April 2007

Empowerment via ICTs

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The chorus of confidence

'You teach us and we can do it' – This was the overwhelming response of the 20 odd women from the rural areas of Gujarat, who attended the workshop organised by Self Employed Women Association (SEWA) (http://www.sewa.org/) along with UNDP, held in Delhi, India. Over two days, the workshop delved on the critical aspects of how ICTs can empower women to address issues of poverty and livelihood challenges. We heard evocative stories of how women from the most backward areas of the country had broken the boundaries of illiteracy, caste and social backwardness to independently raise their social and economic status.

Showcasing success stories

The workshop entitled 'ICT for Women: employment through livelihood generation' saw almost  100  participants from grassroots organisations from India and other SAARC countries. The 20 women entrepreneurs from SEWA  stole the show with their inspiring tales of how they have not only leveraged their core skills but have also mastered the use of communication technologies (phone, fax, computers, radio, video) to further their  work and business. The women from Barefoot College, Tilonia, Rajasthan, India (http://www.barefootcollege.org/) also demonstrated their proficiency in setting up and maintaining solar power systems in villages. These barefoot engineers, mostly semi-literate or illiterate, have not only mastered such skills but have also gone ahead and  trained others including rural folks in Afghanistan. Humaira  Habib of Radio Sahar, Afghanistan, Rupa Pandey of Radio Lumbini, Nepal and Renu Bista, who runs a community multimedia centre in Nepal, spoke of the challenges they face in running their radio stations in politically unstable states. Several other case studies from MSSRF, Datamation Foundation, Drishtee Foundation, Akshaya from India and Grameen Phone from Bangladesh were shared.

The key discussions was led by Reema Nanavaty, Director, SEWA, Dr Maxine Oslon, Resident Representative, UNDP, Dr Girija Vyas, Chairperson, National Commission for Women, M Madhavan Nambiar, Additional Secretary, Department of IT, Aruna Sundararajan, CEO, IL&FS, Rufina Fernandes, Executive Director, Nasscom Foundation, and Namrata Bali, Director, SEWA.

ICTs and empowerment

What was really overwhelming was that ICT, wherever it has been used, has empowered these women. Women from SEWA, Tilonia, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan all reiterated that ICT skill has empowered them  beyond their imagination! “I have studied till 8th standard, and after learning computers, I teach in the centre and now even school teachers and others come to learn from me and call me madam!” said a women from the SEWA  centre.  ” I am 50 year old and illiterate, I never thought i will learn to use the computer, today I use the computer to keep records of my work”, said another participant. The women also insisted that their knowing how to use technologies, has raised their status in their community, which in turn has enhanced their confidence to use their skill and knowledge for their own and the community's benefit.

However what was evident from the discussion was that if ICTs have to be truly empowering, the process has to be  a continuous one. Dr Girija Vyas pointed out – “ICTs have helped to amplify the voices of women but for the impacts to be far-reaching, concerted efforts have to be made at the centre and the state level. The current Gender Budgeting process at the Central level is not monitored and states are not able to use even 50 percent of the funds alloted. ICTs for women can be added as a component within the budget and well as ICTs could be used the community to monitor the budgets allocations as well as correct utilisation”.

Recommendations

Some of the recommendations that emerged from the consultations are as follow:

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