Are We Making Progress, Or Fighting The Same Battles?
As discourse moves forward in the fields of science and technology, it seems that gender equality advocates have to keep covering and re-covering the same ground. In whatever new sphere of human interest and advancement, the foundation for women's rights has to be laid over and over again, as if it had not been understood in the previous discussion. By Kathambi Kinoti. Resource Net Friday File Issue 245, September 2005
As Gender and ICT advocate Anita Gurumurthy says, "If there is any silver lining around the not-so-happy discussions on women and their access to gains from ICTs, it is in the fact that with respect to policy on ICTs, the story fortunately is almost identical to gender in relation to all other domains. All of us here who believe in women's equality can take heart in the fact that a new script for engendering policy and engaging in advocacy for women's rights thankfully need not be written." 
The more things change, the more they stay the same After years of talk about equal opportunities for women, gender mainstreaming, and even, at the very least, political correctness, it ought to come as a surprise that policy shapers and makers still need to be persuaded of the need to consider the gender implications of whatever they do. The debate continues about whether or not gender mainstreaming is a strategy that can actually ever work as originally envisioned. It has been realized that in many cases it has become an end in itself rather than a means to an end. Gender equality and women's concerns are often not given the attention they deserve because it is thought that since gender is being mainstreamed into programs or their various components, there is therefore no need to look at gender equality on its own . Having accepted that gender needs to be mainstreamed, then it is not permitted to discuss women's issues in their own right. An analogy would be the scene in George Orwell's Animal Farm, when some animals, led by the hens, having realized that the substance of the revolution they had hoped for and thought they had achieved had not materialized, began to sing the revolution's anthem Beasts of England but were forcefully silenced and told they were not allowed to sing it, since the anthem was no longer necessary, the first revolution having been achieved. The effect on gender equality advocates is that they are overworked; they need to keep up with new technological, social and other developments while at the same time ensuring that gender equality is secured and advanced within these fields. Joanne Sadler of UNIFEM says, Women's double and triple day, which has been well documented in the reproductive sphere, is being replicated in gender equality work. While the hunger or water task force focuses on strategies to address hunger or water, those working on gender equality run madly between everyone else's task force at the same time as having their own. 
While it is true that some people are rethinking the efficacy of gender mainstreaming, the basis for the concept - the need to achieve gender equality - does not change. However this need does not seem to be ingrained deeply enough, or even at all, in the thinking of those who have the final power to influence policy. Gender concerns have definitely not been mainstreamed into their thinking processes. Women's equality advocates are still working largely from the sidelines instead of the centre, and their concerns are similarly being relegated to the sidelines. The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process provides a stark example of this. Karen Banks of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) says, Gender advocates were amongst the most visible and consistently active during the first phase of the WSIS. The result of their work is reflected directly in both the WSIS Declaration and Action Plan. Their success, however, cannot be seen or measured solely by an assessment of the language of the official documents, which was largely disappointing, but in specific partnerships and collaborations with certain governments, intergovernmental agencies and other stakeholders as a result of increased networking, awareness and knowledge sharing which has emerged from the WSIS process.? It goes without saying that what actually gets put down to paper is ultimately more powerful than all the talking that has led up to the documentation stage. Moreover, the hard work of the gender advocates did not pay off in equal measure. Ms Banks goes on to say, After 2 years of intense lobbying, all references to gender equality and women's empowerment disappeared from the documents in a period just prior to the last preparatory meeting (Prepcom-3, Geneve, September 2003). The majority of stakeholders did not prioritise gender concerns, and the language that had been successfully incorporated into official regional documents was ignored. The references to gender equality were reinserted only after a good old-fashioned t-shirt campaign, which secured one strong paragraph in the first section of the Political Declaration. 
Of even more concern than the marking-time is the fact that in some areas, ground is being lost. The National Council for Research on Women, an
alliance of US research and policy institutions, reports that there is disturbing pattern of decisions by federal agencies to close down, delay, alter, or spin data about what is happening to American women.  It is likely that in other countries as well, the fight for gender equality is taking some inadvertent steps backwards. According to the Council, some frontline institutions, such as the Office of Women's Initiatives and Outreach in the White House, that were created to ensure that women's concerns are addressed in policy decisions, have been disbanded. A lot of crucial information on and for women, which was formerly available on government websites, has been removed without explanation. For instance, some publications aimed at educating women on their rights in the workplace are no longer available. Also, some data is no longer being disaggregated by gender. Sometimes the decision to withhold or distort information is political. Other times there is no apparent reason and it seems to be simply because the decision-makers concerned do not seem to see any need to incorporate gender concerns. Whatever the reason, the absence of data pertinent to women's issues can only be detrimental to the cause of gender equality. To be effective, policies and programs aimed at improving the lot of women need to be based on balanced research, and governments ought to be able to provide this.
No easy solution has been found to the question of how to secure the ground already gained in the fight for gender equality in all aspects of life, and
this is not for want of trying. Patriarchy is clearly so pervasive that it is not only present in the past and present, but in the future as well, keeping a step ahead of equality advocates as is evident in debates about new technologies. Clearly, there is a need to rethink strategies at all levels.
Gurumurthy, Anita ICT Policies and Gender Issues: Lessons from the Past and Homework for Now http://www.genderwsis.org/245.0.html For a comprehensive analysis of gender mainstreaming, see Spotlight number
3 : Gender Mainstreaming : Can it work for Women's Rights? (Toronto,AWID: 2004) http://www.awid.org/publications/OccasionalPaper /spotlight3_en.pdf.
3. Ibid, p. 4.
4. Banks, Karen World Summit on the Information Society: Potential for Addressing the Digital Divide (APC Womens Networking Support System:
6. Missing: Information about Women's Lives. (National Council for Research on Women: 2004)