DHOLPUR, RAJASTHAN: Twenty-five-year-old Kamlesh Kumari, a resident of Sirmathura village in Dholpur district of Rajasthan, is engrossed in a tab, searching for child healthcare tips while her four-month-old daughter sleeps on her lap.
Educated till Class 8, Kamlesh craves knowledge. Mobile phone internet in the village has brought her a ray of hope. A confident Kamlesh not just surfs internet, but teaches other women in the village how to leverage the web.
Internet Saathi – an initiative by Google India under Helping Women Get Online campaign — has been transforming lives of women like Kamlesh in the villages of Dholpur.
Internet, which seemed a distant dream to them, is now a touch away.
“The usage of the internet among women in India is lower than most countries in the world. Only one-third of users are women. This gender disparity was the big concern that we wanted to address,” said Sapna Chadha, marketing head of Google India.
While the Internet users are growing at 56 per cent, the growth rate of women Internet users is only 27 per cent in rural India. Internet Saathi aims to bridge the gender divide in technology that currently puts women in rural India at a bigger risk of getting marginalised in society.
After its launch in 2015, the programme has reached around 4,000 villages across five states – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. More than 100,000 women have been trained so far. There are 1,900 trained women to teach them – their number is increasing by up to 500 a week.
Internet Saathi sends women out on bicycles, armed with a smartphone and a tablet, to let women in villages experience the net.
The initiative has brought changes in the lives of many women — like Gayatri Devi, who has been a teacher since November 2015.
“I never had the opportunity to read a newspaper at home. With the Internet, I can now access news from the whole world,” said Gayatri Devi. She said she has helped her husband set up his own business by collecting information from Internet.
“I want to educate women, so they can earn their livelihood,” she said.
“The internet saathis have become change agents in each village — they take a lot of pride in helping other women to learn Internet. Their social status has improved drastically and they are well respected even by the men of their families and the village heads,” Ms Chadha said.
Mother of two children, 28-year-old Aarti Jagon has been an Internet Saathi since November 2015. Till now, she has taught around 450 women of the village how to use it.
“From healthcare and hygiene to cooking and design, I have learned a lot from the Internet and I am teaching other women. I am grateful to the initiative for making me self-dependent,” beamed Aarti. She earns Rs 2,000 per month for her contribution towards the initiative.
One of the key reasons for low adoption of Internet among women in rural India was low awareness. Moreover, there were hurdles like affordability, social norms and low literacy rates.
“Their inhibition to use a computer was very high but the smartphones’ friendly appeal have made it easier,” Ms Chadha said. To make access easier, tablets and smartphones are also placed in the school premises, community centres, self-help group meeting venues and agriculture centres.
“We provide the devices and train the ‘saathis’. The final roll out of the programme which comprises members of self-help groups and women’s federations is overseen and facilitated by Tata Trusts through its field partners,” said Ms Chadha.