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Towards an egalitarian model of socio-economic and technological development

Gender Mainstreaming as a strategy of transition to a more resilient society
A democratic deficit

Today, the link between technology and human progress is a common topic of public debate. The growing awareness that technical possibilities do not necessarily contribute to human development, is a huge blow to our assumed progress. Technology increases control over human lives, but can also be used for systematic genocide. Technologies that were created for peaceful purposes – such as nuclear power stations, cars or pesticides – today present risks for the survival of mankind and nature. The apparently unrestrained technological development is increasingly seen as a democratic deficit, as a process over which citizens no longer have any control. The call for a public debate about the direction, speed and impact of technological developments is heard with increasing insistence. But the gap between specialists and citizens has become so deep and the complexity of the subject so immense that there is a real risk of a black and white debate, polarised between ‘believers’ who put all their hopes into new technological discoveries and ‘sceptics’ who see them as the source of all evil.
In this essay we take a look at the relationship between and gender and technology set against this background. The gender debate itself is often fed by a sense of democratic deficit (Snick & De Munter 1999). The unequal balance of involvement of different groups of men and women in the world of technological development, for instance, is seen by many as a form of exclusion or injustice. The central focus of this essay is that the unequal position of men and women (which we will refer to here in short as the gender debate) and the lack of democratic control over new technologies have their roots in the same underlying mechanisms; these mechanisms have their origins in the epistemology (a set of assumptions about science) that has become dominant in the West and consolidated in academic and technological institutes and practices. Moreover, important financial interests are involved, which in turn lead to financial high-tech and specialised regulations governing intellectual property rights that may block the democratisation of knowledge (Van Overwalle, 2009).