Bridging the gender digital divide could be a theme for G20 summit - Hindustan Times
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Bridging the gender digital divide could be a theme for G20 summit

ByHindustan Times
May 22, 2023 02:43 PM IST

This article is authored by Lakshmi Iyer, senior political journalist, New Delhi.

Early this year when Prime Minister (PM) Modi addressed the 108th Indian Science Congress (ISC) he lauded the increasing participation of women in "Extramural Research and Development." The theme of this year's ISC was “Science and Technology for Sustainable Development with Women Empowerment.” The increasing participation of women in the field of science came in for special mention by PM Modi as it had helped India find its place in the top 10 countries of the world. Until 2015, among 130 countries, India was in 81st place in the Global Innovation Index. In 2022, India had leapt to 40th place. In the last eight years, the participation of women in extramural research and development had doubled. "The increasing participation of women is a reflection of the progress of society and science,” PM Modi pointed out. His remarks set the backdrop for the G20 summit that is being hosted by New Delhi this year in September. He made it clear that "one of the key issues" that would be discussed during India’s G20 presidency would be " women-led development.”

The G20 summit logo. (File) PREMIUM
The G20 summit logo. (File)

The Women 20 (W20) India, set up on the lines of Women 20 (W20) an official G20 engagement group established during the Turkish presidency in 2015, had its task cut out. Headed by Dr Sandhya Purecha and her panel of five members, W20 India had a critical role to ensure that voices of millions of women across India are mainstreamed into G20 discussions and translated into the G20 Leaders Declaration as policies and commitments. There are five priority areas of W20 under India’s presidency which include, Women in Entrepreneurship, Women Leadership at Grassroots, Bridging the Gender Digital Divide, Education & Skill Development and Women & Girls as change makers Climate Resilience Action.

Since taking over from W20 Indonesia, W20 India has signed more than 15 MoUs with various organisations as knowledge and network partners, conducted 40 Jan Bhagidari programmes with thousands of women across 10 states in India. The Inception Meet at Aurangabad, Maharashtra was in February. This was followed by a W20 International meet at Jaipur in April and another summit is scheduled in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu in June.

In recent months, W20 has partnered with more than 19 organisations and organised more than 50 outreach programmes for women and adolescent girls across India. The two-day meeting in Jaipur in April saw enriching deliberations on women's economic empowerment and bridging the gender digital divide. Encouraged by G20 sherpa, Amitabh Kant, nearly 120 delegates who participated in various session and task forces came up with innovative and radical policy ideas that could be incorporated in the Leaders' Declarations . Under Bridging the Digital Divide Task Force, a Call to Action - W20 Initiative has been launched named Mission Digital Women -- with the aim to provide financial and digital literacy and skilling programme aiming to reach one million women in three years. In Jaipur, the theme of the meeting was in line with PM Modi's vision of women-led development -- that is leveraging women's untapped potential to accelerate an inclusive and sustainable future. The international meet began with a Jan Bhagidari drawn from local universities for the event. Over 300 women attended the event

While the W20 Engagement Group has been primarily focussed on holding four world-class events with international delegates, W20 has also been focussing on Jan Bhagidari or first person narrative of its stakeholders. In the past few months the Engagement Group has been travelling across the country-- Kerala, Jammu, Bhubaneswar, Meghalaya and Lucknow -- to facilitate inclusive consultations with stakeholders to produce actionable and impactful communiqués . In an interaction, Dr Purecha conveyed how she was personally overwhelmed by the experience of interacting with rural women from Jammu. "The public outreach programme with 200 women from rural Jammu included SHGs and entrepreneurs. What stood out was this woman who had exclusively painted her home only with natural colours. We wanted to share the experience and work of this Jammu woman in her own words ". There was also enthusiastic participation of Muslim girls in cultural programmes. Efforts were being made to present narratives gathered in the public outreach programmes both at W20 events as well as at the G20 summit .

Another priority for W20 will be analysing government schemes to understand models of governance that have worked for women in India. Be it the Mudrayojana, Ladli Laxmi Yojna in Madhya Pradesh, UMEED scheme in J&K, the Ujjwala scheme or Odisha's Mission Shakti ---a flagship initiative that has seven lakh self-help groups (SHGs) with 70 lakh members that has ensured women’s participation in all productive activities and helped them achieve economic independence.

Meanwhile, in March the Engagement Group had some refreshing discussions under the aegis of our UN mission in New York. Issues of stark gender divide in digital access were highlighted. Ms. Bharati Ghosh, former IPS officer, speaking on digital divide pointed out technology revolutions were harnessed during the Covid-19 crisis. India made history as it rolled out the largest vaccination drive; vaccinating 220 crore Indians along with millions overseas. A parallel revolution took place in the country where thousands of women at the grassroots; the ASHAs, anganwadi workers and the female health workers as ‘Digital Sarthaks’ mobilised and facilitated Covid information to communities, leading to women empowerment. She also pointed out how the ‘Mudra Yojana’, had benefited 390 millions of small and micro women entrepreneurs through institutional credit, 74% of who belong to marginalised sections.

Cheryl Denise Miller, delegate of W20 European Union, said that India’s achievements and success stories should go out for the West to echo, emulate and replicate them. The situation of gender digital divide is urgent. There are 240 million more men than women having access to technology, she said. With the launch of Mission Digital Divide, now it's clear bridging the digital divide could be the theme for the summit.

This article is authored by Lakshmi Iyer, senior political journalist, New Delhi.

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