|Women Encounter Technology: Changing Patterns of Employment in the Third World (UNU, 1995, 356 pages)|
|13. Gender perspectives on health and safety in information processing|
The nature of employment in information processing is extremely varied. Women's employment reflects the full range of jobs from the low-skilled, low-paid data entry jobs through to the high-skilled, high-status professional jobs of systems analysts and computer programmers, though most are concentrated towards the low-skilled end of the spectrum (Pearson and Mitter, 1993). The dynamics of the adoption and dissemination of computer technology are also varied, reflecting the very different socioeconomic realities in different sectors and countries. In developed countries computer technology has been introduced into most offices in all sectors. The diffusion of information technology in developing countries is much more piecemeal. In many cases diffusion has reflected the pattern found in developed countries, where public sector entities and private corporations have followed a similar pattern of computerization, starting with mainframe computers in the 1970s and progressively adopting microcomputers and PCs during the 1980s.
The bulk of women's employment in computer-related occupations in both developed and developing countries has been concerned with the entry and manipulation of data via computer keyboards. This has long been recognized within developed countries. The fact that telecommunications operate internationally implies that information processing services can be relocated to low wage economies. There is a well-established, if limited, trend to relocate or subcontract office services to low-wage developing countries, where women are employed to enter data at a fraction of the cost of comparable labour in developed countries (Davis and Stack, 1993; ILO, 1990; OTA, 1985; R. Pearson, 1993; Posthuma, 1987). Conversely, highly-skilled software development work is purchased from developing countries' computer professionals, either in situ or by importing the professionals on short-term contracts, a process known as 'body-shopping' (Heeks, 1989; Mitter and Pearson, 1992; Schware, 1992).
Studies of these processes have focused on the opportunities they present for less developed countries (LDCs), in terms of employment for school leavers and earning foreign exchange, and on the unsubstantiated expectation that such relocation of work offers the opportunity to 'leapfrog' into a new technology age in which small LDCs could have a knowledge-based comparative advantage (Girvan, 1989; Hanna, 1991).
The discussion of the diffusion of computer technology in developing countries, either through domestic computerization or through the internationalization of data entry or software development, has almost totally ignored the contractual position, wages, training and promotion and health and safety of new technology workers. Given the amount of interest in these issues within developed countries, particularly as regards health and safety, this is a telling omission.