Gender and ICT Awards

International Recognition to innovative and effective projects by women to use ICTs for the promotion of gender equality and /or women's empowerment. An initiative of APC Women's Networking Support Programme and the Global Knowledge Partnership
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A Help-line, vocational CDs and eHomeworkers get thumbs up in Tunis

Tunis, Tunisia [APC] - While negotiations on internet governance were taking place a few corridors down the hall on November 16, three projects received the honours of the 2005 Gender and ICT Awards. The 2005 GICT Awards [1] focused on information and communication technology initiatives which promote women's economic empowerment and development in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Pallitathya Help-line, a call centre for the poor and underprivileged, run by D.Net -Development Research Network of Bangladesh- was the big winner that day in Tunis (November 16), where the UN organised World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was unfolding. The runner-ups were "Putting ICTs in the Hands of the Poor", a project of the Datamation Foundation Charitable Trust of India and the EHomemakers initiative, run by the Malaysian association of the same name.

The winner [Bangladesh]

"Our project, focussed on providing timely and relevant information to villagers in rural Bangladesh, has made it!" expressed Mahmud Hasan to APCNews, just after the presentation of the GICT awards. The ecstatic project coordinator of the Pallitathya Help-Line talked passionately about the accomplishments of this grassroots project, obviously pleased with the outcome of this year's gender and ICT awards.

Pallitathya Help-Line project is based on an original communication system adapted to the needs of rural populations with scarce access to information about health, education, legal procedures or administrative hassles. "Mobile Operator Ladies" regularly visit remote villages and gather questions that villagers formulate. They then perform or request help to research the information and return to the communities for another round of consultations. Also called "infomediaries", these women come from the villages they work in and actually enhance their knowledge of issues and improve their communication skills, while at the same time earning their own income, independently from the males in the family.

"But the women that use the Help-Line also gain tremendously from the experience since they increase their self-esteem by using this service and eventually even increase their authority over spending decisions," explained Hasan. The project has been tested and used for several months in a row and because of its impressive success, it will be continued and broadened in the future.

Empowering women straight from the madrasa [India]

The "Putting ICTs in the Hands of the Poor" runner-up project is developed by the Seelampur Community ICT Center [2]. "This award is a recognition for the dedication of the women of the Seelampur Muslim community participating in the project," says a smiling Sarita Sharma, coordinator of the project.

Sharma explains to the listeners seated in a half-circle in the exposition space of the bustling Tunis summit, that the project is designed to encourage livelihood skills among women through vocational CDs, providing computer skills training, and developing linkages for marketing women's traditional arts and crafts products.

The women of the Muslim minority of Seelampur live in extreme poverty and struggle to gain access to information and knowledge to better their living conditions. As a clear sign that this project was to address this imbalance head­on, the ICT Center -with the help of a prominent "ulema" religious leader- was set up inside a madrasa, which traditionally was a religious learning space reserved to males.

"Of all projects, Seelampur ICT Center stood out on the basis of its thorough step-by-step approach to empowering women," underlined Mylene Soto, 2005 GICT Awards Coordinator. After augmenting their skills in tailoring, candle making, confidence-building and embroidery though didactic CDs, the women organise in "self sustaining self-help groups" and carry on the learning and knowledge exchange process in an autonomous fashion.

"The idea is to engage the women in generating income," expands Sharma, after mentioning the Seelampur Art [3] website that the women use to market the fruit of their work. The project is monitored and developed with the help of eNRICH [4], a local community browser that women use to express their thoughts about health, education and livelihood. This is a valuable resource for the project coordinators assessing the needs of the women, while also serving the purpose of computer skills training.

"Even though we did not win, the fact that we were considered and recognised as runner-ups will motivate women in the community," concluded Sharma.

Teleworkers, homeworkers and business owners using ICTs [Malaysia]

On a mission to boost home entrepreneurism by tackling self-esteem issues that traditionally afflict women that have devoted many years of their lives as mothers, eHomemakers has decided to set up a programme meant to provide management skills to run a home business. The group behind eHomemakers, Mothers for Mothers, organised seven "Working@Home" conferences in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, in Malaysia and launched the excellent eHomemaker online resource website [5] in 2002.

The eHomemakers portal is not only a platform that contains valuable information in how to coming up with a business plan or registration requirements with the government. It also features IT tips and home-based profiles of the 400+ home-based businesses that work in fields as diverse as landscaping, accounting, translation and cooking.

Parallel to the website, eHomemakers also provides ICT training, research and advocacy. It runs the Salaam Wanita project, which is designed to promote the skills of homebound disadvantaged women in the Klang Valley and Ipoh area. A marketing website called Just marketing [6] was developed to promote the services and products these women generate. This platform integrates SMS, fax, email and mobile phone technologies, thereby making the access to a common "marketplace" much easier. In the Salaam Wanita project, the women beneficiaries were provided with training and with second-hand mobile phones for their livelihoods projects.

The 2005 Gender and Information and Coordination Technologies Awards were sponsored by the APC Women's Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP), the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the UK Department for International Development (DfID).

The 2005 Gender and ICT Awards were one of three activities that the APC WNSP team held in Tunis. The presentation of the Gender Evaluation Methodology for Internet and ICTs (GEM) book, as well as exhaustive coverage of the summit by writers Jac sm Kee completes the picture.

[2] The ICT Center is a unique tripartite alliance among Datamation Foundation Charitable Trust, the UNESCO and the Babul-Uloom-Madrasa, an orthodox Muslim religious school in India.