Empowerment in India

Technological Initiatives for Rural Women Empowerment in India

India has made tremendous progress economically and  technologically. However, its benefits rarely reached women.  Access, mastery and control over technology hitherto remained  male domain. Ample examples prevail where mechanization  displaced women from labour instead of unburdening or relieving  from the drudgery. The vision to consciously include rural women  with up-to-date technology through various initiatives has shown  the authentic result.

Rural Women of India

The rural Indian population constitutes 68.84% of the overall population as per 2011 census. They are deprived of basic amenities extensively. The total female population in India is 496.5 million and 360.95 million Indian women live in rural area. As per 2011 census, 41.25% of women are illiterates. Those with lower literacy are engaged in menial occupations. They spend longer hours in household chores, in farm or agriculture allied activities. According to Gender Inequality Index (Gil, 2010) maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is 450 for every 1000 newborn, adolescent fertility rate is 68.1, seats in parliament is 9.2%, population with at least secondary education above the age of 25 years and older is 26.6% (male 50.4%), labour force participation rate is 35.7% (male 84.5%), contraceptive prevalence rate for 15-45 years is 56.3%, antenatal coverage of at least one visit is 74% and births attended by skilled health personnel is 47%. This lower status of rural women has rendered clarion call to the state and central Governments, Non-Government Organizations and the corporate sector to plan and pursue numerous efforts to empower them.

Technological Initiatives for Empowering Rural Women

Technological Initiatives for Rural Women Empowerment in India

Technological Initiatives for Rural Women Empowerment in India

According to UN (2005), ICTs can be a powerful catalyst for the political and social women empowerment and the promotion of gender equality. Thus in view of promoting ICT enterprises, there had been a lot of ventures at the grass root level by various governmental and nongovernmental organizations (Duncombe, 2005). In Asia, some of the ICT initiatives have been playing a vital role for deprived  and empowering rural women (Patil, 2009). In Indian context, ICT is well known for its declining costs, widening reach, greater availability and increasing versatility. Hence, there is a need to examine their potential within the existing development context (Mridula, 2006). A different perspective of women depicted that most of these ventures have remained as “projects” of someone else than becoming their own ‘initiatives’ (Mark, 2006). It has only accentuated the dependency syndrome than transforming them as entrepreneurs. Though in these initiative women had greater access to the ICT tools than men (Amirtham, 2011). These tools hardly cater to the developmental need of the illiterate rural women who have a long way to move forward in the process of development. In this context, the present study has attempted to study some of the outstanding technological initiatives that have   significantly contributed for the women empowerment in rural India.

Methodology of Study of Rural Women Empowerment

The present study has been based on the secondary data which were largely retrieved from United Nations Development Programme UNDP (2010) studies on the terminal evaluation of Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) Project in India since 2004. Though it covered nineteen projects of which fifteen project evaluation were presented in the reports. Amid the fifteen projects, four projects that were focused exclusively on the theme of women empowerment were taken for this study. Among the four projects, the researcher has an opportunity of visiting three projects. Besides, among the four projects selected for the study two were located in the south of India and another two in the northern part of India. It has enabled in getting the wider representation and outlook of the entire country.

 Objectives of Study of Rural Women Empowerment

  • To identify the successful factors contributing for rural women empowerment in the technological initiative
  • To list out, the types of women empowerment envisaged by technological initiative in the life of rural women
  • To delineate the role of stakeholders in implementation the process of the technological initiative
  • To elicit the constraints faced by rural women in the process of technological deployment
  • To provide suggestions for future way forward in the technological initiative for rural women empowerment.

Status of Rural Women in Study Area

The female literacy rate of the study area revealed that the states of Tamil Nadu (73.86%), Gujarat (70.73%) and Karnataka (68.13%) had a higher level of literacy than the national average (65.46%) while Rajasthan (52.66%) had lower female literacy rate. However concerning female sex ratio (per 1000 male) Tamil Nadu and Karnataka is higher than the national average and Gujarat and Rajasthan has lower sex ratio. The data revealed the lower status of women in these states.

Table 1. Literacy rate (%)

Place Literacy rate (%) Sex ratio
Person Male Female
India 74.04 82.14 65.46 940
Tamil Nadu 80.33 86.81 73.86 995
Gujarat 79.31 87.23 70.73 918
Karnataka 75.60 82.85 68.13 968
Rajasthan 67.06 80.51 52.66 926

Source: Census 2011

Sample Projects

The four projects with the focus of women empowerment were selected as a sample from UNDP (2010) evaluation study and were taken for secondary analysis. Details of these projects with implementing agency and state is given in Table 2.

Table 2. Details of projects

Project Name Target Group Implementing Agency implementation State Inception Year of Agency
ICT School for Women’s Empo werment Self-employed women workers SEWA Gujarat 1972
ICT for Women Conciliation Centre Agriculture based women VIDIYAL Tamil Nadu 1986
Mobile Information Technology for Rural Advancement MITRA Tribal women PEDO Rajas than 1987
Mahiti Manthana Rural women IT for Change Karnataka 1989

i) ICT School for Women Empowerment

SEWA was one of the first organizations globally to realize the potential of using ICTs for the productive growth of the informal sector (Patil, 2009). It has established Community Learning Centre (CLC) which is known as ‘Sanskar Kendras’ (SSK) at various locations to promote skill trainings, health education, social awareness and disaster preparedness. Meanwhile, there was a felt need to introduce Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for their livelihood generation, socioeconomic security and self-sustainability. The existing set-up of CLCs was upgraded with 4-5 computers internet, mobile phone, SMS and MMS facilities. It emerged as ICT School for Women Empowerment. This initiative began to impart ICT training to a large section of the neglected community at a concessional rate with the objective of self-sustainable and enduring means of livelihood generation. It strengthened their capacity building, improved access to latest resources and information, helped local entrepreneurs get financial assistance, offered vocational trainings and coordinated with local government bodies.

ii) ICT for Women Conciliation Centre

ICT for Women Conciliation Centre is one of the initiatives of VIDIYAL, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) is working since 1986 with Self-Help Groups (SHGs), numbering more than 250 with nearly 4000 members in Theni District, Tamil Nadu. VIDIYAL with the support of Commonwealth of Learning has already initiated Lifelong Learning in micro enterprises development. Still there was a need to strengthen the role of women in terms of their rights and enhance their negotiation power in legal, constitutional and human rights at  various levels-household, village and enterprise, thus was the genesis of ICT for Women Conciliation Centre. VIDIYAL is running a Women Conciliation Centre (WCC) that has been approved by The High Court of Madras and supported by Munsif-Cum-Magistrate Court at Bodi. The centre operates once in a week and addresses nearly 100 to 200 cases every month. It also, in collaboration with Arul Anandar College established a model of Indian Citizen Eligibility Identification System   (ICEIS)   to  disseminate  information  about the development and welfare programmes. This multi-stakeholder participatory approach also included Vidivelli Women Self Help Group Federation, IFFCO-AIRTEL mobile company, Bodi Taluk Legal Aid Services Authority, Common Wealth of Learning (COL), M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Representatives of Panchayat Raj Institutions and NIC-Theni, Collector office.

iii) Mobile Information Technology for Rural Advancement (MITRA)

Mobile Information Technology for Rural Advancement (MITRA) is one of the technological initiatives of People’s Education and Development Organization (PEDO), which was established in Dungarpur, Rajasthan in the year 1987-88 after a series of draughts. Its mission is, ‘to strengthen value based people’s institution to utilize existing resources for poverty alleviation and environmental up-gradation’. Since 2004 thousands of tribal dwellers on forest lands in southern Rajasthan are facing the threat of eviction from the forest officials even allegedly destroyed the houses and ravaged tribals’ belongings without due process of law. According to a study carried out in Baran Udaipur and Dungarpur district, there have been a series of malnutrition deaths (Narender, 2005).

PEDO promoted microfinance program among rural women, but found that one of the main stumbling blocks for the development of microfinance has been die capacity to handle the complicated accounting and information processing needs. Hence, PEDO with support from United Nations Development Program, Department of Information Technology (Government of India) and National Institute for SMART Government (NISG) as part of the ICT4D initiatives leveraged MITRA project of mobile technologies for setting up a management information a system for women empowerment through microfinance. The the project uses mobile and web technology to automate the tasks of recording and consolidation of data pertaining to all SHG transactions.

iv) Mahiti ManthanaICT enabled Resource Centres

Mahiti Manthana — ICT enabled Resource Centres is a response to a felt need of an established grassroots program — IT for Change which was registered in 2004 with Mahila Samakhya Karnataka (MSK) which was set up in 1989 to empower socially and economicaUy disadvantaged rural women through self-help group activity. Mahila Samakhya’s women empowerment strategy addresses the foHowing theme areas — education, health, legal literacy, livelihoods, self-governance and community linkages to government institutions. Mahiti Mathana project was situated within the context of the activity of Mahila Samakhya, Karnataka, in Mysore district, within the overall goal of strengthening the information and communication processes of sanghas and federations. The project identified 7 specific objectives were to meet knowledge and capacity needs of sangha women, to address communication and identity-building needs of sangha women, to address information and communication needs of adolescent girls, to build and sustain capacities of MSK resource persons, to enhance intra-organizational Information and Communication processes and the Knowledge Management (KM) activity of MSK, to provide effective access to legal information, and to strengthen linkages to governmental and other agencies.

Models of Technological Initiatives

Women Empowerment in IndiaThe different technological initiatives established by the developmental organizations cater to needs of women and attend to institutional requirements. The divergent requirements demand for multiple technological tools such as community radio, video, television, tele/video conferencing, telephone, mobile phone, voice mail, use of blue tooth, digital cameras, computers with the internet.

  • Community radio: Women are being trained to generate audio-visual content under community radio, which they use for spreading awareness among poor women and rural communities. A large number of programmes on a variety of subjects of health, legal rights, education, social problems, gender, governance, collective strength, etc., and folk songs recorded and broadcasted by women.
  • Mobile phones: Mobile telephones, offer direct and inexpensive means of communication for women’s organizations and enable them to share knowledge on a quick and collective basis (CEEWA, 2005). Besides, in MITRA project, using the blue tooth technology they are able to transfer the group accounts to the individuals and to the officials on time. While in Women Conciliation Centre project, they give lifelong learning through voicemail.
  • Village knowledge centers (VKCs) / Community learning centers (CLCs): Computer literacy was imparted to rural women in these centers for reasonable fees. The primary target groups were the leaders of the women’s groups so that they are able to do accounting and data entry of their groups. In these centers, they had been using video conferencing for the purpose of agriculture, health and marketing too. They also retrieve climatic information from these centers.

Successful Factors

Savings and Economic Venture

As members of the women’s self-help groups, they were introduced to small savings, bank transactions and interactions with government institutions. They stepped forward in economic women empowerment through microfinance and microenterprises. Their regular repayment and periodical meetings have gained the confidence of the financial institutions to support in their entrepreneurial ventures.

Need Assessment

While organizing women in groups, the implementing agencies were on constant search in studying the signs of the time. They had been conducting various meetings, training programmes and workshops to do need assessment. It was encouraging to note that the agencies had employed scientific methods of analyzing the need of the target group. Some of the important tools were Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), Focus Group Discussions (FGD), Baseline survey, Questionnaire, etc.

Effective Practices of Management Process

In the process of management, the implementing agencies had been following some of the effective practices such as stakeholders meetings, preparation of result-based management (UBM) based logical framework analysis (LFA), work plan, time schedules for various project activities, allocation of human resources, monitoring and reporting, quarterly report, training plan, internal evaluation and follow ups.

Integrated Approach

Various needs of women are being attended by the implementing agencies including agriculture, marketing, health, human rights, legal aid, etc. They also teach them to use the technology and try to provide the tools for a reasonable cost to the individuals and groups on the need basis. The women are trained to do the minor repair work so that they dependency level may be minimized.

Role of Stakeholders

The roles of different stakeholders have significantly contributed in the success of the technological initiative. It includes the ordinary women, voluntary organizations, government officials and international corporate sectors. The primary stakeholders were widely the members of self-help group i.e. rural women, farmers, salt workers, students, embroidery workers and tribal women. The secondary stakeholders included the mobile and software companies such us IFFCO-AIRTEL, Vodafone, Microsoft Corporation, Ekgoan Technologies, etc. Besides there were educational institutions and legal aid services authorities also were involved. The tertiary stakeholders were panchayat raj institutions, district collectorate and other government departments.

Each of the stakeholders had a unique professional contribution for the success of the initiatives. The clear role distinction and timely interventions were remarkable. The multiple stakeholders highlighted the importance of team working and coordinated efforts. The implementing agencies were able to play a liaison role with broader thinking and planning. To get the technical assistance in the rural areas is often a strenuous process; however the consistent labours of the implementing agencies have the initiatives successful.

Women Empowerment in India

While introspecting, the involvement of government in the ICT School for Women Empowerment, it was revealed that no major support has been extended by local government during the course of the project.

Constraints of Technological Deployment

Multiple Roles of Rural Women

The multiple roles and responsibilities of women in the rural heavy workloads are one of the major constraints faced by women. Due to the rigid patriarchal system, often the magnitude of labour is never reduced. Hence, it becomes rather difficult for rural women to reach out to a community learning center or village knowledge center to learn new skills.

Financial Restrictions

The initial investments for pioneering a technological initiative or a computer hub demands mega-investments. Even though the cost of mobile is low, still some of the women are not able to own it due to lack of money or stringent attitudes of male members in the family.

Functional Issues

As a large number of women in the ruraJ areas are illiterate or have just primary education, they wish to have the use of technological tools in their vernacular language which are seldom available. Most of the training modules are not in local languages.

Technical Concerns

In most of the rural areas, there is a grave concern for regular electricity and internet connections. In the case of the repair or maintenance, to get the professional help is a herculean task because due to poor roads and Jack of transport facilities, they find it too difficult to reach the villages.

Social Problems

The various social problems faced by women in Indian society have to be addressed. Unless the violence against women, dowry, eve teasing and feminization of poverty is reduced, it may offer a conducive atmosphere for women to have further new learning.

Policy Support

The government is yet to extend ICT policies which are pro-rural poor women. It is a dire need of the hour that the state and central governments come out of policies and programmes which can promote digital literacy and ownership of ICT tools.

Way Forward

Training in Communication

The rural India holds 68.84% of the population in more than six lakhs villages. The successes of women who are engaged in agriculture and its allied activities largely depend upon their wider communication with others. Their production or manufacturing and marketing brings out the better outcome based on their broader networking.

Providing Information

Periodical and prompt education will enlighten them in knowing the various gender issues. It can lead them in an analytical prospective paving the way of becoming content creators and designers of the programmes promoting gender equality.

Technical ‘Know-how’

Women need to own the technological tools first and learn to operate them effectively so that they need not depend on others. It is essential to learn to do the minimum repair in the mobHes and computers.

Liaison between Agencies

The various initiatives have portrayed that liaison between agencies working at the different sectors such as development, gender issues and technology is inevitable. Hence, the implementing agencies need to take at most care to build up teamwork and collaboration.

Empowered Rural Women

Rural women who are used to the technological initiatives gain enhanced self-confidence, improved capacity and sustainable growth. Despite their lower educational status, the trainings given by the implementing agencies can equip them to meet the growing demands. As a result, their economical independence is restored.

Conclusion

Technological initiatives are one of the tools for rural women empowerment which requires reasonable preparatory phase before undertaking any such initiative. They are often preceded by their membership in women’s groups or self-help groups. After space of working together in view, further development technological initiatives are initiated in the common place to receive their training, downloading or retrieving the information.

Technological Initiatives for Rural Women Empowerment in India
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