Ground Report | New Delhi: Rural women; Najana Lalaji Bise’s precious last picture of her husband is a picture she sent to her on WhatsApp a few days before he died of COVID-19 in a hospital. But she remained in constant touch with her husband with the help of her smartphone. The smartphone was given to her by a local non-profit organization, which she uses for her small snack business.
India’s COVID-19 crisis has exposed a wide digital divide. This has prompted many grassroots groups to focus on poor women with poor internet access to health care and financial support or just to stay in touch with their loved ones.
Bise, who is from Nimbhore village in Maharashtra’s worst affected state, tells Reuters Foundation, “I didn’t know about WhatsApp or video calling before.” “If I didn’t have this mobile, I would never have been able to see my husband,” says the mother of two. The shock is known from his voice and he is still weak due to illness.
So far 3.92 lakh people have died due to the Covid epidemic in India and more than 30 million people have been affected by the infection. The deadly second wave, which peaked in April and May, brought health services to their knees.
Only one-third of women have their own mobile
According to a 2018 Harvard University study, India has the world’s largest digital gap, based on gender. Only one-third of women have their own mobile compared to two-thirds of men. But this difference widens in rural areas. Where women are also less digitally literate.
Rights activists working at the grassroots say that smartphones can be helpful in helping women. This allows them more autonomy and access to information and services. Man Deshi, an organization working to empower rural women, has given smartphones to rural women of Satara district of Maharashtra. The organization says that smartphones helped women survive financially during the pandemic.
When 25-year-old Jyoti Deokar of Banpuri village got the smartphone, she first learned how to create a Facebook page for her computer parts store. She also took information about how to accept online payments from her smartphone.
When Jyoti was admitted to the hospital due to Corona, she ran her business with the help of the phone. Jyoti says, “I used to keep in touch with family members through video calls. But living in a ward full of patients was difficult. So I continued working.”