Using GEM to evaluate effectiveness of ICTs for campaigning among youth

Case study: Testing GEM in Bulgaria
Saturday 24 April 2004 Jivka Marinova , Lenka Simerska
article translations български, français

Context Situation

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Gender Evaluation Methodology

According to ITU’s World Telecommunication Development report 2002 Bulgaria belongs to lower middle income countries (second poorest out of 4 groups of world country economies). It is a country of population 7.90 million with GDP US$ 1’473 per capita and density of 73 persons per km2. Its teledensity is quite high; in fact Bulgaria managed to increase it despite declining GDP in the past few years. Like other countries in transition to market economy Bulgaria has much higher than expected level of telecommunications development. Networks in these countries were largely constructed during an era in which there nominal GDP per capita was much higher than at present.

There are 55 total telephone subscribers per 100 inhabitants and 85% households have a telephone. In 2000 92% of the demand of a phone line was satisfied. The overall country teledensity is 34%, in the capital city Sofia it is even higher 56%. Cellular telephony is developing rapidly, while in 1995 there were only 21 thousands subscribers, in 2001 the number grew up to 1550k; the compound annual growth rate was 105%. The cellular phone users count 19 per 100 inhabitants and compose 35% of total telephone subscribers. As for the telephone tariffs, the subscription costs constitute 0,9% of GDP per capita. Internet tariff of 30 hours of use per month costs US$ 9,66. There are 26 926 Internet hosts, 605k users, and estimated 361 k PCs which 4,4 is per 100 inhabitants. 52% of the telecommunication staff are women (positions and work qualifications not specified).

Before 1989, when economy and trade was realized in the common artificially constructed market of the socialist countries, Bulgaria used to be the producer and main supplier of electronic and communication equipment for the Soviet block. The production has been accompanied by functioning of research institutes, specialized technical programs at universities, which provided human resources and technology for plants producing computers, computer parts and other IT devices. In this time of “glorious” development of the Bulgarian ICTs within the then Soviet block, women represented about 20% of students of ICTs related subjects at universities and specialists in research or production.

After the fall of the “iron curtain” and transition from centrally planned to market economy, also due to globalization forces, Bulgaria lost its specialization in ICTs. The main institutes could no more be supported to function, the production closed down and thousands of electronic and communication engineers - men and women lost their jobs. ICTs as a subject of study lost their attractiveness to young generation because it became difficult to find a job with an engineering diploma, especially for women.

The number of girls enrolling in the ICTs subjects in higher education today is not higher than 25 years ago, in fact it is declining, even though there is a quota system for girls - the faculties reserve 40% of places to female applicants who comply with the application requirements. The cause of the problem lies deeper than just in low interest of girls in technical education. Main role is played by gender biased socialization. Girls are discouraged from technical subjects and rather traditional division of roles predominates. It is quite difficult to change the gender role set up in a situation of high unemployment and economic decline. The potential of all-literate population, high level of women’s education - a significant number of them in technical subjects, and approach to women as equal in the labor sphere that Bulgaria inherited from the past political regime’s propaganda, is not being fully utilized for progress in achieving gender just and balanced society.

Nevertheless, computer courses have been introduced at secondary schools. Unfortunately the substance of these courses and the curriculum is very often quite archaic and non motivating that pupils are not very much interested, even those of them whose interest in ICTs is very high outside school (usually boys).

Background of the Project

In 2001 J.M. working for an education in non-violence project for BGRF decided to explore the possibility of using ICTs to promote women’s human rights among the youth and realized the project “Communication for advocacy plan”. This project was the first one with an ICT component.

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One of the winning posters portraying violence against women in the online contest for kids

The goal of the project was to develop a web site in order to disseminate largely the work and ideas dedicated to eradication of violence against women among young people. The web site’s central element was a contest for the best poster and essay portraying the issue of violence against women. The kids could submit their own essay or poster and they could also vote on everyone else’s posters and essays displayed on the website. A user friendly online voting device was available directly on the website. The website was presented to children via their teachers at selected schools (age 13 - 18) in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, and of course number of kids found it themselves by browsing.

This website targeted mainly boys, but also had specific focus on girls, each gender with a specific strategy. With the assumption that boys are more familiar with internet and have better access to it at home, at school, in internet clubs and more easily develop their ICTs confidence within the peer groups, the project hoped to attract boys to the topic of violence. By presenting the theme via internet and by using technical items like the online voting, the project supposed to motivate boys to participate, to get to know about the phenomenon of violence, and to develop boys’ understanding of ICTs also as a potential tool for defending human rights. In case of girls, there was one additional aim - to motivate them to use ICTs and to strip the myth that ICTs are only for male use by showing that internet work can be done by women, for women and on women’s topics. The overall aim for both was to raise their interest in the issues of violence against women via using the internet as a tool of attraction and means to reach the youngest generation.

Using GEM - Goals of the Evaluation

The project was very successful and got numerous excellent feedbacks from the kids themselves, as well as from teachers and parents. There were winners chosen in both categories, essay and poster, by the online voting. Two posters were printed and used in the campaign of 16 days of activism against violence against women.

The only problem when trying to judge the success of the project objectively was that there was no data to measure the real outreach of the website among the teenagers and the public in general. Since there is no data about Internet use of different social and age groups in Bulgaria, J.M. decided to apply GEM on the project and evaluate the outreach in a different way.

The first and foremost goal of the GEM evaluation was to assess the effectiveness and possibility of using a website for campaigning among the youth (high school teenagers), and to evaluate the influence of the use of ICTs on the participation of teenagers to the initiatives of NGOs. The specific gender goal of the evaluation was to get to know how this differs between girls and boys. To achieve this evaluation goal it was needed to obtain more information about how ICTs, internet in particular, is being viewed and used among this age group of youth attending schools in the capital Sofia. Therefore a questionnaire was used as the initial method of acquiring data about internet use.

The evaluation had also other particular goals (that were achieved by using different other methods like interviewing school teachers and educators or reviewing the school curricula and gender aspects of the school system), such as:

- Evaluation of the web site as such - how its existence helped the 16 Days of Activism Campaign; how its users evaluate its design, contents and different technical devices, especially the online voting; how different people got to the website and what were their reasons; if interactivity of the website (possibility to post opinions) increases the motivation to participate in the campaign; what is the effectiveness of the web forum, etc.

- Evaluation of equality of boys and girls in the access and use of ICTs - what is the attitude of girls and boys towards ICTs and how it is constructed; what is the level of school ICTs education and what role it plays in creating opportunities and motivating girls and boys to explore ICTs.

- The potential of such internet based projects to increase gender balance in use and perception of ICTs among young generation.

Evaluation Results

A questionnaire was used as the initial method of acquiring data about how internet is being used among teenage girls and boys.

300 questionnaires have been distributed among teenagers. The responses received were 220. Some of the students who participated actively to the programme left the school and some of those who responded were not involved in the project. Therefore their responses are relevant mainly for the assessment of the differential access of boys and girls to ICTs. Among the respondents 124 were boys and 96 girls. Although it could seem already an indication for the interest and involvement, it is not, as among the participants to the program there was one technical school attended only by boys - the number of their responses was 30.

The main findings of this improvised poll are that girls are equally interested in ICTs as boys. From all the respondents there are only 5 responses that ICTs are completely out of interest and these responses belong to boys. In the same time girls, who responded that ICTs are not their priority are more than boys with these responses (14 girls/6 boys). For all the other respondents ICTs are something very important.

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Use of Internet

In the regular secondary schools in Bulgaria ICTs are included in the curricula and are taught as “informatics”. Therefore all the respondents pretend to have passed a training course in using computers. But if we look at the place, where the computers are used - the school is the place where they are less used. Only 6 boys pretend to use ICTs in school and the girls are 7. The use at home and in Internet cafes is equal (80/80) and mostly girls have only sporadic access in friends’ houses or elsewhere.

It is interesting to note that the school is the place where the use of ICTs and specifically the Internet is less promoted. From all the teenagers only 6 learned to use the Internet in school (only 1 girls among them). Most of the kids got familiar with the Internet in the clubs (40%), 31% - at home, 26% from friends and only 3% at school. Those using the clubs being mainly boys, but girls tend also to visit them. The conclusion and the concern in the same time are that what is taught at school is very formal, basic and boring. Sometimes teenagers are more advanced in using the ICTs than their teachers. Teachers in informatics are mainly middle-aged women and unfortunately they are following the main curricula without trying to give more attractive content or shape to their courses.

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What do you do when you are in the Internet

Boys use to go to Internet clubs where they “chat”, play, look for specific information or simply socialize in “talking” about computers with friends. Girls use ICTs mainly if they or their parents have a computer at home. They mainly check their e-mails, or they look for information necessary for their studies, or eventually they surf the Net.

When asked about the use of their free time, less than 1/3 of the boys respond that ICT are their main occupation. The same share is interested in sports and in going out with friends. With the girls- those who are interested in ICTs are more than 3 times less than boys, but those going out with friends are two times more than boys. For this age group ICTs are not the favorite occupation for the free hours.

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What is your main occupation in the free time

From all respondents only 8% (14 boys and 4 girls) were more advanced - using the computers and the Internet for uploading a Web page for themselves or for friends. It has to be noted that the students who participated to the enquiry were aged 16-18. This is the upper secondary level of the school, where they practically choose their future studies and professional development.

Concerning the affordability of services a divergence has been found. The cable internet connection is still not accessible for everybody in general. It remains an expensive service and is accessible in some locations only. For those using internet at home the most common way is a dial-up connection. The price of the connection is reasonable, but the cost of phone impulses is extremely high and causes a serious limitation to the spread of internet use. At the same time the access in Internet clubs is quite cheap and affordable - but mainly boys visit them.

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Frequency of use of ICTs

This quite trivial questionnaire survey among teenagers showed basic gender differences in perception and use of Internet. The most affordable and preferred place to access internet are internet clubs. At the same time, clubs are boy’s social places and boys spend their pocket money there. Boys are interested in games, software, hardware and web design as well - girls rather stay at the home computer and check their e-mails or look for some specific information needed for school. Since both girls and boys have interests in modern technolo-gies, we can assume that also girls would explore it much more if the environment was more open and inviting for them.

If they receive more motivating signals, perhaps in form of women’s NGOs campaigns or as women role models who use internet in advanced ways, girls would probably surprise by their increased interest in ICTs.


The survey showed that internet has the potential to become an effective tool to attract young people to be thinking about social issues such as violence against women and to participate in campaigns. Internet is not very much promoted at schools but the interest is there and young people, especially boys, find other ways to access it and learn about it. Internet is probably more effective tool to reach younger generation, school kids are often more advanced than their teachers and parents. However, to validate this assumption, data about use among different age groups would be necessary.

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Public Internet club full of young boys playing games and browsing the web during the summer holidays in the town of Sandanski, in the south of Bulgaria.
(August 2003, photo by Lenka Simerska)

Also it is doubtful to state that girls surpass their mothers in using ICTs. As we know, in Bulgaria, like in most countries of the former Soviet block, women have been present in the labor market for four generations now. However it was imposed upon them by the communist propaganda rather than it was introduced out of the desire of women themselves or result of the leverage of women’s movement (like in most western economies). Moreover, their labor commitment have been full time while leaving them with domestic and family duties, and officially declared equal to that of men. Women have penetrated all strata of economy and education fields (however they remained minority or even rarity in some), technical ones included. It is likely that in many cases of women working in technical spheres or using any sort of technology for their work, the continuity of their technical advancement in ICTs has been interrupted by political and economical changes after 1989. In this regard women had to face a set of obstacles in the ’90 - the economy started transforming and in the process of privatization a lot of jobs were cancelled and professions not needed any longer; unemployment raised speedily and many women have been rejected when applying for jobs against male applicants; technology was not compatible with the one used by developed economies and extensive update has been necessary in all strata of production and society organization; and while this all happening the boom of ICTs started globally, new ways of communication spread out with the internet. Women simply could not keep up with this fast changeover given the conditions that they had throughout the 90s, especially those who had to work in low-skilled jobs not suitable for their qualification and education, or who were left out of the labor market at all to make living in grey economy or in domestic production. But taking into account their past work experience, they certainly hold the potential to counterbalance the gap, if suitable conditions are provided.

Nevertheless, Bulgaria has a good ICTs potential per se, taking into account its teledensity, the experience and skills prevailing from the era of before ’89, and its progressive youth. As for the gender gap and the potential of girls to exploit ICTs equally with boys, it is highly recommended that women’s NGOs acquire information and knowledge on ICTs in order to improve their own work, reach the public and motivate girls to “get into the play”. Many women’s NGOs still fear technology and rather use old ways of communication and production of information.

Lastly, the survey implies a recommendation for schools. The project “Communication for Advocacy Plan” itself as well as its evaluation according to GEM showed that schools need to become much more proactive in delivering the modern ways of using ICTs to its students, while not using gender biased methods of teaching as well as the curriculum contents. Young people need guidance that would further develop their personal interest and invention. That is probably not happening while aimlessly playing games in an internet club or haphazardly chatting online with a friend from home. The school should furnish its students with such knowledge and skills which can later be exercised in the job market and provide such directions in ICTs education that will contribute to development goals of the country.

The final GEM evaluation report can be found at in the section for Central and Eastern European GEM testers.