Gender divide and the access to Information society. News from the Conference on “Women&Technologies: research and innovation” Milan, 8th September

10. November 2008 – 18:58 by acfgroup

The conference “Women&Technologies: research and innovation” was held in the context of IFIP WCC World Computer Congress ( The whole day of the conference aimed to reflect, at the international level, on the situation of the presence of women in the scientific and NICTs worlds, on female contributions to innovation, creation and production of ICTs, on progress in the overcoming of gender stereotypes in this scientific and working area, and on good practises for engaging young women with NICTs.

Four themes were tackled: “women and ICTs in Europe”, Art and affective computing”, “Interaction and dialog in the community on the web of the future” and “Innovation in the enterprises e in the Institutions” ( During the second section in the afternoon, about Art and affective computing: Interaction and Dialogues in Communities on the future Web”, e-participation and e-inclusion were also discussed. The web is the biggest public space we have ever known, with all the potential and risks linked to that: the web provides enormous opportunities to extend social relationships, to enrich and share knowledge; but this implies also problems of inclusion, inequalities in web access and use, and the necessity of rules (a sort of Bill of Rights for the Internet).

Covering e-inclusion, Fiorella De Cindio focused on e-citizenship for women too, and on the need to create suitable tools for the enlargement of e-participation and e-deliberation, processes which she regards with a general optimism, notwithstanding the fact that the results of many Italian experiments in the area have not been flattering. Her data about citizens’ participation in some civic networks and e-participation experiences in Lombardia (Northern Italy) show low rates of participation, mostly in cases in which public administrations have not invested concretely in the e-projects; in the same contexts there is a much lower participation of women: 20% of the participants in the experiment of Mantova’s civic network, 30% in Vigevano and in Milano, 16% in Brescia (from a total of 78, 120, 2130 and 137 participants respectively).

So, how can more women and marginalized groups be involved in these e-processes? And is it a priority? From the top-down opportunities to the potentialities of net communities and web 2.0: Paola Bonomo (senior marketing director, eBay Italy) looked at the characteristics of digital communities, about their functioning, the incentives they are based on, and about the characteristics of their leaders. Why are most of the leaders men even in a community such as eBay: a space of self-entrepreneurship where the barriers to access (a part the structured ones) are very low and where the first contributors are mostly women (56%), but the first 10 sellers remain men?

Very interesting was also the speech by Christine Lisetti who presented her studies about affective computing (a field of research where there have been many pioneer women since the ‘90s) and its different possible practical applications: not only the avatars’ expressions, but also emotion recognition to recognize the emotions of the faces of pilots, astronauts and scuba divers; and technological tools to monitor veteran patients who are far from medical centres and to establish an effective/operative communication between patients and doctors in difficult contexts.

The meeting was also the occasion to award the Le Tecnovisionarie® 2008 prize to Fiorella Operto (Deputy Chairperson of the School of Robotics, Genova) for her commitment to the fight against gender inequalities, involving young women in science and technology, and creating self-confidence in girls technology-related abilities, particularly in her field (robotics) that seems to be the discipline of the future. Robotics is one of the most male dominated disciplines, but creative minds of both men and women, if free to express themselves, can overcome conditioning and ideological obstacles: so it’s necessary to find more opportunities of access for young women and to fight against old dichotomic stereotypes about the pretended differences in capacities of men and women that relegate both to a rigid division of duties, experiences, skills: snuffing out every potentiality of each person.

Michela Balocchi (Research fellow, University of Bergamo)

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