Although the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to promote positive social change is increasingly recognised all over the world including in countries where infrastructure is still very poor, the understanding of gender equality concerns in ICT for development (ICTD) needs strengthening. While many ICTD practitioners and policy makers are committed to addressing gender issues and concerns which manifest within their projects and programmes, most do not know how to do so. Meanwhile, some ICTD practitioners and policy makers need to be convinced of the need to address gender and ICT issues, and others still believe that ICTs are gender neutral. It was within this context that the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) developed the Gender Evaluation Methodology for Internet and ICTs (GEM).
GEM was developed by APC within the Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP) after APC WNSP itself began investigating the impact of its work in 2000. At that time, there was a strong and mutual need among members to build a collective understanding of the real impact of almost ten years of women’s networking and advocacy on gender and ICT issues, and APC WNSP and its members had the following questions:
- What changes are empowering women?
- How are these changes being measured?
- What role do ICTs play in these changes?
- How do these changes shift gender relations between women and men?
At the time, there were no gender evaluation models nor gender tools for project/programme planning and evaluation that had a strong component in relation to the use of ICTs or technology in general, so there was a gap in the information and communication sector. In 2001, APC WNSP began developing GEM with ICTD practitioners in 25 countries from Latin America, Asia, Africa and Central and Eastern Europe. The GEM manual was published in 2005 and is the result of the collection, evaluation and deeper analyses of experiences from 32 projects by ICTD practitioners.
GEM provides a systematic method to evaluate whether ICTs are improving women's lives and gender-power relations. Since GEM’s development, APC has organised over 30 GEM workshops with over 300 participants, and GEM has been presented at over 20 events held around the world. Since GEM’s development, ICTD practitioners have begun to realise that the introduction of ICTs alone is insufficient to bring about positive social change. While there is no doubt that ICTs have the potential to support change including women’s empowerment, this has to be consciously planned for by integrating a critical reflection process in the programming and evaluation for these changes to happen.
GEM is one way for ICTD practitioners and policy makers to make certain that a development intervention remains adaptive and responsive to dynamic situational contexts that are constantly influenced by political, economic, social and technological factors, as well as natural calamities. GEM users appreciate that there is no recipe for effective development, but only a system of mechanisms that will allow for periodic feedback, reflection and action. GEM raises the consciousness of its users by challenging them to look beyond static data collection models that force the community they are supposed to serve to fit into a prescriptive model. GEM users know that they should always be ready to go back to their intervention model and to redesign, implement and continuously monitor their undertakings to effect the change they want to bring about in their communities.