Potentials of ICTs for Empowering Rural Women in Bangladesh


January 24th, 2015

Food for programme development thoughts

ICTs (Information Communications Technologies) particularly mobile phone and internet penetration shows a gradual increase in Bangladesh. In the table below, it indicates, during August 2013-14, in the case of mobile phone services 8.23 million people added to the connectivity, and 458,369 people to the internet connectivity. During August 2012-13, an additional 13.82 million people were connected with mobile phone services and 683,325 thousand people to the internet. This illustrates that following the global trend, in Bangladesh, new uses and expansion of ICTs- are fast becoming an essential part of everyday life, irrespective of location, sex, class, education and profession.

          Table: ICT Subscription Status in Bangladesh

Period

Mobile

Internet
August 2014 117.577 Million 40832.387 Thousand
August 2013 109.349 Million 36249.018 Thousand
August 2012 95.528 Million 29415.693 Thousand (as July 2012)

Source: BTRC, 2014; ( www.btrc.gov.bd; accessed on Octtober 7, 2014)

However, relevant literature suggests that ICTs expansion and usage are not equally dispersed. Until the recent past, there was more growth in urban areas than rural. However, after 2010, the phenomenon has begun to change. As a result of that, in both computer and mobile phone, we see growth in rural areas is more than 4 times for mobile phones and 6 times for computers compared with urban areas.

Potential Impact of ICTs
As I understand women empowerment is a process (rather than end) towards gender equality; thus in this piece, I will be focusing on some of the issues I found contributing towards this process for rural women in Bangladesh. The points I am going to share below have been pulled out from different research findings, observation reports and diary notes that I was part of during 2009-14.

1) Decision Making: Regarding the ability to take decisions, it has been found that to some extent women have the ability to decide what things they what to buy, particularly to make small and large purchases. More specifically, they use ICTs (mobile phones in particular) to get information on certain things before they buy. They use mobile phones to consult with doctors about what medicine to take when they fall sick. It helps to feel them that they are connected with loved ones. Husbands or father s(or other heads of the household) appreciate this activity since it minimizes their expenditure and helps to retain savings.

4th Blog

2) Position within family: Having the opportunity to communicate with others through mobile phones, people are very much influenced by the behaviour of other people. Through easy interaction with the wider community, men’s dominating attitude towards women is gradually changing. Research findings demonstrate that women have more freedom from male domination. Whether a wife and husband live in same home or either live outside for livelihood or any other reason, in most cases they talk to each other before taking any important decision. This is now possible because of the mobile phone. To them, women’s involvement in major family decisions has been seen as important since women no longer are dependent on men for their livelihood, now they have opportunity to earn from outside if they wish.

3) Mobility: In this area, a very interesting change is been found. The need for women’s physical visits to their parent’s home has been taken away by mobile communication. Now they visit, when they have a special purpose. In addition, the duration of  their visit is also decreased. On the other hand, visiting doctors’ surgery and market place for buying/selling things, visiting UP or other government service provider offices has increased significantly. This pattern of mobility clearly indicates that people have better aware of their rights and wellbeing.

4) Economic health: When women are connected by any communication device, it encourages them to know about others. For example, while they communicate with each other, they ask about others’ lives, about their cultivated crops, the price of the salable crops, sickness of any livestock, or family members- what happened, how he or she was cured etc. Evidences indicate that these communications promote women to be owners of assets to face any unwanted situation if occurred. It is also found that rural women now prefer to have assets (a piece of land, cattle, goat etc) in their name. They see it as their fall back support. Additionally, many women shared that they got job information over a mobile phone (although the job itself is gendered), and their partners are very positive about it. In contrast with income, women save very little. The reasons are; firstly, they earn very little so hardly can save from it. Secondly, men stop providing many essential items for women such as cosmetics and toiletries when women start earning. Besides this, sometimes they need to spend for socialization and children’s demands. The fact is that men do not directly tell women not to save but do not encourage them to do so.

5) Political awareness: ICTs have great contribution in building political awareness among grassroots women. Talking over a mobile phone, most village women are to some extent informed about what Union Parishad is supposed to do and what services are available there. Even though most of the time these are unavailable or distributed considering political or other social belonging. It is noteworthy to mention that during elections women do use mobile phones to consult with their friends, relatives and like-minded people for whom to vote and information about the contestants. In few cases women also do use to network building or motivating voters if they contest in election.

6) Legal awareness: Ruralwomen are not found to be well informed about legal rights. But they do have some basic information regarding criminal activities and gender issues. It is found in discussions with different local communities that all women know violence against women is a punishable crime. They do have the right to get legal support in case of dowry or marital rights violation. Furthermore, they also stated that they know from where they may get support or whom to communicate– which justify their basic legal awareness.

The above six points are few of many such impacts that ICTs can make in uplifting women’s situation in a context like Bangladesh. I understand and have evidence of concerns associated with ICTs use (which I will cover in another write up). However, the above points may help us developing programmes around the above issues.

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