So­cial Devel­op­ment

Bangladesh’s well-known Info Ladies bring em­ploy­ment and tech­nol­ogy to ru­ral ar­eas and also cre­ate aware­ness on so­cial is­sues.

Southasia - - Contents - By Asma Sid­diqui

Cy­ber Women Bangladeshi women bring tech­nol­ogy to ru­ral ar­eas

Bangladesh con­sti­tutes the eighth most pop­u­lated na­tion in the world with a pop­u­la­tion of 142.3 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the 2011 cen­sus re­ports. In 1951, when the re­gion was a part of Pak­istan and was known as East Pak­istan, Bangladesh’s pop­u­la­tion stood at 44 mil­lion. Hav­ing grown ex­po­nen­tially, the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion is rel­a­tively young with 60 per­cent of the pop­u­lace un­der 25 years and 3 per­cent above 63 or more.

De­spite this, the Bangladeshi com­mu­nity is not very well-in­formed and so­cially ac­tive. In or­der to pro­vide cru­cial, ac­tion­able in­for­ma­tion re­lated to health, ed­u­ca­tion, farm­ing, job search, spe­cific agri­cul­tural in­put or le­gal aid, a new trend of “Info Ladies” has erupted in so­cial ac­tivism. The project comes at a time when only about 5 mil­lion peo­ple in the coun­try have ac­cess to the in­ter­net. The Info Ladies project en­tails cred­i­ble trust-agents who help ru­ral women and peo­ple liv­ing in slum ar­eas to over­come triple lit­er­acy bar­ri­ers: for­mal il­lit­er­acy (so­cial), ICT il­lit­er­acy (tech­no­log­i­cal) and in­for­ma­tion il­lit­er­acy (po­lit­i­cal). Groups of Info Ladies bike to re­mote ar­eas in Bangladesh, car­ry­ing lap­tops and in­ter­net con­nec­tions. In do­ing so, they cre­ate aware­ness of tech­no­log­i­cal in­for­ma­tion and al­low

ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to in­ter­act with a global world.

Equipped with low cost so­lu­tions, Info Ladies of­fer ser­vices that cater specif­i­cally to the marginal­ized with­out the need to telecom­mute. A range of com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices are pro­vided to help ru­ral ci­ti­zens over­come their prob­lems, be it so­cial net­work­ing ( con­nect­ing ru­ral women with their hus­bands abroad us­ing Skype), per­sonal con­cerns ( pro­vid­ing health ser­vices on the phone) or other ser­vices that in­clude shar­ing pho­tos on­line, send­ing emails and pro­cess­ing im­por­tant doc­u­ments. Apart from pro­vid­ing tech­no­log­i­cal ser­vices, Info Ladies also con­duct health sem­i­nars and con­duct check­ups for preg­nant women. In or­der to cre­ate so­cial aware­ness, they pro­vide ad­vice on nu­tri­tious di­ets, con­tra­cep­tive tech­niques and out­comes us­ing their mul­ti­me­dia ser­vices. In ad­di­tion to this, they also sup­ply con­tra­cep­tives, health and med­i­cal equip­ment to ru­ral women, who sel­dom visit shops to pur­chase such goods due to so­cial stig­mas and cul­tural bar­ri­ers. Such unique ser­vices en­sure both devel­op­ment out­comes for ru­ral women and in­come gen­er­a­tion for Info Ladies.

As men­tioned on the projects web­site, “the project sys­tem­at­i­cally cre­ates a self- sus­tain­able knowl­edge net­work in ru­ral Bangladesh. The project cur­rently of­fers ICT en­abled self- em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for the ed­u­cated ru­ral women. An es­ti­mated 196 women have re­ceived liveli­hood in­for­ma­tion and an­cil­lary ser­vices from 23 Info Ladies. Th­ese Info Ladies have been the rea­son for im­prov­ing in­come lev­els of 13,631 ben­e­fi­cia­ries and have saved the cost of liveli­hood for 43,276 fam­i­lies. Their sup­port and ad­vice to peo­ple on loss or dam­age of poverty, life is­sues and ad­vice on var­i­ous rights have ben­e­fited 2832 ru­ral peo­ple. With sup­port from lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, com­mu­ni­ties and government, it is very likely that Info Ladies will one day sup­port and im­pact as many women and oth­ers to make de­cent liveli­hood out of th­ese im­por­tant ser­vices.”

Through­out the day, Info Ladies move from house to house, serv­ing as a source of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween peo­ple. Apart from be­ing the fo­cal point of con­tact be­tween lost, bro­ken fam­i­lies, Info Ladies of­ten solve liveli­hood prob­lems of peo­ple through in­ter­ac­tive mul­ti­me­dia.

Through­out the day, Info Ladies move from house to house, serv­ing as a source of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween peo­ple. Apart from be­ing the fo­cal point of con­tact be­tween lost, bro­ken fam­i­lies, Info Ladies of­ten solve liveli­hood prob­lems of peo­ple through in­ter­ac­tive mul­ti­me­dia.

Au­dio- vis­ual con­tents demon­strate so­lu­tions to liveli­hood prob­lems, which are more ap­peal­ing to il­lit­er­ate tar­get groups. The project has also devel­oped a small doc­u­men­tary on safe preg­nancy to cre­ate aware­ness.

In ad­di­tion to this, the “Jeeon IKB” ( In­for­ma­tion and Knowl­edge Base) of­fers in­for­ma­tion on agri­cul­ture, health, ed­u­ca­tion, le­gal & hu­man rights, en­trepreneur­ship etc. All con­tent is pre­sented in the lo­cal lan­guage ( Bangla) and Info Ladies pro­vide in­stant re­sponses to ques­tions from lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. For in­stance, a farmer can read­ily ac­cess in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to manag- ing in­sect prob­lems to pro­tect crops and in­crease yields. An­other im­por­tant life­line pro­vided by Info Ladies to lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties is to ac­cess im­por­tant on­line ser­vices. Key ser­vices in­clude ap­ply­ing on­line for the USA Di­ver­sity Visa Pro­gram, down­load­ing var­i­ous government forms, check­ing pub­lic ex­am­i­na­tion re­sults and ap­ply­ing to jobs on­line. The most sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment of the pro­gram is the cre­ation of home based ICT jobs for ru­ral women. More than of­ten, women with an ed­u­ca­tion of up to class XII or less, rarely find a de­cent job due to a dearth of op­por­tu­ni­ties in ru­ral ar- eas. Home based ICT jobs, cre­ate self- em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­nu­mer­able women.

The ini­tial sup­port for the pro­gram came from lo­cal foun­da­tions and in- kind sup­port from D- Net. This in­cluded grants from donors, lo­cal in­sti­tu­tions and re­source sup­port from government in­sti­tu­tions. The ra­tio­nale be­hind seek­ing sup­port from lo­cal foun­da­tions, lo­cal civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions and government in­sti­tu­tions was de­lib­er­ate to en­sure sus­tain­abil­ity from the very in­cep­tion of the pro­gram.

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