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Technology and Inequality: What the Pandemic Made Visible

After more than five months of lockdown during which different regions of Argentina went through different phases, the Argentine population is beginning to create some sort of “new normality”. Some of us work for a privileged sector that wasn’t affected by the lockdown and we’ve had the possibility to work from home, so we were relatively forced to adapt to this new reality after some weeks. But let’s not lose sight of what’s important: do we all share the same experience?

Women at the Center of the Pandemic

According to a report made by the Observatory of Argentina’s Social Debt (Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina) called “Heterogeneidad y fragmentación del mercado de trabajo (2010-2018)” (Heterogeneity and Fragmentation in the Labour Market [2010-2018]), in Argentina in 2018, 49.3% of employees were working in the informal microindustry. If we analyze the data more in detail, we can see that the majority are women. Natsumi Shokida’s study on feminist economics for the last semester showed that almost 98% of women were devoted to domestic work. This is an activity they cannot do remotely.

As for the healthcare sector, according to a report called “Aportes para el desarrollo humano en Argentina 2018 – Género en el sector salud: feminización y brechas laborales” (Contributions for Human Development in Argentina in 2018 – Gender in the Healthcare Sector: Feminization and Labour Gap), made by the United Nations Development Program, women in Argentina make up for 60% of the staff in the healthcare sector. Although these figures are from 2016, women are still at the forefront in times of pandemic. This means that women are more exposed to the infection, which poses a risk for them and for their families. And this is, once again, a job that needs to be done on-site, not remotely.

So, Women Who Work from Home are Better off, Right?

The answer is “no”. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Census of Argentina (INDEC), 60% of households had access to computers during the fourth quarter of 2019. Unfortunately, we don’t have a gender-segregated figure, which is important when we want to talk about the digital divide. This is a concept that “makes reference to inequality between people who have access to or knowledge about new technologies and people who don’t”.

These inequalities have to do with access to equipment (first digital divide), and use and understanding of technologies that we have at our disposal (second digital divide). This is worth mentioning, since in the last few weeks, there was much talk about the new teleworking regulation law, and the pandemic showed us all that housekeeping and caregiving tasks are jobs that need recognition. Some upper-class sectors criticized and struggled with this idea, which is why it’s important to remember the following:

  • Access to the Internet and different ICTs shouldn’t be a privilege. They imply job opportunities and the possibility to expand our knowledge. They enable communication with our peers, emergency information and entertainment. This is related to the first digital divide.
  • The new law establishes an order and a limit for the double working day and it’s got an important section: the right to disconnect. It contemplates that employees shouldn’t receive messages or calls after business hours, because even though our country has got regulatory advantage in comparison to other countries when it comes to equality legislation, in terms of culture, domestic labor is still a woman’s responsibility. It’s way more damaging than the burnout syndrome, and it’s related to the second digital divide.

The digital divide in both cases represents an outdated virtual modality: women with less access to education and job opportunities, and a double working day that doesn’t really have a beginning and an end.

We should make the most of these times of pandemic to rethink the paradigms that our society has used so far to make the system work. The lessons we learn in the technology sector should also include the Internet and ICTs, as well as rights related to them; for example, when it comes to education.

Thomas Kuhn, a philosopher of science, coined the term “incommensurability” to refer to the impossibility to compare two theories when there is no common language between them. We owe it to him to be talking about a “change of paradigm”. So, not everything’s lost: what should we do not to transfer the limitations of the non-virtual world to the virtual one? Have we given another dimension to the concept of connectivity thanks to this pandemic? Have we taken into account that digital media offer different possibilities and put us in an advantageous position? I’d like to invite you to read other points of views with the interviews we have been carrying out with Women in IT at STEAM, since it also offers us the possibility to donate technology we don’t use at home anymore. Let’s offer this technology to people who don’t really have access to it, so that working or studying during this pandemic is less of a hassle.

Mariana Silvestro

Mariana Silvestro is a full-stack developer in intive since December 2017 and leader of the Backend team since October 2018. With a degree in Computer Science, graduated from the Universidad Atlántida Argentina, Mariana is also a Senior Technician in Information Systems from the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional (UTN). Member of the LasDeSistemas community, she is a great militant of feminism and gender equality inside and outside the IT industry. Intensely passionate about reading and writing, she has 4 poems and 3 micro-stories published.

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