I'm excited about the InfoLady program in Bangladesh, which I heard about via @MC_HFCS (aka Matt on Twitter) and The Guardian Weekly. According to reporter Davinder Kumar:
In a place where women dutifully give birth in dingy huts, the men know of little outside their fields, and the world revolves around the local mosque; the sight of a "modern" woman visitor astride her bike is a spectacle. The more so as Akhter zaps around with gadgets like a netbook, GSM mobile, blood pressure monitor and pregnancy kit, all deftly packed in her shoulder bag. "It was a scandal when I started my rounds two years ago with just a mobile phone", says Akhter. Now it is more of a phenomenon. She is treated like a champion by people whose lives she's shaping with once "scary machines".
Akhter belongs to a motley band of "InfoLadies," who are piloting a revolutionary idea - giving millions of Bangladeshis, trapped in a cycle of poverty and natural disaster, access to information on their doorstep to improve their chances in life.
The 2009 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report says over 36% of the country's population lives on less than US$1 a day, and almost every second child under five is underweight. Women are far worse off as they remain at the bottom of the heap in religiously conservative rural societies. According to Unicef, nearly 90% of women in Bangladesh give birth at home without medical assistance, and half of them never seek any antenatal care.
"The access to information campaign is strategically fronted by women to bridge this divide", says Munira Morshed of Bangladesh Telecentre Network, an umbrella organisation for all telecentre networks in Bangladesh. The tactic has worked well. "Women feel free to discuss their gynaecological problems with me, which they don't even share with their husbands," says Somunu Akter Labony, an InfoLady from Sagatha. The 20-year-old, herself a mother of one, is aware of religious and social sensitivities and provides confidential contraception advice to women.
Finding a confidante in an InfoLady, victims of domestic violence are also coming forward to seek help, says Akhter. "I inform them about their rights and warn their husbands they could go to jail," she says. The impact is palpable as every man she rides past in the village nods his head in acknowledgement. "She is a terror - the men are scared of her; even the clerics fear her," says Najma Begum, the Chandipur telecentre manager.
The army of InfoLadies, however, is turning the corner regardless. They are busy telling people how to save their crops or send violent husbands to jail. It's hard work for young women who are new to their own freedom. So are there any problems? "Just that after 6pm I change my sim as I get calls from angry or besotted men," says Akhter. "They are scared of me in the daylight, but they all want to marry me after six." (Read the entire article).
First off, this is a great example of how educated women help raise the living standard for everyone around them. It's also exciting to see how people are able to take technology and run with it in unexpected ways like this.
My second thought is how strange that the InfoLadies are so feared/awed by men. Why is it that women with any sort of authority or confidence seem to terrify men so much? Why do feminists create such emotional trauma by trying to help other women?
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