Syed Mustafa Ahmad
With the advent of science and technology, the need for technological skills has assumed more importance. Being literate is not enough. Literacy has now changed into digital literacy. Digital literacy is important both for men and women. In our country, the need to impart digital education to women in particular and men in general can’t be overlooked. Among 130 crores of people, half are women. They, unlike men, are exploited at every stage. Their social life, economic life, political life, moral life, etc., is miserable. They lack everything. But the most important thing they lack is literacy. It is almost a conspiracy to let them remain backward. Their enlightenment will shake the mindless rituals of society. They have been taken for granted since time immemorial.
Everywhere there is a hue and cry that women should be empowered. But when it comes to reality, there is nothing. There, in fact, is barbarity. Now, to some extent, the people at the helm of affairs have understood that it is in the best of interests to give women what they are entitled to. Nevertheless, it will take centuries to do so. Here, we look at an innovative collaboration between Facebook and Government of India to empower women.
Basically, digital literacy has been defined as the ability of individuals and communities to understand and use digital technologies for meaningful actions. Any individual who can operate computer/ laptop/ tablet/ smartphone/ and use other IT related books is being considered as digitally literate. Recently, Facebook launched the ‘ We Think Digital’ programme in partnership with the National Commission for Women (NCW) and Cyber Peace Foundation to provide digital literacy training to 1,00,000 women across seven states of Uttar Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, and Bihar. Its objective is create digital leadership amongst women and help them use technology to empower themselves, enable them to make smart choices, and be secure from online risks. Starting from the state of Uttar Pradesh, the programme will be expanded to other states including Assam, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, and Bihar throughout the year. The programme will focus on digital literacy and citizenship, addressing issues around privacy, safety and misinformation.
The status of digital literacy among women can be understood by this fact that digital gender gap in India is huge. Less than a third of India’s total internet users are female, that is 29%. Globally in developing countries, the number of women using the internet is 12% less than men. The reasons for low digital literacy amongst women are manifold. The first among them is social conditioning. Women often do not make use of ICTs meant to empower them because of several obstacles such as lack of self confidence, low self-esteem, illiteracy, averseness to use of modern technology, and the second cause is affordability. Mostly due to poverty and lack of resources, they are unable to afford computer and internet services. Given that women on average earn 25% less than men globally, high internet prices discriminate disproportionately against women. The third reason is digital skills and education. Women face several barriers such as lack of competence in use of equipment, lack of training facilities, etc. India is making slow progress on providing digital literacy training and internet access in public institutions at large scale.
The fourth cause is the situation the in rural sphere. Women in rural India face multiple issues that prohibit them from gaining digital literacy, such as lack of education, awareness, accessibility and often restrictions because of their gender. The fifth is online safety. Mostly, police and courts are still not equipped to handle ICT mediated violence and harassment cases, and there is no legislation to protect the privacy of data and communication.
The process of digital literacy and digital inclusion is significant for women because of accession to financial services. Knowledge of and access to these digital services such as mobile money services can empower women to start small businesses and give them greater control over their money and savings. This has positive implications for their communities as women globally reinvest about 90% of their income into the households. For example, M_Pesa mobile money service in Kenya has gained much traction in development circles. M_Pesa has lifted 2% of Kenya’s households out of poverty. The results are most compelling for female beneficiaries. Another advantage of this process is increasing activism and participation in campaigns against gender inequality. Women’s ability to connect and mobilise via social media and the internet is increasingly vital to the success of campaigns against gender inequality. For example, #Delhi GangRape resulted in anti rape provisions being built into India’s Criminal Code. #Sendeanlat (‘tell your story’) has generated national discussions on violence against women in Turkey. #metoo brought the issue of workplace sexual harassment to the fore globally.
The internet means access to a wealth of information,but it also means women’s ability to communicate with each other freely, regaining a sense of agency as they teach themselves new skills. For example, it may be deemed appropriate when girls and women ask questions regarding sensitive subjects like reproductive health, sex, religion, politics and social norms. Internet has a wide range of resources that can provide women with information about their health and well-being. Moreover, it gives access to educational resources. The biggest benefit of being digitally literate is that there is a plethora of free learning resources online. From YouTube videos to educational apps, one can use these platforms to supplement education, learning of new skills, etc.
Furthermore, digital literacy helps women to fight social discrimination through digital inclusion. A study on mobile phone ownership and usage by women in India found that households where women had mobile phones reported lower tolerance for domestic violence and higher women’s autonomy in mobility and economic Independence. Last but not the least, it helps to counter cyber threat. With the advent of laptops, smartphones and online learning, there is an urgent need to give girls the tools to be safe in this online environment, as new challenges, such as cyberbullying, make it critical to equip girls with the relevant skills and awareness.
Thus, we must see “digital gender divide” as “digital gender opportunity”, as it will present a tangible opportunity for women to tackle long-standing challenges of gender inequalities, including access to employment, income, education and health services. The world is changing. We can’t let our women remain in darkness. Every religious principle is so distorted in favour of men that it looks impossible to talk about the rights of women. Everyone is concerned about the duties of women but no one is ready to fight for the rights of women. The Muslims are the first group that should be blamed for the backwardness of women in the world. No property rights are given to Muslim women. Their voices are choked. How can we set the houses of other women in order when our own houses are defective? We have to rise to the occasion. On the day of judgement, we all have to pass through this test when Almighty Allah will seek answers from us as to why we failed when we had all the opportunities. The need of the hour is to change the mindsets towards women. They are not children producing machines. They are not sex objects as well. They have lives just like men. They need to be empowered. They need respect. They need love and care. They want someone to understand them. Shun the attitude of gender stereotypes.