The month of June is here and the flavour for this month is ‘Telecentres and Women’. In fact, ‘women’ have remained the telecentre flavour ever since the launch of the ‘digital literacy campaign for women’ during the 3rd Global Forum on Telecentres in Santiago, Chile, on April 7, 2011. Looking back at the history of telecentres, I can say that even before the launch of this global campaign to bring women at par with men in terms of acquiring digital skill and its utilization to enhance their lives as well as livelihoods, women have played a critical role in both managing and using the telecentres.
I will take you through an imaginary journey to two telecentres, which was my first hand real encounter with ‘telecentres and women’. My apologies for selecting the examples from India, but I think all telecentre practitioners can identify with them with minor variations here and there. This is the beauty of the telecentre world! The challenges and solutions, more or less, are the same!
Scene 1: Its December 2005. I, as a member of the South South Exchange Programme coordinated by MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP), am standing inside the telecentre situated in Embalam village in Puducherry near Chennai in Tamil Nadu state of India. Some women - ordinary village women with extraordinary confidence – are explaining and demonstrating everything to us – right from the programmes and applications used on the computer to their relevance for the rural community to the teleconferencing facility available at the centre, and so on. It was an eye opener for me as well as for other delegates!
I came to know that this was one of the first telecentre completely run and managed by women. I was even more impressed to learn that they took over telecentre management at a critical phase when MSSRF was thinking of shutting it down due to some differences of opinion with the village telecentre management committee. Ever since the takeover, they have been managing everything very efficiently and the telecentre never faced the ‘close down’ situation again. I was really impressed! For a woman, a telecentre in the village means access to digital skills as well as development of managerial skills!
Scene 2: Its May 2008! The car stops in front of a small brick building with two rooms. I am greeted by a very lively gentleman and his wife. The place is a TARAhaat telecentre in Paraswada village in Madhya Pradesh, another Indian state. The village falls within the Kanha National Park territory, a famous Indian wild life sanctuary. The computer class is in progress and I find only girls taking the lessons there.
Since it is very common for girls to have separate classes in rural India, I casually enquire, “So! The boys are going to come in the evening!” “No!” said the telecentre manager. “The boys prefer to go for specialized computer courses, so they generally go to the town and parents are ready to spend on their training, because they ensure high ‘Return on Investment’.”
“On the other hand, girls generally move out of their natal family after marriage, so parents don’t want to invest much on their education or training. For security reasons too, parents don’t want girls to travel outside the village at odd hours. But the girls don’t want to lag behind in acquiring digital skills and the telecentre is a boon for these girls. Otherwise, they would have been devoid of this opportunity. A few of the trained girls are also helping me in conducting these classes and encouraging other girls and young women to enroll for the same,” shared the telecentre manager. I was again impressed! For a woman, a telecentre in the village means access to digital skills and opportunities!
In the above examples, you can see that access to digital skills is common in both, but apart from that, it also helped them to take advantage of other opportunities. They emerged as confident managers and trainers. There are many more examples from around the world that show how easily women adopt technology if they understand its advantages and also pass on and share the same knowledge within their community. They have the capability to become ‘change agents’ within the community. Therefore, I would like to initiate the first phase of discussion around the following topics:
1. How are the telecentres helping women in your respective countries?
a. Why should a woman visit a telecentre?
b. Do you try to find out the women specific areas in which the telecentre can make an intervention? If yes, then how?
c. Do the telecentre working hours suit the women?
d. Do the telecentres have to try hard to bring in women? Why?
e. What are the strategies that the telecentres generally use to motivate women to use the telecentre?
f. What are the major areas in which women require help from telecentres?
2. How are the women contributing to telecentre development in your respective countries?
a. What are the programmes in which women take or show special interest?
b. How do you motivate them to contribute to specific telecentre programmes?
d. Does the presence of women staff make any difference in the number of women visitors?
The first phase would last from June 1 to 10, 2011. Please share your views and opinions on the same with examples from your respective countries. Its an open discussion, so please don’t hesitate to add areas or issues that require special attention in the context of telecentres and women.
JUNE is YOUTH MONTH in South Africa and June 16 is YOUTH DAY a national holiday.
All our centres will be focussing on the Youth Programmes
Hi Shipra! I've recently gotten to know about the Tech Age Girls (TAG) program implemented by IREX. The program aims to provide IT training to young girls (grades 7-10) from disadvantaged communities. If you'll check out the link I shared, you can read more information on their website about it. While I believe it's been implemented mostly in Eurasia, I think it would be wonderful if we could adapt the program to work in other regions as well.
Thanks Vida for sharing about the TAG programme. Yes, I know about it. They share their success stories on Facebook too, so I remain in touch with their programmes. As you rightly said - its a wonderful programme for disadvantaged girls in the Eurasian region.
There are many more such programmes around the world, suited to the needs of local women. I hope members share them on this platform because they are all about empowering women and broadening their horizons, not just providing digital skills. I will share some stories from TAG programme too.
Women in rural areas still face challenges accessing telecenters because in most cases, these areas are under served in terms of ICT infrasfructures and or telecenters.Even the few telecenters that are in rural areas, there location and time with which women can find time to access services is seriously a hindrance and yet their participation or accessibility to the services offered at telecenters are greatly paramount.
Women of Uganda Network(WOUGNET) established a multi- dimensional Information Center In Northern Uganda called the Kubere Information Center (KIC) whose major focus is promoting agricultural Information to the rural women farmers via a variety of ICT tools, both modern and traditional.Since it's inception in 2005, statistics from the KIC shows a significant number of women accessing information on agriculture, health and nutrition and on attending trainings on basic computer use and application and simple SMS training using the mobile phones
To encourage future use of telecenters by women, a lot need to be done,including raising awarenes of ICTs amongst the girl child and the youths in schools, which WOUGNET in partnership with the Uganda Communications Commision is already doing.The traditional perceptions on womens use of science and technologhy has to be changed and women multiple and traditional roles that limits them from accessing services at particular times also needs to be carefully looked at. Also the gender balance in terms of ICT access, ownership and control is paramount in trying to understand and engage women and girls to participate in telecenter services.
I will thus find time to respond on all the above questions.
Thanks Moses for sharing your views on the topic. They are very enlightening. I completely agree with you that women face a lot of challenges in using telecentres and they also need encouragement from a very tender age to use the technology and also change the mental perception about women and technology. In this regard, WOUGNET is doing some exemplary services. You have very rightly pointed out that digital literacy is not only learning about how to use computers, but also mobile phones. With the range of applications available on the mobile phones, it is very important to teach women how to use them. I appreciate your point of view and would like to learn more from you at your convenience.
As evident from the two stories that I narrated, telecentres and women share a symbiotic relationship. They reinforce each other positively. A digitally trained woman accentuates the benefits of the telecentre within the community. Therefore, a telecentre or public access centre not only provides women with IT skills, it also enhances their confidence and life skills. In other words, the training translates into 'empowerment'. I am sharing another story to prove my point.
This example was shared recently by Ashutosh Chadha, Director, Corporate Affairs, South Asia, Intel Corporation, during a training programme on telecentre sustainability. He was narrating how access to IT training can transform the lives of simple village women belonging to orthodox families. It leads to their true emancipation and empowerment.
"28 year old Shahana, belonging to an orthodox Muslim family in a remote village in the state of Kerala in India was facing financial problems at home when she took training under the Intel Learn Programme for 'mentors' and 'facilitators'.
The program not only empowered her as an entrepreneur, but also made her the role model for many in her community. Now, people approach her for career guidelines for their children and even for solving family problems.
She says that the program has made her a better mother and she wants her own children to imbibe the skills she has learnt. In her own words, "At the age of 24, I learnt to talk to others. I learnt to express my views in a confident manner. It was like I was reborn.” She was also selected as one of the winners of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) woman exemplar award in 2008.
So, in this story, you can see how a training opportunity under the Intel Learn Programme changed the life of this woman, her family and her community for the better. It was not just about acquiring only IT skills, it led to the development of 21st Century Learning Skills that also included problem solving and other forms of critical thinking and collaboration and teamwork.
This is what telecentres and women are all about - holistic development and empowerment of the whole community.
Please share your success stories too. I know there are many all around the world!
Taking the discussion further, I will try to answer some of the questions raised in this discussion.
Why should a woman visit a telecentre?
Because a telecentre is important for a woman in many ways. As my stories have pointed out, they are not meant simply for acquiring didital skills or access, they help a woman change the community around her. "Teach a woman and you teach a whole family" is true for computer education too.
What are the challenges that a woman faces in accessing a telecentre?
As mentioned by Moses, there are many challenges:
1. Rural areas are underserved in terms of telecentres and ICT infrastructure.
2. Apart from this, sometimes the location and working hours of a telecentre act as great hindrances for women to access the telecentres.
But the presence of a telecentre makes a lot of difference in the lives of women, as explained with the example of Kubere Information Centre given by Moses:
1. Providing easy access to agricultural, health and nutritional information to the rural women.
2. Training them in using computer and Internet.
3. Training them in using mobile applications.
Moses also mentioned that the challenges can be overcome through measures, like:
1. Raising ICT awareness among girls from a tender age.
2. Changing the traditional perceptions about women and technology.
3. Since women are multi-taskers, telecentre timings have to be adjusted accordingly, so that the women can derive the maximum benefits from the telecentre.
4. Gender balance in terms of ICT access, ownership and control are also very decisive factors that should be looked into.
This is the discussion so far. Please share your thoughts and contribute to the discussion.