Digital transformations for gender equality
What is common between a digital weighing machine, a Poshan Champion mobile application, the digitisation of the Adolescent Health curriculum for E-Kaksha and empowering girls who have dropped out of school through skills that get them market competitive employment opportunities? In projects across Rajasthan, innovation and technology have made gradual yet steady inroads to set up a roadmap that may strengthen the foundations for gender equality.
Recent global studies on digital equality highlight that digital transformation’s benefits across high, low and middle-income countries are not reaching most women. In India, too, despite several important initiatives, a significant digital gender gap remains. The Digital Divide India Inequality Report 2022 also highlights a massive gap between how women and men in India use mobiles and the internet. However, it may be argued that carefully thought through intervention with a focus on women as intended users or recipients of the benefit impacts the gender outcomes.
When incentivised to complete their secondary education, girls stay in school longer, thus reducing early marriages and teenage pregnancies. But with pre-metric scholarships not being delivered on time, this becomes a challenge. A systemic approach to streamline the process of enrolment and disbursement through an IT-based scholarship management system has proven to be an effective enabler. For most adolescent girls, this becomes their first interface with a digital system through which they see and experience the digital benefits transformation can bring in terms of increased transparency and more efficient service delivery. This, in turn, makes these girls more prepared to adapt to digitally enabled solutions in their later life both by themselves and their households, thus becoming agents of change to bridge the digital divide.
Another example of making adolescent girls’ future ready for digital solutions can be found in interventions from the Dholpur district of Rajasthan to effectively engage with girls to improve their knowledge of sexual reproductive health (SRH). An innovative Human Centered Design (HCD) approach was undertaken, with one of the outcomes being digitised content developed and uploaded on e-learning platforms (e-kaksha) for broader reach and facilitating classroom transactions. For a state where child marriages are a social norm, this initiative has significantly improved awareness of SRH, specifically contraceptive methods, prevention of HIV/AIDS and contraceptive self-efficacy for girls.
Even more powerful are the glimpses of girls who have negotiated with their families to take up modern-age skill training courses such as healthcare, retail, and information technology and go on to work in these diverse fields. While the objective is to link out-of-school girls from rural and marginalised backgrounds to skill training centres and economic activity, it also increases their agency to make their own life choices, including those around early marriages and pregnancies. But with the ongoing digital transformation in domains like healthcare, retail etc., what such interventions also indirectly achieve is more girls getting versed in the use of digital technology, further bridging the digital divide.
Technology is also playing an essential role in addressing healthcare challenges. Sophisticated point-of-care devices are helping improve service delivery. For example, Rajasthan has deployed innovative IoT-enabled digital weighing machines to measure birth weight accurately. But the real winners are the women nursing staff in the primary and secondary public health centres who are continuously upgrading their digital skills to use these devices and appreciating the value digital technology brings to their service delivery. Healthcare service delivery in the rural and semi-urban areas of the country is not complete without a mention of the community workers. At the frontline of the service delivery, they engage with the women and children during the most vulnerable first 1000 days of a child. Providing helpful information and guidance to these women and ensuring they receive service at the delivery points is their prime role. Custom-built mobile applications are helping facilitate this in a big way. As a primary step, they help monitor a pregnant woman’s and child’s weight. But more importantly, they generate visit triggers and facilitate the delivery of specific messages with the help of audio-visual counselling screens as per the stage of pregnancy or child’s growth. Women engaging as community facilitators now confidently go around these areas as ‘Poshan Champions’ with a mobile app loaded with tons of useful videos, magical screens and data for the government functionaries. We can refer to them as ‘DigiWomen’, bearing the torch for the “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” agenda that we are all gearing up for on this International Women’s Day.
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