Women are the real architects of society.
– Harriet Beecher Stowe
We take internet for granted. I know I do. And if you’re here on this blog, reading this article – I’m going ahead and assuming that internet isn’t a luxury for you either, but a regular can’t-do-without commodity. We live in the world where the internet not only helps us find answers, but also suggests and well, talks. (You remember my 4 year old is big on Okay Google, right?)
Between mails and notification, to booking vacations and sharing opinions on social media, we often forget that being able to use the world wide web is not plain routine for most women in India.
India has the world’s second largest internet population with over 400 million users, but only 30% of this are women. According to IAMAI, only 1 out of 10 internet users is a woman in rural parts f the country.
The stats are shocking. We know that internet can do so much good at the grass-root level, and is capable of improving life for women who live in our villages. We know that things can become so much easier if the women working in fields or bringing up young kids in a remote village start using internet.
This is where Google’s Internet Saathi initiative, in association with Tata Trusts, is doing a good job.
I was lucky to witness #DayWithASaathi last week, in a small village near Udaipur, Rajasthan – Chattarpura. And on International Women’s Day, let me share with you the inspiring story of these rural women who are learning how to use internet for their benefit, and are in turn helping other women of the community do the same. Here we go:
About Internet Saathi:
Google India, along with Tata Trusts, launched Internet Saathi in July 2015 with the aim of helping women in rural parts on India understand the benefits of internet, and to utilize it to bring positive and productive change in their day to day life. Today, the program is live in about 60,000 villages across 10 states and 2 million women have already benefited from the program. (Data from Google)
How it Works:
Google trains rural women to explore the various uses of internet, by providing them smart devices and training material through Tata Trusts’ vast network of NGOs and federations across India. These women, or Saathis, then impart the knowledge and training to the larger rural community and neighboring villages. Today, these Internet Saathis have become change agents in each village and are contributing in improving the lives of the entire community in their villages.
My Experience of #DayWithASaathi:
it was a one-of-a-kind experience for me, to be honest. I am from Kota, Rajasthan. So going to Udaipur with Google India was exciting to me, it is my home state. But before this, I never consciously thought about how I treat access to internet as a birth right. I treat a weak WiFi signal as the biggest setback to a working day, and even on offbeat vacations in the Himalayas, I can be found looking surreptitiously for 3G signal.
But in Chattarpura, I realized that internet is not only a necessity for city-dwelling digital media addicts like me, but is a powerful tool to aide progress, empowerment and knowledge.
I spent a lot of time talking to this lively group of women. Some of them had traveled from nearby villages to be a part of this gathering, to meet other women of the group and to share their knowledge and progress with us. Honestly, there is still a lot that can be done by the government for our rural womenfolk – starting from better and easily accessible health care to education. I know a lot of this is happening and is underway, and I’m hopeful. But even when internet access is concerned, the issues are quite a few. Most do not own personal smart phones while some mentioned that the 3G service is dodgy at best.
But – and it’s a good kind of but – the upsides are plenty and promising. Pictures this : The elderly women who cannot read or write, have been taught to use Voice Search. Those who know only Hindi, are learning to use the Google Indic keyboard on smart phones. Kids as young as 3 years old are voice-searching rhymes and fancy dress costume ideas. And something worth a mention – The men folk are not only sharing their smart phones now, but some are also taking advice on agriculture practices, seed quality and soil quality from the women.
If you’ve experienced life in the rural parts of Rajasthan, you know that this is good. This is empowering. This is progress. Here are a few examples, in case you want more.
Grandma Who Shops Online. I sat wide eyed as she told me that she shops online for clothes for her grand-kids. Do you often shop online, I asked. No, mostly I window shop online, she said sending all of us in a fit of laughter.
New mother who Google-s Home Decor DIY. Her elder daughter is 4 years old and her younger is 4 months. She takes care of them, of the family and animals (three buffaloes, two goats) and in her free time – which is far and in between – she searches for home decor DIY ideas. We will make our daughters study to become engineers, she told me as she gave food to a new born calf, we don’t want any more kids. Heartwarming, right?
A farmer’s wife who tailors clothes in her space next to the family buffalo’s area, using stitching patterns and new blouse designs from internet. With the Saathi’s help, she discovered that internet is a ready source for new designs and cloth-cut patterns. Now, armed with a smart phone and internet, she stitches as much as she can and is able to charge more because her designs.
A young girl who started using a smart phone juts three months back, using “Google It!” as regular lingo. She also learns the delicate art of Mehndi (henna tattoo) from the net, and along with her younger sister, has choreographed dances.
I heard a lot of similar stories, as I mingled in this colorfully dressed group of Rajathani women, and each one filled me with an unexpected feeling of pride mixed with hope.
Internet access and knowledge is one of the way to empower women, and Internet Saathi is special because it helps women help other women in turn. Women empowering women is the best way to achieve balance in today’s fast-moving high-pressure society.
When women support each other, incredible things happen.
And this is exactly what Google India and Tata Trusts are trying to do. And for whatever it’s worth, this initiative has my full support. Also, I want to say on record that I won’t take internet access for granted now, ha.
Happy Women’s Day, ladies!
Keep empowering each other.