in our efforts.  Under the leadership of persons with disabilities and their strategic partners, the Convention process matured, involving more of both new and traditional stakeholders. As a result, the disability rights movement grew as the universal movement toward human rights for all persons. It is now challenged to continue working for the common objective to articulate the Convention and deliver these changes. 

We must feel proud of the accomplishment, but at the same time humbled for what awaits us.  So, where do we stand and how should we approach future challenges in promoting the rights of individuals with disabilities all over the world through this important “tool” called the international convention on the rights of persons with disabilities?

We are all keenly aware of the numerous new and emerging global issues affecting such individuals.  In this complex situation, our unwavering commitment to promoting the rights of persons with disabilities will require a strategic conversion of the human rights norms articulated in the Convention into actionable forms for institutions and mechanisms capable of responding to the needs of individuals with disabilities.

The effectiveness of our efforts would depend upon how we strengthen the capacity of ourselves and our society to use the new convention to change our attitudes. It is not, as I have stated many times, only a government issue, it a society issue, it is an individual issue in which one must look at oneself in the mirror and honestly recognize that we must change our mind and heart to have a holistic society.

This meeting will allow us to focus on the future. We must work with all in order to foster the enforceable application of the Convention. In each country we must teach and convince every person, with or without a disability, to join the movement toward a more integral society that values difference, recognizes diversity and is willing to challenge those that try to oppose our just cause.

We need to use the Convention to provoke changes in society ― not only to rectify past discrimination against persons with disabilities, but also to create a society, based on justice and equity.   Let this be our commitment: differences among individuals, shall not hinder enjoyment by all of the universally-recognized human rights.

As gender is becoming a horizontal issue, disability should also be in the mindsets of those who decide policy, those who plan and those who promote change. We must be influencers of that change.

Women have a special place in the world for they are the givers of life. They are the educators and guides of their children. We will have a better world if women are given the opportunities to reach their full potential. Our societies will change if we are wise enough to acknowledge that past and present discrimination of women should be eliminated, for only then will we have a better society in this planet.

Thank you.

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Presentation of Ms Pina D’Intino, Senior Manager, SMR & Accessibility and Founder of Enabling Solutions, Scotiabank 

Good morning everyone. I want to begin by thanking G3ict and Axel (Leblois, Executive Director) for inviting me here today. It is both a privilege and an honor for me to be here today to address this very important topic. I will speak briefly on my journey on accessibility at Scotiabank and a little on my own personal experience. 

I lost my sight to congenital glaucoma 11 years ago and cane back to work at Scotiabank in a new capacity, reintegrating in a new job and address barriers in my own workplace. I found that I was not alone facing barriers and set out to make changes. In 2004/05, Scotiabank partnered with IBM to develop the IT accessibility roadmap. The roadmap comprises four phases; awareness and strategies, training and standards, implementation and integration, and governance and reporting. 

We are currently working hard on the third phase, which is the implementation and integration of standards in what we do. This speaks to integrating accessibility requirements in the development of all our applications and services from the beginning to the end, which translates to user experience. 

As Scotiabank is present in more than 50 countries, it is important for us to adopt standards and processes that are repeatable, transportable and user-friendly. It is imperative that the products we develop meet user needs by providing easy access, are easily understood and in plain language, and are effective. Involving persons with disabilities in our testing phases ensures that our products meet those requirements. 

While we can provide a lot of technologies to deliver services, unless the applications are available in an accessible format, we will not make much progress. At Scotiabank, we ensure our developers are equipped with the tools and training they require to develop applications with accessibility requirements in mind. Our standards are based on the guidelines set by W3C V2 double AA. Developers and testers must understand the full purpose of the accessibility standards in addition to the coding requirements to ensure no one or no disability is left out when building an application. 

In Canada, I also work with other Canadian banks and other large organizations in collaboration to identify best practices and influence adaptive vendors to develop better tools and processes especially when dealing with license deployments. On the Canadian and Provincial front, my work on the AODA, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) has given us first hand opportunity to develop new provincial policies for regulations on standards that will become law later this year for Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025. Ultimately the proposed laws will form a base for the remaining provinces in Canada and possibly set a precedent for other countries. 

Finally, I believe we must continue to aggressively raise the bar and we must ensure that we better understand the limitations and barriers that women face  around the world especially in developing countries if we are to make progress in that area. For example, if mobil (cellular phone) is the method of communication they rely on most for survival and possibly their only means of communication we must leverage that channel to better serve them and make it more accessible to them from both an availability and accessibility perspective considering their level of literacy, their comprehension and usability.  

We must not underestimate the impact that culture, religion and politics play in their ability and manner in which they can access information. I strongly believe that our role in providing an accessible ICT will promote economic and socio prosperity, independence, security and financial independence but we must be more active and forthcoming with collaborative innovation and actions worldwide. Thank you. 

You can find more information on Scotiabank at www.scotiabank.com

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Presentation of Ms Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Senior Operations Officer, The World Bank

Talking Points for the Ministerial Round Table: Accessibility ICT: a tool for empowering Women with Disabilities

Globally, it is recognized that ICT is a potent force in transforming social, economic, and political life. That said, there is an increased concern about the impact on those left on the other side of the digital divide—the division between the information ‘‘haves’’ and ‘‘have nots.’’ Most women with disabilities living in developing countries are on the side of the divide—that is very distant from the information age.

If access to and use of these technologies is directly linked to social and economic development, then it is imperative to ensure that women with disabilities in developing countries understand the significance of these technologies and use them.

Many people dismiss the concern for disability and accessible ICT in developing countries on the basis that development should deal with basic needs first. Some critics assert that introducing these technologies, when electricity is either inadequate or nonexistent and phone lines are too few and unreliable is not a viable option. While others questioned, how can we talk about access to new media—e-mail, Internet, websites—when access to mainstream media (radio, television, newspapers) is still so limited?

However, it is not a choice between one and the other. ICT can be an indispensable tool in meeting women’s basic needs and can provide access to resources to lead women out of poverty. ICT are the hardware, software, networks, and media used to collect, store, process, and transmit information in the form of voice, data, text, and images. They range from telephone, radio, and television to the Internet. Given the emphasis on using ICTs to empower women with disabilities in developing countries - I use the term as it applies to the full range of ICTs and not only the more advanced technologies. Globally, ICTs change the way production is organized and information is shared. ICTs offer flexibility of time and space, a way out of isolation, and access to information and valuable resources. They are enabling tools for economic development and social change.

These attributes make ICTs a valuable resource for women with disabilities. Often in addressing the gender and development agenda- women with disabilities are not included. And yet, there are inequalities existing in many spheres of life resulting from gender and disability. Women with disabilities are more likely to be exposed to multiple forms of discrimination than their non disabled peers. When accessing their human rights and fundamental freedoms disabled women face various obstacles, even more than disabled men. According to empirical evidence, they are often marginalized, isolated, abused and are situated at a great risk of poverty.
Accessible ICTs can be used to help alleviate poverty, as well as, gender inequality. To do so, existing gender disparities that are related to the digital divide need to be identified and removed, and the promise of ICTs to empower women with disabilities needs to be highlighted.

Therefore, "engendering ICTs" is the process of identifying and removing gender disparities in the access to and use of ICTs, as well as of adapting ICTs to the special needs, constraints, and opportunities of women including women with disabilities. Any such modification should take advantage of women's unique expertise. Their strong informal networks and support systems should be considered to make possible combining electronic communication with traditional communication systems.

Women with disabilities need ICTs: to get more information to carry out their productive, reproductive, and community roles; to manage their businesses, as a service of employment and to work in the ICT industry; to find resources for themselves, their families, their work, and their communities; and to have a voice in their lives, their community, their government, and the larger world that shares their issues and problems. In summary, we need ICTs to function in a digital world.

With your permission madam chair, I would like to share with you a case study from Women Connect on the Zambia National Association of Disabled Women (ZNADWO). ZNADWO’s mission is to promote the welfare of women with disabilities and to be a voice through which to channel their concerns. ZNADWO offers seminars and workshops and promotes education, training, and employment possibilities for women with disabilities.

With Women Connect! support ZNADWO chose to use both traditional media and ICT for getting messages out. It established an Internet connection and provided training to staff and members on email and Internet skills, as well as strategies for conducting health research. One area that ZNADWO focused on was using the Internet to obtain information HIV/AIDS and disability. They also used it for accessing information for women with disabilities on reproductive health care. One of the messages I take away from example is that there is significant demand for up-to-date health information and much interest among Women with disabilities and their organizations in downloading and repackaging women’s health information from the Internet. Beyond this, its email connection allowed women with disabilities, among other things, to connect and learn from similar groups in other countries from Australia to Zimbabwe.

Another example was an E-Discussion on Women with Disabilities and Development, hosted by the World Bank and Global Partnership and Disability and Development. It brought together over a 154 women with disabilities from across the world to create a ‘virtual’ forum for international participants from development professionals to grassroots workers to exchange information and experiences. Participants engaged in dialogue on framing the issues of women with disabilities in development, they addressed issues such as using accessible ICT to prepare for natural disasters, pandemics, and other medical situations, to be able to access e-government and how women can claim their place in the development agenda.

It is clear that accessible ICT is beneficial for women with disabilities in regard to their civil and political rights, the right to justice, to freedom of speech and access to information. Accessible information is also essential in the rights to education, employment, health and security. Accessible ICT promotes participation and an inclusive and cohesive society.

ICTs are increasingly used by developing countries in strategies that recognize the new technology as having the potential to deliver economic growth, employment, skills generation and empowerment. There is growing consensus, however, that the impact of ICTs in developing countries is not gender neutral, necessitating an engendered approach to accessible ICT. With that knowledge, we need to use an integrated and holistic approach to the use of ICT for women with disabilities, such as providing us with access to information; training in communication tools and customized software; technical training on repairing their tools, generating job opportunities; and also by providing health care. An example could be providing health and nutritional information by linking with hospitals via video conferencing or mobile phones. Another example could be to have accessible mobile phones for self-service savings accounts like the Equity Bank in Kenya which is reported as the most-banked country in Africa- by linking accounts through M-PESA (a network provider).
 
Inclusive policy that recognizes women with disabilities and ICT opens up vast opportunities to improve their quality of life. We must make the most of these opportunities. Without substantial efforts throughout society, there is a risk that these technical developments will only give us products and services which increase the information gap. However, if determined efforts are made, accessible ICT can become an effective tool, allowing a greater number of people to contribute to society. 

It is also important to note that not only will accessible ICTs  help overcome the digital divide but it opens up a large untapped market. With the entry into force of the CRPD, which mandates the inclusion of persons with disabilities in development programmes, asserts specific obligations for women with disabilities and addresses accessible ICT – we have the legal framework. At sub-regional have - The Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development recognizes - universal access to information, communication and technology.

In conclusion, I think the compelling argument is the spillover effects of greater equality for women with disabilities achieved by access to accessible ICT. Such equality benefits those directly affected, in this case women with disabilities who experience discrimination, but also society as a whole. A critical element in promoting equality for women with disabilities is establishing a level playing field in the work place, in the home and in the community. Accessible ICT is an essential tool to do this.

The idea that promoting the rights and empowerment of women with disabilities will yield large social and economic returns seems so simple and logical. Yet, we see time and again that it takes strong leadership, stewardship and vision to carry out. Thank you for your attention.

End notes:
1. IT AND COMPUTER ASSOCIATION IN INDIA , BROADBAND POLICY,
http://aiita.org/intern-women-day.html (accessed July 13, 2010).
2. The Impact Of ICT On Women - telecentre.org,
3. Toolkit - Frequently Asked Questions,
http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTGENDER/EXTICTTOOLKIT/

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Presentation of Dr Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Director of International Human Rights Policy, Wellesley Centers for Women 

Introduction
Technology is the newest frontier of the 21st Century  and it has enormous potential for transformative change if it is broadened to include opportunities for all persons including women with disabilities. ICT is a powerful tool for giving voice to women with disabilities who are often invisible, and without a voice. ICT goes to the very heart of actualizing the spirit of the CRPD. However, it is important to acknowledge that there is a digital divide and that women with disabilities  are often the most marginalized by this divide. 

ICT can be a double edged sword if limited access to information and communication technologies becomes a critical factor in the further marginalization of women from the economic, social, and political development. ICT on the other hand must push the boundaries of development for women with disabilities in the area of economic, social, and political empowerment.

ICT as an Organizing Tool

While ICT is pivotal to advancing all women’s rights to education, development and employment, I would like to focus on ways in which ICTs can also help galvanize and mobilize women with disabilities in political and public participation.  Women with disabilities are absent from decision making structures in their countries and information can play a major role in bridging this divide.

Women with disabilities can learn good practices from their sisters in the women’s movement by using technology for activist networking and as an organizing tool to galvanize around urgent issues, to protest, dissent and mobilize attention around critical issues such as forced sterilization of women with disabilities.  

In Cambodia, women with disabilities hope to run for office in  local government elections in 2012.  I n a country with the highest number of women with disabilities women with disabilities are most often disenfranchised from the political process. These women with disabilities want to run for office so as to engage with the political process, engender laws relating to the rights of persons with disabilities, mobilize attention on violence and abuse against women with disabilities. These women hope to build alliances and forge connections with each other  with other social movements such as the women’s movement and to link with constituencies.

A good case study that offers inspiration is the model of the Indian the Self-Employed Women's Association which organizes electronic discussions through panchayati raj (village governance institutions). Women in rural communities often pose questions that are answered promptly by a panel of experts and are translated to the women in their vernacular language.

Although ICT has the potential to revolutionize the lives of women with disabilities by enhancing their rights to communication, connection, access and self determination, it is important to focus on some  of the challenges that ICT should address. 
 

The Digital Divide and Women with Disabilities:

The Digital Divide is presently at the center of international development concerns. It is important to engender IT policy and also make it disability friendly. Both gender and development policy makers need to be sensitized to disability issues and ITC policy must address the challenges of women with disabilities.

Gender inequality is pervasive both in the public and private spheres. ICT must be careful in  not reinforcing these inequities It is critical that gender and disability issues be addressed early in the process of the introduction of information technology in developing countries. If not, it will further widen inequalities. ICT must also conform with the framework of equality and human rights and the human rights based approach so as to ensure equal opportunities for women and persons with disabilities. 

ICT and the Right to Education for Girls and Women with Disabilities

ICT must be seen to complement access to education for women with disabilities and must be seen in the context of equal rights for education for women with disabilities. 

As women make up nearly two-thirds of the world's illiterate, and women with disabilities are often last in line for education. They are excluded from education because of the distance from schools to home, because of poverty and  ostracism, stigma and because of the fear of violence in schools and in travel to school, and the lack of disability friendly bathrooms. The challenge is to get women with disabilities into the  educational  process.  ICT must be viewed in the  context of gender equality and the intersectional rights to education for all women and girls including women and girls with disabilities. 

Address Patriarchal Paradigms and the Subordination of Women:

ICT approaches cannot be successful unless a woman has the capacity and  autonomy to use ICT. Capacity to use access ICT cannot be advanced in the context of women’s subordination, marginalization and gender stereotyping.  
Women's ability to make use of ICT is also limited by their unequal position in society and family. A woman worker often has to cope with patriarchy both in the public and private spheres, violence and abuse in the family, and disproportionate responsibilities of childcare. These factors affect her ability to pursue education and career progression.

In many cultures, a woman’s autonomy is limited by the male members of her family. A woman may face the threat of abuse if she participates in community activities that her family or husband considers inappropriate to a woman.  A pervasive culture of patriarchy and gender inequality must be addressed in order for ICT to be successful.

Address Stereotypes:

Teleworking from home is often touted as a way to juggle work and family responsibilities. Although this may be so in many cases, it also increases isolation and alienation in the case of women with disabilities who have limited mobility.  It is also not clear whether teleworking is a decision women choose or are coerced into making. These stereotypes also reinforce gender inequities and perpetuate the norm that women are the primary and sole caregivers of the family. These stereotypes must be avoided in making ICT accessible to women with disabilities.

Address Cultural Context:

The Grameen Telecom's Village Phone Programme built on the legacy of  success of the Grameen phones in Bangladesh has become a bastion of gender and development programming. From among its more than two million predominantly women borrowers, the Bank management selects Village Phone Operators  from among  the two million women borrowers to whom the phone is provided as an in-kind loan. The operators resell wireless phone service to fellow villagers.

In a traditional and rural milieu these phones have worked successfully broadened women’s access to development and economic participation and addressed the feminization of poverty. Moreover, this is a model that has brought ICT home by improving women’s access to it in the grassroots. It is important that these models be expanded to cover women with disabilities.