Shadhika Shadhika

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For the young women of Shadhika, the coronavirus pandemic presents immediate risks to their safety and security, as well as long term consequences on their ability to achieve their fullest potential.

The Technology Divide

By My Lo Cook, Executive Director

September 16, 2020

It is undeniable that the spread of the coronavirus is pulling the curtain back on the most severe inequalities around the world and exacerbating their impact on the most marginalized. The anecdotal evidence and early data paint a grim picture of the compounding effects of COVID on existing vulnerabilities affecting women and girls in India. For the young women of Shadhika, the coronavirus pandemic presents immediate risks to their safety and security, as well as long term consequences on their ability to achieve their fullest potential. 

As the COVID situation in India continues to escalate, children and youth are contemplating their education options. While the Indian Ministry of Education has issued guidelines for all schools for grades 9 through 12 to reopen by September 21, students may decide to attend class in person on a voluntary basis and technology will be at the crux of their ability to access education and, with that, a cascade of opportunities. 

As reported by our local partners and our Shadhika Scholars, young women in India seldom have independent access to their own device. They often rely on the smartphones and computers that belong to their fathers or brothers, putting them once again under the thumb of patriarchal rules. They cannot readily follow synchronous learning and their communications are routinely monitored. 

For these reasons, they are unable to interface in real time with their teachers to ask clarifying questions about the content of their lessons; they are not able to complete school assignments in a timely manner; and their channels to seek emotional support from peers are dangerously restricted.

For those few who have their own smartphones, they cannot afford the data plan that is necessary to stream virtual lectures, download lesson plans, and participate in interactive group activities. 

While Shadhika provides a computer to our second year Scholars as part of their scholarship funds, a robust Internet connection is not easy to come by, especially for those who have had to move back to their rural village of origin because their parents lost their jobs in the city. 

Even if the technology divide could be bridged, schools do not have the resources nor the infrastructure to produce high quality online content, using inadequate platforms like WhatsApp as a pedagogical tool. The result are academic set-backs that will be felt many years down the road.

Finally, because of the high rate of COVID-related job loss in India, these young women are now shouldering the burden of increased household chores while both parents are working outside of the home to make ends meet, leaving limited free time to dedicate to school work.

The emotional health, the physical safety, and the learning potential of these young women will be sacrificed as families will likely bet their future on the education of their sons. Under these conditions, forced marriage and child marriage are very real threats for young women who are now considered burdens on their families’ meager earnings. 

Acquiring the software and hardware to take part in online learning is not a sufficient condition to ensure young women can enjoy equal access to education during the COVID pandemic. While the technology divide may worsen the learning gap between boys and girls, a solution cannot be effective if it isn’t intersectional by nature and integrated by design. 

Understanding this fully, Shadhika’s local partners are hard at work, engaging the full family unit in believing in the promise of a young woman’s education. Through their humanitarian relief efforts, those organizations are reaching out to parents, brothers, and communities to cultivate a shared commitment to identify and confront structural and cultural barriers that underpin the underestimation of the potential of the girl. Those partners who can are extending the hours of operation of their computer centers and creating lending programs to check out devices, as needed.

Our most important job at Shadhika is to make sure our partners have the financial flexibility to leverage their expertise to pivot their work and activate those systemic levers that will mitigate any loss in gender equity.

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