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Pollution & HealthWorking Toward Digital Literacy in India

Working Toward Digital Literacy in India

A Just Transition for Women: Working Toward Digital Literacy in India

Radhika Iyengar and Pooja Iyengar
|March 7, 2023

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a world day celebrating the achievements of girls and pushing for motion to speed up gender parity. In line with the United Nations, this yr’s theme is “innovation and technology for gender equality.” Below, examine how researchers on the Columbia Climate School’s Center for Sustainable Development and the non-profit organization Mahashakti Seva Kendra are helping to show digital skills to women in India. 

Allow us to begin with where we’d like to go.

In line with the International Labour Organization, a just transition means “greening the economy in a way that’s as fair and inclusive as possible to everyone concerned, creating decent work opportunities and leaving nobody behind.” Unfortunately, women are losing the battle to accumulate green skills and the green jobs of the longer term. The transition we’re discussing is already dropping the word “just.”

Why are women losing the battle for getting expert? Allow us to take a deeper look. The labor statistics in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa show that more women are joining the informal employment sector. In South Asia, 95% of girls within the labor force are in informal employment. The share for sub-Saharan Africa is 89%.  These large populations joining the informal sector are alarming because much of the activities performed might be unpaid and exploitative.

Further, women are at an obstacle within the job market as a result of the digital divide. The digitization of economies is expanding, however the skilling of girls in STEM and digital literacy  are limited. A UNICEF literature review sheds light on the dearth of digital access and usage specifically for ladies and girls, as a result of social norms, low levels of infrastructure, and costs. The report points out that fifty% of the world’s women are offline. In South Asia, women are 23% less likely than men to own a cell phone. It is a serious drawback with over 90% of jobs worldwide having a digital component.

Within the case for India, there may be a big gender gap within the formal employment sector employment. Women are dropping out. Our organizations — the Columbia Climate School’s Center for Sustainable Development and the non-profit Mahashakti Seva Kendra — are working together to reverse this trend.

Mahashakti Seva Kendra (MSK) is a non-profit working on providing green skills and livelihoods to women in Bhopal, India. MSK currently offers green jobs for around 50 women who reside in nearby re-settlement colonies or slums within the Dwarka Nagar a part of Bhopal. Throughout the organization’s history, many ladies have received trainings to learn skills. The organization has been promoting a “no more chemicals” message in response to the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, where an accident in a pesticide plant released toxic gas across the town. Among the many 800,000 residents of the town, it’s estimated that around 2,000 died instantaneously, with over 300,000 physically injured and as much as 20,000 people dying within the aftermath.

The Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) worked with MSK to develop a digital literacy curriculum that it first implemented in Mahbubnagar, Telangana. The curriculum helped to bridge the digital gender divide by equipping marginalized young to middle-aged women artisans with 1) technical digital skills to assist them grow their businesses and expand their networks, and a pair of) life skills to assist them transform their very own gender biases and perceived barriers. After a fast success at Telangana — under the supervision of Srinivas Akula of The Energy and Resources Institute (one among our collaborators) — the model was tried in Madhya Pradesh State with MSK with the assistance of the Municipal Corporation of Bhopal city.

The curricular framework was developed by Haein Shin and Tara Stafford Ocansey at CSD, and was based on work by CSD economist Nirupam Bajpai. Dr. Bajpai has been working on an economic development model that leverages information, communication and technology (ICT) to catapult social reforms, especially in health and education.

Learning sessions took place within the MSK-run center, which is just for ladies, and timings were designed to suit into their schedules to maximise access. The ladies-only format is predicated on findings that girls in India are more comfortable speaking freely, experimenting with devices, or attending public spaces without men present. Women in India who don’t have access to computers at home shrink back from using men-dominated cyber cafes; thus, this ICT Center provides a protected place.

The curriculum included specially curated audio-visual aids that may help the participants relate to and understand the larger social ecosystem and inform their desirous about biased societal norms. The content inspires discussions about how you can collaboratively develop the boldness to fight against injustices in their very own lives. CSD developed frameworks, facilitator guides, and materials to broach sensitive topics using interactive group activities.

The ICT Center has been operating since 2018 with MSK’s Shivani Batham, a teacher-facilitator who has expanded the lesson plans to incorporate Bollywood film screenings to debate gender topics. The course runs every three months; by now, greater than 100 women have graduated from the middle.

women in saris hold a certificate

A graduation ceremony for essentially the most recent batch of scholars. Photo: Pooja Iyengar

In line with Shivani, getting ICT skills is an important requirement for ladies to work in government service jobs, which many aspire to in India. Nonetheless, as a result of a scarcity of access to computers of their schools and houses, girls get unnoticed of having access to digital skills and employment opportunities. Shivani also received lots of demand for learning how you can use accounting software.

It’s easy for her students to understand digital skills, Shivani says, but she must work hard to spice up their confidence. She conducted many confidence-building activities and gender sensitization icebreakers for the ladies to be open to learning computer skills. Health information, homework help for youths, and oral English language competency skills are other popular topics which have been added to the curriculum.

The MSK program avoids a few of the pitfalls and challenges that girls face in attempting to enroll within the Indian government’s certified technical vocational education and training programs. A study based on interviews with women at MSK’s ICT Center noted that girls needed permission from their members of the family, especially men, to affix those government educational opportunities. The study also revealed that housekeeping and searching after the youngsters was considered primarily the ladies’s job — subsequently, attending a government program with strict hours that require them to be within the classroom during busy household work hours could be difficult. Literacy was also a barrier; while the MSK women knew the essential Hindi language, some were unable to read the complex text required for the federal government program. Due to this fact, it was easier for them to learn on the job and practice while also earning some money from it, which is what the MSK program does.

women pose for a picture outside the school

An alumni meetup recently organized by MSK’s Shivani Batham. Photo: Pooja Iyengar

The study revealed that girls are still restricted by many patriarchal rules and societal obligations. Because of this, women who would really like to get digitally expert and contribute towards the green economy need a complete ecosystem of support to access educational opportunities. For a really just transition, we’d like to open many doors for ladies immediately, in an effort to secure  a fairer future.

Radhika Iyengar is director of education on the Columbia Climate School’s Center for Sustainable Development.

Pooja Iyengar is chairperson at Mahashakti Seva Kendra.


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