IEEE Computer Society Team
The term “digital divide” still remains relevant today in many parts of the world. But “gendered digital divide,” which refers to the unequal access to computers and the Internet between men and women, is a phrase that is gaining more traction, particularly in India.
According to research, India accounts for half of the world’s gendered digital divide. Only one-third of Indian women use the Internet. Women are also 15 percent less likely to own a mobile phone, and 33 percent less likely to use mobile internet services than their male counterparts. While gendered social norms and location (rural vs. urban areas) can be contributing factors to the low female use of digital technology, a lack of education around technology for women plays a key role in enabling the gendered digital divide.
India’s Diversity Inclusion Project (DIP) aims to fix that and more, with its “Computer Literacy, Empowerment, and Education Programs for Inclusion and Diversity” initiative. The initiative is an effort that came to fruition as a result of IEEE Computer Society (IEEE CS) and its Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Fund of the IEEE Foundation. The D&I Fund has a primary objective of supporting projects and programs that positively impact diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the computer engineering and computer science communities and the “Computer Literacy, Empowerment, and Education Programs for Inclusion and Diversity” initiative is one that accomplishes that goal, and so was awarded a 2022 D&I Fund grant.
The goal of the initiative is to conduct multiple computer literacy outreach programs to benefit working women, specifically, as well as high school and university students. To accomplish this objective, the DIP first held basic computer usage training for women working as unskilled manual laborers.
“There are a lot of women in India working in lower level and manual labor positions,” said Jayaraj J, technical coordinator, IEEE EdSoc Kerala Chapter and chairman, IEEE CS SBC NSS College of Engineering. “Many don’t have knowledge of computers and how they work or the Internet. Our goal was to pique curiosity among this audience to grow awareness and foster continued understanding.”
And Jayaraj and his comprehensive team of volunteers from IEEE and other women-empowerment associations and groups were able to do just that. Through three different trainings held at NSS College of Engineering Palakkad, the Cochin University of Science and Technology, and the Government Engineering College Kozhikode, the team trained roughly 150 women.
But for India’s DIP, while computer and digital education and understanding for women is critical, they believe it must go beyond just women, to children as well. To that end, the DIP’s initiative has also geared components of their program to students.
With the help of local schools, the DIP selected 40 students with an interest in computers and science, who ranged in grade level from sixth to tenth grade, to participate in a two-day training event at the Kuttammassery Government Higher Secondary School located in Kerala, a rural area in India. Students participated in math and physics experiments and demonstrations, many of which were led by Indian women in engineering, and took part in labs where they were able to conduct their own experiments.
“It was fascinating,” said Jayaraj. “The students were so intelligent and knowledgeable. It actually came as a surprise to us. We went into the project thinking students wouldn’t know much, but we were amazed. They were really interested in computers and engineering at this early age.”
To further this enthusiasm for computers and engineering, India’s DIP will introduce a hackathon event. The event titled, Chakravyuha, will take place 23- 24 September 2023. The group plans to provide additional educational opportunities for women and other underserved groups as well.
While India’s DIP program hasn’t eliminated the gendered digital divide, it is safe to say that the group is taking concerted steps to reduce it. Women-focused training, younger generation education, especially young women, and innovative digital literacy efforts go a long way in closing the long-standing digital gap. In Jayaraj’s words, “It was very awesome to see how the women and students tackled all that we presented them. Their digital future is bright.”
The 2023 D&I Fund Call for Proposals is open 24 July – 4 September 2023 for projects to be implemented in 2024, and anyone interested in submitting can find out more by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on IEEE CS D&I initiatives, visit https://www.computer.org/about/diversity-inclusion. To donate to the D&I Fund, visit https://www.ieeefoundation.org/ieee-computer-society-diversity-inclusion-fund.