This post was written by the Open Data Lab Jakarta’s Research Assistant, Debora Irene Christine, together with our Regional Research Manager for Asia, Michael Cañares. You can follow Debora @debby_bora and Michael @mikorulez on Twitter for more updates on their research.
Recognising the importance of improved access to broadband network and services for increased economic growth and to bridge the country’s ‘digital divide’, the Government of Indonesia prioritised technology infrastructure in its current National Medium-Term Development Plan. However, while the provision of technological infrastructure might bridge the gap of digital technology use between rural and urban areas, and between developed and underdeveloped regions within the country, it does not guarantee equal opportunities for adopting, participating in, and benefitting from digital technology.
The reality of the digital divide
The digital divide goes beyond inequality of internet access. It includes the inequality of ability to use information and communications technologies (ICT) to develop sound judgment and informed decision among those with access. It is further compounded by a broad range of factors, such as perception of the potential benefits and costs in using the Internet, discriminatory cultural values, socio-economic status, occupation, age, education level and gender.
In Indonesia, only 48.57% of women are online compared to 51.43% of men. Among those women who are connected, 26% express their views online and only 5% find information in the web about their rights. High costs, lack of knowledge, scarcity of content that is relevant and empowering for women, and online vulnerability were found to be the barriers keeping women offline.
From increasing participation in the labour market, access to knowledge and political participation, to helping women grow professionally, ICT has proven to be an open doorway to tangible benefits for women. However, as much as ICT is seen as a pathway to removing inequalities, it is not neutral. A product of the social structure that shapes and is shaped by the agency of its users, it embodies and advances certain interests and agendas. Therefore, the outcomes of digital engagement differ not only between gender groups, but also between and among different groups of women.
This digital divide between women’s groups is influenced by the diversity of women’s experience, social location, motivations in using ICT, as well as other inequalities. In some cases, ICT development can lead to a greater gap between rural, poor, marginalised or uneducated women, and urban, educated or elite women, not in spite of the digital revolution, but because of it.
Identifying the local factors and challenges to women’s digital literacy
On April 30, 2018, we hosted a discussion forum, organised in partnership with Ford Foundation, ICT Watch and Goethe-Institut Indonesien, to examine this digital divide between gender groups and between women’s groups. Participants included key officials from the Ministry of Communication and Informatics, Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Empowerment, Ministry of Education and Culture, and representatives from Jakarta-based organisations concerned about issues at the intersection of women’s empowerment and ICT development. Generational gap and different perceptions of competing priorities are some of the concerns posed by adult women and mothers in looking at the possibility of fully embracing ICT education to improve their well-being and their family’s.
Although defined by the participants in the forum as ‘involving critical thinking skills and a process of cultural and social understanding, more than technical ability’, digital literacy is still approached as a set of practical skills required for online engagement. This includes how to access information, how to produce content, and how to be confident in voicing opinions online. Whilst those skills are important, empowering women (and men) to critically assess and responsibly create digital media content should not be seen as of lesser importance.
Policy discourse and public conversation at the intersection of gender issues, ICT and education in Indonesia might have employed the language of ‘empowerment’ and ‘participation’. However, they maintain the discussions within the framework of ‘smart economics’ focusing toward increasing women’s inclusion in the labour market, productivity, and competitiveness; and of tokenistic participation which puts the quality of participation and its transformative potential as a secondary issue compared to the number of women participating.
Reconceptualising digital literacy
Bringing women into engagement with digital technologies can empower them with access to information and opportunities as well as control and power they might not have before within the evolving field of gendered relationships in Indonesia, but it comes with various costs. Women, including those who are ICT-proficient, are particularly vulnerable to online harassment, discrimination and violence and political consumerism, and not excluded from online radicalisation and disinformation. These realities highlight the need to move beyond simply providing women with affordable access to ICTs,s but to also invest in capacity-building activities to build the technical skills necessary to use digital tools for self-expression, mass mobilisation and economic empowerment.
Digital literacy education for women (and men)
Reinstituting digital literacy education in the national school curriculum in Indonesia, promoted in tandem across a range of compulsory school subjects such as Civic Education, Religion and Social Sciences, is critical. Also, as digital literacy is about critical thinking skills, including the ability to demand evidence, question sources, analyse claims and ideas, and exercise informed choices, learning culture at school should promote an open dialogue and collaborative learning process instead of spoon-feeding students with ‘accepted knowledge’.
Digital education is a long-term solution which takes years of teaching, beyond “voluntary, incidental and sporadic” movements. Collaboration between the government, civil society, media, educational institutions and the private sector is urgently needed to contextualise ICT within everyday uses and settings in Indonesian women’s lives, in order to understand the range of ways in which digital technologies contribute to women’s social spaces, and what part they play in social and economic meaning-making.
At the Open Data Lab Jakarta, we take this issue to heart, by implementing different activities that will help secure digital literacy for Indonesians, especially for women and girls. This forum was just a start of a series of programmatic activities that will potentially show what advantages Indonesian society can get in ensuring digital education at an early stage for the young, especially among girls.
This July, together with our partner Goethe-Institut Indonesien, we are implementing a project dubbed as “Starting Them Young” to find creative ways to build digital literacy of Indonesian female high school students.
Follow us on Twitter @ODLabJkt to keep updated on our projects and work in the fields of digital literacy and women empowerment.