Cover Image
close this bookWomen Encounter Technology: Changing Patterns of Employment in the Third World (UNU, 1995, 356 p.)
close this folder1. Beyond the politics of difference
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentWho are the women of the third world?
View the documentAccounting for women's position in information technology
View the documentIT and the world of work: Manufacturing and services sectors
View the documentDisembodied technology: Software and data entry work
View the documentPostmodernism: A shift from collective to individual
View the documentEcofeminism and the politics of identity in the developing world
View the documentNotes
View the documentReferences


An introduction

Swasti Mitter

It is not that there is a lack of thinking and writing about the impact of information technology on women's working lives. Indeed, there has been a plethora of literature in this field, especially since the mid-1980s. The literature, however, reflected a certain class and regional bias, as it focused mainly on office work and almost exclusively on the experiences of first world countries.' In the last decade, in my professional capacity, I have attended and contributed to a large number of workshops and seminars, in Europe and in the United States, on the subject of women and IT. In the discussion and formulation of areas of concern, I invariably felt dismayed at the lack of voice of third world women, and at the lack of an authentically international perspective. I noted a shift in the mood of academic gatherings in the 1980s - reflecting contemporary obsessions with nationhood, and with tradition and identity. In the climate of identity politics, there was, understandably, little chance for recognizing and comparing workers' experiences across cultural boundaries - in spite of the pervasiveness of the information revolution and the globalization of the market economy.

I often thought of taking up the challenge of redressing the balance, of documenting, however roughly, the changing position of women of the third world. In such a venture, I knew I could rely on the research and documentation assembled by some of my friends - friends whom I have collected, like precious pearls, in different phases of my working life. I was, of course, aware of the limitations of such an initiative and the difficulty of encapsulating, in one short-term project, the wide-ranging experiences of the whole third world. Yet I was convinced that only such a bold, and perhaps foolhardy, initiative, would lead to a more systematic and integrated investigation and analysis.

My vision became a reality in 1991, with the support and enthusiasm of two leading feminist scholars: Sheila Rowbotham and Fatima Mernissi. Well known for their work in recovering women from the oblivion of history (Rowbotham, 1992; Mernissi, 1994), it is not surprising that they encouraged my plan to document women's role in, and response to, IT in our time. It is because of their initiative that I received an opportunity to place my project, for consideration, in the research programme of the United Nations University. To my great elation, Lal Jayawardena, who was then the Director of WIDER (World Institute for Development Economics Research), liked my project proposal and passed it on to Professor Charles Cooper, who had just taken up the Directorship of INTECH (Institute for New Technologies) at Maastricht. From 1992, INTECH as an institute, and Charles Cooper as my colleague, gave me unstinting support: in commissioning the papers, in organizing the workshop, and in helping to bear the human and financial cost of editing.

The essays in this anthology, thus, are contributions towards filling a major lacuna in the literature of women's studies and of development economics. They document the impact of information technology on the working lives of women in third world countries. The writings are by thirteen committed academics, and convey more than just empirical observations. They raise questions of women's autonomy and agency and try to articulate women's needs and demands. Challenges that women face in adjusting to the demands of information technology are the focal points of the essays; yet women's responses and organizing strategies when confronted with such challenges equally permeate the arguments and analyses. They alert us to the roles that family, ideology, state policies, and trade union structures play in distributing IT-related employment between women and men.