Armed With Smartphones, Rural Women Are Marking Their Digital Footprints

Internet Saathi programme is an initiative by Google to overcome digital gender disparity.

Armed with a smartphone, 26-year-old Pushpa Bunker travels from village to village in Rajasthan to introduce rural women to the world of internet.

In Chhatripara village alone, she has taught over 600 women within a year on how to browse the internet for not just learning but also earning.

She has been a part of Internet Saathi programme, an initiative by Google to overcome digital gender disparity that started two years ago.

It has been an exciting journey for her, said Ms Bunker, who introduced women to the online world where they were taught to look for fresh henna designs, videos on stitching, information on farming, cattle rearing.

“When I got to know that women are being trained to learn the internet, I immediately joined,” she said, adding, “now there is no looking back. I am happy, and content. Apart from learning, I am also helping someone every day.”

Rural women are learning to handle smartphones and browse the internet.

One of her trainees, Sushma Minawala, a mother of two, who couldn’t even use a simple phone till a few months ago is now looking at the world, as if with a fresh pair of eyes.

“Pushma Didi taught me how to use the phone and then the Kisan Suvidha app. Now I have learnt how to choose the right quality of seeds, the best way to sow and which pesticide to spray for a healthy crop,” said Ms Minawala joyfully.

With app-based guidance, Ms Minawala now has a thriving kitchen garden. She now grows enough for her family all year round and the remaining, she sells.

Another trainee Prem Lata, who is a seamstress, keeps looking for new sari blouse designs online.

Finding the right inspiration and techniques, she wants to push her business to new heights. “I now charge much more for my work as am stitching intricate designs, better neck styles. So instead of Rs 50 a blouse, I am now charging Rs 100,” she says proudly.

Women gather in a training session by Internet Saathi.

Like Ms Maniwal and Ms Lata, many rural women across the country have found a new way of life and have become financially independent.

According to a survey by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), only one of 10 rural women in India have access to the internet.

Gauri Gehndot, a resident from Jharka village in Banswara district has also been trained as an Internet Saathi. There was a time when she did not even know how to use a smart phone but now, she has been a part of changing lives of more than 500 rural women.

Ms Gehndot says that her family’s support pushed her to do something meaningful with her life and after being introduced to the world of internet, she is now able to reach out to other villagers effectively.

“Now I am very well recognised and respected in the village by not only women and children but also men,” she added.

By using new digital applications and designs, Prem Lata who is a seamstress, is able to apply it in her designs and earn more now.

Jyoti, 20, is in the second year of her college. With a strict father at home, she was not allowed to even touch a phone. But things have changed now. After being trained in using online tools, Jyoti is now financially independent.

“After I learnt to use a phone and browse the internet, I started looking for new henna designs. Now I am called for all the village weddings as well as other festivals to apply henna,” she said.

She shares that she is earning well and also learning how to dance by looking at videos online. “What makes me happiest is that now my parents are proud of me,” she added.

There are 18,000 saathis like Ms Bunker and Ms Gehndot who go from village to village and train women to use smartphones and other internet tools. Meenu Handa, Head of Coporate Communications, Google India said, “The digital literacy initiative has now reached over 60,000 villages across 10 states and over 20 lakh women have been benefited from it.”

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