Barefoot Women Wireless Engineers Creating Socially Viable Community Networks in India

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‘Digital Divide' or ‘Digital Information Barrier’ refers to the substantial asymmetry in the distribution and effective use of information and communication resources. It is widely believed that the Internet is a global information highway. By opening two-way information flows, it empowers individuals and communities, particularly creating new opportunities for individuals living in remote areas. However, this is possible only if connectivity is provided to them to access a wide range of markets, seek new opportunities, learn new skill sets, get better quality health care, become more aware of their rights and exercise them. Mobile phones and cellular technology enable people to connect with each other, thereby making Internet an integral part of economic, social and cultural lives, shaping the way people communicate with each other, bringing education into the comforts of home, creating new jobs, and providing a platform for people to raise their voices and opinions, or for sharing and receiving information. // Despite various initiatives, four billion people in the world are still unconnected and unable to benefit from key social and economic resources in our expanding digital world, according to an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) report1 . The traditional model of providing the Internet should not be necessarily considered as the most efficient one. ‘Wireless Community Networks’ or Community-based Internet Service Provider (C-ISP) are such networks whose infrastructure is developed and built by small organisations and community members by pooling their resources. // These alternative models like Community Wireless networks (CWNs)2 have been tested and tried in both developing and developed countries to connect the unconnected remote regions. India-based organisation, Digital Empowerment Foundation’s (DEF) Wireless for Communities (W4C) programme is one of the community wireless networks that is trying to provide affordable, ubiquitous and democratically controlled Internet access in rural regions of the country. The network enables community economic development that can reduce poverty and encourage civic participation. // One of the challenges in managing these networks in rural regions is lack of skilled community members. Moreover, in a country like India, another challenge is the migration of rural youth to urban cities for supporting their families living in villages. However, young women living in rural India are left behind to carry out traditional household chores or odd jobs. // In this paper, we define ‘new technologies’ as technologies that are a result of innovation of older technologies and aim at transforming lives. These technologies are often considered as threatening and unfamiliar; and are often viewed as ‘unacceptable’ specially for women. However, with new sustainable innovation, technology has become an empowering agent in the lives of women, especially rural women. In particular, the paper highlights how creating ‘Community Women Barefoot Engineers' means that learning and knowledge are transferred and exchanged as women are empowered to act in a predominantly male-dominated field that they were previously restricted from entering. // Paper ID 200

Digital Divide,Information and Communication Technology (ICT),Skills Development,Women and ICT