Telecommunication Policy and Regulation for Women and Development

Gillwald, Alison
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LINK Centre, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg
This paper examines the issue of whether or not the needs and interests of the majority of women who live in poverty are likely to be addressed by current legislative and regulatory measures designed to achieve universal access to telephone service in South Africa. The paper highlights the enabling aspects of the policy and legislative framework to equalise gender relations in the telecommunication sector in South Africa. Particularly, it identifies the empowerment and advancement of women in telecommunications and the ownership and control of telecommunications services by persons from historically disadvantaged groups, as enabling aspects of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The author concludes that while current measures may positively affect the lives of a relatively small percentage of women through their inclusion in the ownership and control of new companies or from increased employment opportunities or promotion previously denied them in this male dominated sector the current measures are deficient. This is firstly because current policy and implementation strategies do not effectively address issues of affordability. Secondly, the technical features of the network are presumed to be neutral with respect to cost (and price) considerations, masking their class and gender bias. Finally, insufficient attention has been given to seeking innovative ways of addressing women’s information needs which are assumed, from technology design through to service offerings, to be the same as those of men and particularly businessmen. The paper continues to explore possible policy and regulatory strategies that can be pursued under existing conditions within the telecommunications sector in South Africa and in other developing countries to enable the sustainable development of women in society. It is argued in the policy and statutory requirements to promote universal and affordable service to women and that the developmental potential of telecommunications should positively affect the lives of women. From a developmental point of view, the objective of universal service has the potential to be a powerful enabler for a wide range of women. Given that rural women in South Africa, as in other parts of the developing world, are the worst affected by poverty, any strategy to provide universal access and ultimately service, on the grounds of the right to information and potential for social and economic development, must target this most marginalised group.
Gillwald, A. (2000). Telecommunication policy and regulation for women and development. The Southern African Journal of Information and Communication (SAJIC), 1.