Bangladesh mobile help-line for women tops gender and ICT awards
By Mylene Soto
MANILA, PHILIPPINES, 22 September 2005
Pallitathya, an innovative Mobile Help-Line programme via cell phones for underprivileged women in
rural Bangladesh beat 39 other entries from all over the Asia-Pacific to win this year’s Gender and Information & Communication Technology (GICT) Awards sponsored by the Association for Progressive
Communications Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP) and the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP).
Two other projects were selected as runners up: Putting ICTs in the Hands of the Poor, an interactive community ICT centre in India; and eHomemakers, an online network for home-based business from Malaysia.
The GICT Awards 2005 ceremony will be held during the 10th AWID International Forum on Women’s Rights in Development on October 27 to 30, 2005 in Bangkok, Thailand. A knowledge-sharing session will also be
organised in conjunction with the award ceremony.
The 2005 GICT Awards focused on information and communication technology initiatives which promote women’s economic empowerment and development in Asia Pacific. Economic empowerment was defined as the ability to overcome marginalisation and oppressive social norms, provide choices and opportunities for women, provide strong encouragement for women to fulfil their potential, and enable women to acquire the voice and capability to counter their lack of socio-economic-political power in the community.
Emphasising this focus are three major criteria: the use of ICTs to promote women’s economic empowerment and gender equality; upscaling of initiatives and community-centred technologies; and the promotion of
cooperation and social networking.
Winning project, the Pallitathya Help-Line Centre (Call Centre for the Poor and Underprivileged), was conceived by the Development through Access to Network Resources (D.Net) <http://www.dnet-bangladesh.org>
organisation in 2003.
It was based on assessment findings which showed that lack of timely and relevant information was a major bottleneck to rural development, and a leading factor in the exploitation of the underprivileged, particularly women.
The Help-Line deployed women in the community as "Mobile Operator Ladies" who move from door-to-door to enable other women — mostly housewives — to ask questions related to livelihood, agriculture,
health, and legal rights via a mobile phone, while Help-Desk operators respond to the women’s queries with the use of a database-driven software application and the internet.
To expand the information database, resource persons from government, non-government
organisations, health groups and human rights organisations partnered with D.Net to provide a steady stream of responses to frequently asked questions.
With women’s economic empowerment as its centrepiece, the Pallitathya Help-Line Centre directly addressed the community’s information needs on health, education, livelihood, employment and agriculture, while keeping
the beneficiaries’ anonymity intact. As mobile operator ladies, women were consciously given a crucial role as "infomediaries," increasing their self-worth, their potential to earn, and their knowledge about
Women help-desk operators also enhanced their knowledge of issues and considerably improved their communication skills. Women who availed of the Help-Line service professed a higher self-assessment
and realisation of their potential and worth in society, increased incomes, and increased authority over spending decisions.
Dr Ananya Raihan, Executive Director of D. Net said in describing his organisation’s reaction to the award, " I saw the light of inspiration in their eyes. He added, "We would like to go a long way. At this early
stage this recognition will facilitate us to work more and achieve the ultimate target".
For its efforts, D.Net’s Pallitathya Help-Line Center will receive a cash prize of US$8,000, while the two runners-up will each receive US$3,000. Representatives of each project will also be supported to
attend the AWID Forum, where more than 2,000 women’s rights activists, academics, policy makers and students from all other the world are expected to converge.
BUILDING BUSINESS THROUGH ICTS IN INDIA AND MALAYSIA
"Putting ICTs in the Hands of the Poor", <http://www.datamationfoundation.org/economic.htm> a theme project of the Seelampur Community ICT Centre project, is a tripartite alliance among Datamation Foundation Charitable Trust, the UNESCO, and the Babul-Uloom-Madrasa, an orthodox Muslim religious school in India.
Seelampur is a Muslim minority ghetto marked by extreme poverty.
A modern ICT centre was set up within the Babul-Uloom-Madrasa to provide a venue for Muslim women to learn from interactive multimedia packages on vocational skills, small businesses, and human and legal rights.
The ICT Centre also established support mechanisms in the form of capacity-building, marketing and financial networking for the women to engage in income-generating opportunities.
Skills and vocational modules in CDs made available to the women of Seelampur ranged from tailoring, embroidery, candle making and liquid soap making to management of courier and tiffin centres, basic literacy,
confidence-building and personality development.
The Centre also established a local community website called eNRICH <http://enrich.nic.in/>, where women get basic computer training and record their concerns on health, education, livelihood, and other matters related to the community’s needs.
The eHomemakers of Malaysia, was founded in 1988 as the "Mothers for Mothers" network which empowered home workers, teleworkers, home business owners and those who wanted home-based careers to improve their socio-economic status.
Through the eHomemakers website <http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/index.php>, community members are able to network with each other via the Xchange section, print newsletters, organise activities to advertise their products and services for free, teletrade, barter exchange, and find teleworking assignments, while
working within their homes.
Sections such as Homebiz Management, Home-based Profiles, and IT Tips and Tricks enable women to efficiently work from home, pursue entrepreneurial ventures, and sustain home businesses.
A Forum Board facilitates networking and exchange of ideas and actual experiences, while experts in business development and entrepreneurship respond to frequently asked questions. The eHomemakers network targets women in the low-income group, including unemployed single mothers with young/disabled children, the disabled and chronically ill to work at home, through the strategic use of ICTs.
GENDER AND ICT AWARDS 2005
The GICT Awards 2005 <http://www.genderawards.net/> was open to civil society organisations, community-based groups, networks and social movements in Asia Pacific, with women, particularly, girls, as target beneficiaries. The Awards were founded in 2003.
The Association for Progressive Communications Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP) is a global network of women who support women networking for social change and women’s empowerment through the use of ICTs <http://www.apcwomen.org/>.
The Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP) is the leading international multi-stakeholder network committed to harnessing the potential of information and communication technologies (ICT) for sustainable and
equitable development. Ranging from grassroots practitioners to policy-makers, GKP members and partners are innovators in the practical use of ICT for development <http://www.globalknowledge.org/>.
The Gender and ICT Awards is supported by the the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) <http://www.sdc.admin.ch/> and the Department for International Development (DfID), United Kingdom