Homeworkers Online: Utilization of ICT for Home-based Work in Malaysia
Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries
This paper addresses key gender-specific issues affecting poor urban women homeworkers' utilization of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in three sites in Malaysia -Penang, Ipoh and Klang Valley. A total of 90 urban impoverished women homeworkers and 40 sectoral stakeholders were interviewed. They are from different races, ages and types of home-based work and included the chronically ill or those with physically and mentally challenged dependents. Focus group discussions, oral
... istories and case studies/observations offer insights of gender issues and glimpses into their otherwise invisible lives. Most homeworkers were initially 'greened' as 'unskilled' workers or cheap secondary labour in the mushrooming industries. They subsequently withdrew and entered home-based work after marriage and childbirth. Many were spatially confined by their religious and traditional sense of duty and their responsibility to their family, especially disabled children. Others were restricted by their immobility in a disable unfriendly environment. Homeworking enables them to be economically productive and empowers them. However, due to their isolation, atomization, lack of recognition as 'workers' and inadequate safeguards to protect their welfare, many homeworkers, subcontracting from factories or selling through middlepersons, suffer from exploitation. Many assistance schemes of the Malaysian Government for vulnerable groups do not target homeworkers. Its heavy investment in ICT infrastructure has yet to narrow the digital divide. While all homeworkers have access to some form of ICT tools, many do not personally own the tools. Fewer have access to computer and Internet. Although they are aware of the potential of ICT for work, few explore its full potential because of their limited education, lack of literacy or their inability to demystify technology. Those supported by organisations have better access to training and utilize ICT tools in varying degrees for their work. They increase their clientele and widen their markets. With greater gender justice, these homeworkers will be able to transform gender relations and technology issues to be empowered to gain knowledge and use ICTs to access wider markets, skills and opportunities and uplift their lives and that of their families.