By Rohini Lakshané (text) and Zulfiya Hamzaki (photos)
Rural women trying to access ICTs in developing countries often face the double whammy of the digital divide and of the constraints and restrictions imposed upon their gender. According to the “Women and the Web” report released by Intel in 2013, only 8.4 percent of the female population in India is online. In the study conducted by Intel, 38 percent women cited “discomfort with or unfamiliarity with the technology as a barrier to them accessing the Internet”. One of the identified solutions to bridge the digital divide for rural women has been consistent training and access to technology using which they can practice lessons from the training.
Khabar Lahariya and Point of View recently concluded the sixth Internet training workshop to equip journalists of the award-winning rural newspaper Khabar Lahariya, which is published in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in six local languages. The editorial teams based in different districts of these states comprise entirely of women. Most of them reside in places with long and frequent power cuts and low Internet penetration. Here are snippets of conversations we had with five of the journalists about their use of ICTs:
“My circle of information has widened since I started using the Internet in 2008. I use the computer extensively for my work. We make the layout of Khabar Lahariya on InDesign. People ask me for help in case they face any difficulties while using the computer or the Internet”, she beams. “I can use Bluetooth on my mobile phone and book tickets online. In villages and towns, being able to use the Internet is a big thing. Not being well versed with the English language is definitely a barrier for us… I have taught my two children [aged ten and eight] to use the Internet. Their teachers express surprise that they already know most of the things taught in computer class. My husband is proud that I can use the mobile phone and the Internet. He says I am one of a kind.”
“I have been using the computer for four years. I want to learn to use Skype, and online maps and navigation… My family is very supportive of me using the Internet. They believe I will make great progress with it. Neighbours, co-workers and friends approach me to help with using the mobile phone – be it to adjust its settings or to add credit to a prepaid SIM card.”
“I started using the Internet in my mid-forties; I don’t use it much… Earlier we were dependent on the computer operator in our office. I did not know how to use the printer but now I can operate the computer and its peripherals well. I only use the computer for work, not for my personal tasks. I take photos for the newspaper using the mobile phone camera and transfer them via a card reader.”
“The computer operator used to scare us that the computer will malfunction or stop working if we touched it. I would not venture near a computer fearing that a breakdown would hamper our work. After completing a computer course as a part of my work and receiving training to use the Internet, I now know it’s the reverse. The more you use it, the better you become at using it. It increases your knowledge and hones your skills. I now correct the computer operator when he makes a mistake. I have also started teaching my four children to use it,” she says. “Lack of access is a problem. I don’t own a computer and I do not get enough time and opportunity to practice using the office computer. I wish to learn more about the Internet and see the entire world through it.”
“I pursued a distance course for my Bachelor of Science degree. I used the Internet to find the references for all the subjects. I use it now for my graduate studies. I can use Twitter, maps, email, and many other things. The only hindrance is my lack of conversance with the English language. I am very interested in technical things. I am told I should considering learning to code in Microsoft .Net… People say Rizwana is always busy with the mobile phone. Long-distance calling is expensive, so I chat on Facebook with my friends living elsewhere in India and the world.”