Unfortunately I lost the post where I had interviewed my mom’s house maid Meena on her telephone usage (I think I still have notes, perhaps to show it up again). I enjoy being curious about how technology impacts people. Once you take the product glitter out, what do they see? A professor was told me how according to him ‘market share’ was a buzzword. Because people didn’t buy products, they buy something that addresses a need. Sometimes these needs are less obvious. I do not think market share is bullshit. But I largely agree with the rest.
|The girls at the FAT centre pic from Shambhavi|
There’s been talk of gender stereotypes and biases often in technology (and carrots). So the ‘empowerment’ and ‘democratizing’ effect it may have is often not fully realized- because the narratives are not entirely true, or complete. I realize the validity of this a lot more now than I did before previously arguing how reservations for girls in engineering schools were not going to help. I am not convinced still, but there are far many new data points now to work with. Recently I’ve been working on how technology impacts women in South Asia, and during my research I came across an organization that is focused on taking Internet (and technology) to women. I had worked on this previously with a Pakistani organization (update on that soon) called Uks. And the reason I got attracted to FAT was this (they are based in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi and on my must-visit-list for the home trip). I read about Zamrudpur: again and again. I tired imagining Yasmin. What was ‘the centre’ giving these girls?
At this point, I decided to ask. I wrote to Shambhavi who works with FAT.
What changes have you seen in the girls over a period of time?
S: We work with young girls and women from the marginalized sections of the society who have very little knowledge and experience about the medium. For them, the biggest challenge is to be able to handle the tools properly as they face numerous barriers such as the inability to understand the digital content which is primarily in English, limited economic or social mobility (this restricts their movement outside or being able to go to cyber cafes in this case), social stigma around cyber cafes (these are seen as transgressive spaces where one gets to interact freely with the members of opposite sex). When they come to our center, one is quickly able to see through all these visible challenges. However, with an increased usage and practice the inhibition goes away, and they gain confidence to express themselves freely over the medium. Along with computer classes, we also have intensive workshops and movie screenings to pique their gender consciousness, and to be able to get rid of their own internalized biases and gain that confidence.
What is your organizational impact?
S: We do our impact evaluation with the help of our student feedback forms and a gradual tracking of the lives of girls who leave our center. Some of the positive indicators include the number of girls who manage to negotiate with their families to delay their marriage, an enhancement in their employ-ability and education prospects. We do realize that a quantitative analysis wouldn’t do justice to the kind of work we do as therefore we lay a strong emphasis on a qualitative understanding.
I was still thinking about Yasmin. When in school I were first going to an Internet café, my mother was severely annoyed. She felt it was something ‘bad’. I am not entirely sure what gave her that notion. But I do remember a 2000 afternoon on the STD booth in college (during off-peak hours) when I spoke to my sister who was absolutely thrilled that we had a new dial-up connection- at home. Now our wow moments are limited to a random whatsapp image that my mother receives. And that too is becoming far too common. In times as these, I find it absolutely refreshing to hear the Zamrudpur stories. Not just to remind myself of how much I sometimes take for granted (and where the respective S-curves are) but to feel what the girls possibly see- at the centre.
Also, they don’t come there for technology and computers, do they? I suspect ‘the centre’ knows.