Making women s voices and votes count – an ICT intervention

Date: Sunday, November 9, 2014

New Delhi, India – More than 500 rural women shared their experiences when it comes to using information and communication technology to improve governance and access to women’s rights with each other and a delegation from UN Women that included Executive Director and Under-­‐Secretary General Phumzile Mlambo-­‐Ngcuka, on Sunday in Shihore Block of Bhavnagar district, Gujarat.

The exchange was part of a day-­‐long “information fair” organised as part of the “Making Women’s Voices and Votes Count – An ICT based Intervention” project. Supported by UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality, the project uses information communication technologies to help elected women representatives in local panchayats network with each other and connect with local leaders from marginalised women’s groups. This helps them represent these women’s concerns in local government processes as well as use local media to legitimise women’s perspectives on governance. 

The project uses technologies such as SMS-­‐based networking, community radio and video to enable face-­‐to-­‐face meetings and provide a space for dialogue. It has also set up a network of 17 information centres where different technology tools are used to enhance women’s access to their entitlements and their voices in local governance. Through this, the project has connected more than 800 elected women representatives and recruited a group of “infomediaries” who can reach more than 25,000 households.

In implementing this project, the Fund works with three partners – IT for Change from Karnataka, Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) and Area Networking and Development Initiatives (ANANDI) from Gujarat, and the local platform of elected women leaders “Mahila Swaraj Manch”.

During the initial presentations, Dr Mlambo-­‐Ngcuka commented on the immense potential for technology to overcome gender inequality and reflected on the significant gender divide that continues to exist in the use of information communication technologies around the world.

“They say women are illiterate, but how can they be when they run community radio, when they know what a 99.2 frequency is. This is the real power. You are appropriating technology for your own purposes – ‘disruption’ in technological terms – in a good way. You are producing real content and you are miles ahead of many other nations in the world.”

Dr Mlambo-­‐Ngcuka was joined at the fair by Ms Bhartiben Shiyal, the honourable member of parliament from the Bhavnagar constituency. Being an elected representative herself, she said she is well aware of the challenges that rural women face in discharging their duties in governance. As such she recognised the need for separate space for women in government offices and offered to enable such creation of such spaces. 

On visiting the stalls and seeing the use of GPS to map access to amenities using free and open software, she has expressed her desire to work the women of Mahila Swaraj Manch in the village she has adopted.

Mahila Swaraj Manch was created to work on governance in Gujarat, including with KMVS and ANANDI, through training grassroots elected women representatives to generate awareness regarding their roles and responsibilities, as well as to work towards making the Panchayati Raj system more gender responsive. 

Savitaben, President of Mahila Swaraj Manch and a Dalit ex-­‐Sarpanch of Katodia village says elected women representatives are not the only ones who need information.

“All the women in the village are hungry for information, so we regularly send 'talking messages' through interactive voice recording system to women in 45 villages about Panchayat meetings, schemes, and rights.”

Since the pilot project started in January 2013, there has been a visible change in the attitudes of men towards gender equality, as well as a greater awareness around social issues such as gender justice, safe childbirth, environment protection, water, panchayat and alcoholism thanks to subtle messaging on community radio programmes.

After the official presentations, Dr Mlambo-­‐Ngcuka and the UN Women delegation visited stalls highlighting the different areas of work under the Making Women’s Voices and Votes Count project. Local women leaders shared details of the training modules used within the project, highlighting the benefits of working through the information centres and their abilities in using tools such as computers, tablets and GIS mapping.

The visit was part of Dr Mlambo-­‐Ngcuka’s first visit to India as UN Women’s Executive Director. She will also be participating in the MenEngage Global Symposium held in Delhi from November 10-­‐13.

Media enquiries:

Oisika Chakrabarti
Senior Communications and Media Specialist, UN Women
Tel: 8130278435
Email: oisika.chakrabarti@unwomen.org

Background Information

Making Women’s Voices and Votes Count – An ICT-­‐based Intervention

This multi-­‐site project is supported by the UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality. The partnering organisations in this project are: Area Networking and Development Initiative (ANANDI); Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) and IT for Change. All three organisations have experience of implementing programmes on gender equality using ICTs and the FGE project builds on their prior work.

The project is implemented in the following locations:

  • Shihore and Umrala blocks in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat by ANANDI
  • Nakhatrana and Mundra blocks of Kutch district of Gujarat by KMVS
  • H.D Kote and Hunsur blocks of Mysore district in Karnataka by IT for Change

The project is coordinated and anchored by IT for Change. It commenced in January 2013 and will conclude in June 2015 (2.5 years). It is envisaged that by the end of the project, 1,000 EWRs and 900 leaders from women’s collectives will have been reached out to, besides concentrated intervention with a core group of 122 EWRs across the three sites.

IT for Change is an NGO located in Bengaluru, India, that works for the innovative and effective use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to promote socio-­‐economic change in the global South, from an equity, social justice and gender equality point of view.

Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan was founded in 1989 with the objective of organizing rural women ofKutchto facilitate their empowerment.  The overarching mission of KMVS has  been the empowerment of rural women; And foster their leadership – economic, political, social and cultural – through conscious-­‐raising, organization and their mobilization into local collectives, capable of independently addressing gender inequities in their region.

Area Networking and Development Initiatives (ANANDI), has been working with more than 7000 rural poor women from four districts of Gujarat since 1995. Forming women’s collectives and working towards changing the nature and direction of systemic forces which marginalise women has been an integral component of ANANDI’s work in Gujarat.

About UN Women and the Multi-Country Office (MCO) in India

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) was created at the July 2010 United Nations General Assembly. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide. Based in Delhi, India, the MCO covers four countries: India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The MCO works across four main programmatic areas: Ending violence against women, promoting leadership and participation, national planning and budgeting and economic empowerment.