Chapter Nintey-four: Women from the margins are leading the way!

‘Women Empowering Women’ documents the journey of several women who’ve fought against struggles and built their own enterprise from scratch. Their process of personal and social change along with gaining power and control over their life’s choices, is what makes their stories of empowerment worth giving a read. Digital empowerment for these women was like a multi-dimensional process which enabled them to unlock their true potential and identities. They developed businesses and were financially independent, which for them was a turning point in life. Digital Empowerment Foundation has helped them provide a platform for achieving functional digital literacy and is extremely delighted to see their growth as important individuals in society. On the basis of patriarchal views, women have suffered, but now they have the opportunity to succeed in all spheres of life and this is a testimony of such transformations.

(Today's TypeRight is a selection of excerpts from our publication of stories by these women. You can take a look at the full book here. )

Sabita, Entrepreneur from Bharatpur, Rajasthan

Learning and feeding myself with knowledge has always been something I have loved to do. But my education was short lived because I had to take up my family’s responsibilities at a very young age which meant I had to marry and take care of the household. But I never wanted to stop this road towards learning so whatever piece of information came my way I made sure to look it up in detail and be aware about other such current affairs. Some of my friends knew how much I loved to learn which is why they told me about DEF. Soon my current mentor approached me and requested me to be a part of that learning initiative. I said yes, because I thought why not? I didn’t take much time to learn the basics, and all I wanted to do was gain as much knowledge as possible. But one day my mentor introduced me to the most fascinating thing ever - Google. Google was the powerhouse of knowledge and everything that the human brain could think of was readily available on Google. But before we actually delved into learning more about it, my mentor told me that anything and everything available on the internet had its benefits and disadvantages, and that we must always be consciously aware of these disadvantages that come our way. That I think was one of the most important pieces of advice that someone had given to me and I am grateful to her for that. Soon I began my research online. In school I had loved mathematics and so whenever I got the chance I would Google maths concepts and when I came across calculations that were large and tedious, I would use the inbuilt calculator on my phone. This is how I also came across the Digital India scheme that had been launched and I was the happiest person on the planet then! Google helped me boost my knowledge to a much greater extent and I am grateful to DEF and my mentor for introducing me to it.”

Mamavati, Entrepreneur and Mentor, from Barabanki, UP

“Life wasn’t easy and I definitely knew that. But there are some who stay silent and bear the brunt, then there are those who speak up and fight. I belonged to the former who only got involved in farming and household chores for a living. But things changed, when I came across DEF through one of my friends. It took me quite a bit of courage to accept the organisation’s work and be one of them, because this meant giving up farming and adequately managing both jobs simultaneously. Fortunately, I decided to fight the odds and make the world a better place in my own way. I gathered the women of my district and explained to them how DEF wanted to work them with. I faced a lot of reluctance from the women’s families, because lack of exposure and dependency are exactly what women are associated with in villages. What kept me going was newfound courage and an unwavering belief in doing good to others. Yes, I was scared and nervous, but it changed when the women started responding to my efforts. I taught them the functioning of a smartphone and how they could use it to expand their businesses. Sometime later, two of those women inaugurated their own beauty parlour and perfume shop. That was when I felt proud of myself and the work I had done. My courage changed myself and I was no longer a housewife, but an inspiration for many. Little did I know that my time at DEF would provide me with a new path to walk on. Since the summer of 2021, I along with the women of Barabanki, have taught one another how to sew and get inspired from designs on Google, how to link our Aadhaar cards, how to store important documents etc. While we have gained knowledge, I say that we have also gained experience in the process. I now love going out, meeting new people, talking to them about their problems and collectively finding a solution!

If I could change one thing about the world, it would be spreading awareness about the benefits of education to every person so that no one misses out on the opportunity of being successful and self-motivated. Therefore, in my opinion, despite all the obstacles that come our way, we must never be discouraged and instead go all the way and etch our names as inspirations for our future generations. I think that I have inspired other women to be brave and never let anyone or anything stop them from being the best version of themselves, just like I have inspired myself.

Poonam Utwal, Mentor and Entrepreneur, from Alwar, Rajasthan

“People say ‘ghoonghat’ (face covering veil) doesn’t belong in this century, but districts like Alwar are still veiled and kept out of view. I knew several women like me who were ordinary homemakers and were held captive within the walls of traditions and customs, not allowed to move ahead. But one day when I first heard about DEF through an advertisement, a thought striked my mind. We may not be able to control all the events that happen to us, but what we can decide to do with those situations is entirely upon us. That was when I joined DEF as a trainer, five years ago.

When I went to several women’s houses, I was being looked down upon by their families. They were of the view that digital education or education of any form was not meant for women. This is why several of their talents like art work, sewing, handicrafts, etc. went unexplored. We started teaching with a very small number, but you know, each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women. That’s how our numbers increased, and soon we had budding women entrepreneurs of Alwar. Looking at these women work for success, their families encouraged them too. What developed next was immense friendship between all of us.

I never have to go back to their houses to call them, instead they approach me whenever required and take the initiative to meet and learn from each other. We are the strongest when we cheer each other on. Even though we live in the 21st century, women are being ignored. They are being deprived of opportunities for no reason! If I had all the power in the world, I would change this ignorant attitude towards women all around the globe. Sometimes I wonder, what if I had given up at the beginning? What if I had complied with society’s wishes? But fortunately I didn’t and I never regret my choice. My struggles are now my strengths. Without them I would have never grown as a person.

I am grateful for the fact that I came across an organisation that helped me connect with women I relate to, with women who pave the way for themselves and in the process, inspire women like me. Five years ago, I would have never dreamt of being this confident woman I am today. But now, I have several dreams to fulfil and numerous milestones to achieve.”

Pooja, runs a Kirana Store, in Guna, MP

“In a village, the stance of the society is quite backward. The adults think that boys are the future for their households as they are going to be the breadwinners of the next generation. People have this subconscious mindset to care more about men rather than the women. But in DEF I could see the light that could obliterate the darkness of this discrimination. I faced a lot of discrimination when I stepped up to start just a Kirana store. That is, it was just a Kirana store to them. To me it was an open declaration of defiance from the social norms that had lived on for too long. People would scoff at me saying that I did not have what it took to run a business. Though I have proved this wrong as my business still stands today, one year after I started it, profiting from the same people who wanted me to fail. There will always be people like them who do not want to change anything that is wrong in the world because they want the world to be familiar to them. No heed should be paid to people like them. In fact, I took up this challenge to prove that slowly but surely, the way of the world is changing. If you do not choose to ride the wave then you will be the one drowning under it. This perception has been inspired by the women whom I have seen working on the phone with the help of DEF. I realise that what I am doing is fairly simple compared to the complicated situations and prejudices that other women face. I am moved by the fact that they are able to push forward without giving this any attention.

I want to be like that, which is why I have stopped fretting over small instances of people ridiculing me and pointing fingers at me. The frequency of these instances have also decreased by time as people have started adapting to the new norms around them. I have no worries about the future as I believe that everything will work itself out. That is the least you can expect from the ongoing agendas of society. Everybody will want to even everything out. Till then it is the job of women like me to fight on until social justice is achieved and a girl can be treated as a child and not girl child.”

Madhumati, Fruit Seller, Khunti, Jharkhand

“I have a lot of roles in this society. I am first and foremost a housewife but after which I am also into the fruit business and now, I am thinking of starting and expanding a sewing business to cap it all off. It’s a lot of things for somebody to do. I was always this dedicated human being who if sets her heart and mind onto something knows that she has to get it done. That was what helped me manage two businesses and my household simultaneously. But I am content with going through these three roles just for my pure happiness. I take pride in knowing that every hour of my day is not wasted in lazing around.

DEF has taught me this work ethic and I do not intend to lose it until the day I retire. The use of a simple thing such as a phone has helped on this path. It used to be so bad that I didn’t even know how to charge my phone. I did not know that you have to plug the charger on the wall and then plug the other part of it to your phone so that it would get charged and run through the day. I used to have a phone which would take 5 to 6 days to completely drain its battery and then my family would charge for me so I never knew. But along with having a good battery life that phone also came with a lot of limitations. The smartphone on the other hand helps me study the art of sewing as well as sell my fruits to the customers in the area. It showed my customer that I had a good harvest most of the time and that I was a trustworthy person to buy fresh fruit at great deals. As soon as I joined the program everything sort of worked for me but it does not go as smoothly as it did for me. Some people have to work more for the same prize. I would say the one thing that I want to change in the world is the point of mistrust. In India especially, people usually don’t trust women with taking on work but I want to show that anybody can do anything as long as they put their backs into it. You need to have genuine interest in it and you can do it as easily as the other person. It does not take much from you but it returns to you a lot in terms of benefits in my life. I have these benefits and so I have this happy life which I thank the stars for every day.”

Afsana, from Nuh, Haryana

I did household chores and also took care of a family. I had a small mobile phone earlier, but I didn’t know much about mobile phones. Once I met Sabana Bai, DEF’s Digital Sarthak, she told me about the various digital literacy initiatives that the organisation has in place for women. Under this program I was identified by her as a trainee to receive digital literacy training. My mentor asked me to spend some time with her and I observed the way she would speak to people. I wanted to become comfortable in my interactions with people and so I closely observed her for a long time. Slowly I started feeling more confident about myself as she mentored me and made me believe in myself. Along with giving us knowledge about digital tools and their functions, she has helped me and so many women in my village overcome their fears and express themselves freely. I never used to think that women could express themselves so freely but interacting with her and the other women in this program really motivated me to step out, express myself and become more confident.

So far I have been in six training sessions wherein I have learnt about calling, connecting using WhatsApp, running YouTube channels, searching on Google, removing photos and videos, and how to talk to customers. I also helped my husband by taking this training, as he also did not have much knowledge about mobile phones. So I taught him as well. I do not make online payments because I have a small shop in the village, so here the customers pay by cash. Me and my husband are very happy because earlier we didn’t even have a smartphone and now we use it without any problems. We use it to earn money, learn new things and also to pass our time by watching YouTube videos. I have learnt how to converse using a phone, how to sell and market products online, how to do market research and much more.

Earlier I was reluctant about talking to outsiders and would get nervous about going out alone but spending time with Sabana ji has helped me gain confidence. Along with me many other women in our village have learnt about digital tools and how to use them to reach out to more people. Now I am able to do all of these things by myself as I have become comfortable with digital devices.”

The villages mentioned here are some of the mist economically backward districts in the country. Our goal has been to empower women in these communities digitally so that they become entrepreneurs who can sustain themselves and help uplift other women in the community. You can find this book and more in our publications page.

In other news

If you remember a previous story we had highlighted about several anganwadis resorting to biometric and aadhaar to give mid day meals, this report suggests it might be a continuing trend:

This is in the backdrop of incidents such as the report below:

In some lighter vain, this piece looks at a new trend of Vloggers that have become an internet sensation across Kerala.

DEF Updates

This year's edition of Community Network Exchange was at Guwahati last week:

Some Glimpses from the event:

Global Conference on Cyber Capacity Building -GC3B announces the Accra Call, where DEF had also been a participant. Read more here:

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TypeRight - The Digital Nukkad

TypeRight - The Digital Nukkad, is a weekly conversational bulletin curated through the news and discussions on social media as well as what's happening on the ground. Through the eyes and ears of Digital Empowerment Foundation across rural India and global south, TypeRight aspires to focus on bringing the contextual relevance of digital technologies and developments on the society - both connected and unconnected.