The Girls, Me, and the Tech Center
One of my friends told me about Feminist Approach to Technology. It's a NGO which believes that the gendered myths around science and technology, like- "women are not suitable in this field" -needs to be exposed and countered. Women are also equally capable and over time they have demonstrated this in various fields, not excluding science, technology and engineering. The examples of geniuses like Madam Curie have conclusively proved that being a women is in no way an obstacle to excellence in this field. If there is anything wrong then it is only the patriarchal structure of our society which refuses to give proper opportunity to women and tries to 'naturalise' this so called 'women's aversion to technology'. FAT has a very clear understanding about it. It underlines the fact that so far there has been a hegemony of men in the making and thus policy designs in and around technology. Most of the technologies as of now have clear gendered elements. So it's important that in their making and policy formulations, participation of women should be guarateed. At the same time, and as a part of the same effort, one should also strive to increase the number of women who uses technology in their everyday lives. Being a socialist feminist, I completely agree with this clear understanding of FAT.
When I came to know that FAT is running a Tech Centre in Lajpat Nagar, and that too for adolescent girls from the bastis and they needed more people to work with them regularly, I contacted with Gayatri- FAT's director and on 16th of the last month I formally joined it as manager.
As of now, around 10 to 15 girls have been regularly coming to FAT. Almost all of them are from the Tamil community and are from the same colony. Nine among them are domestic workers and among the rest, generally their mothers are also in the same profession. Only three among them have been attending schools and the rest have left their studies. The majority of these girls of 15 to 22 years of age are married and some of them have one or two children as well. Almost none of them know English and only 4 girls can write and read Hindi. But everybody has a dream; a dream for a better life and future. They have a strong desire to learn things.
When you enter our centre, you might be deceived; you might think “oh! This is just another computer cerntre!” Well, this is not true. Yes, we do train our girls to operate computers as in the contemporary world, computers have afterall become a common phenomenon useful in every field. But our centre is neither just a computer centre, nor do we just teach them how to work in them. Apart from training our girls about different parts of the computer, their interconnections and the technical details, the internet etc, we also give them knowledge about the basics of household electronics and wiring, still photography, video cameras which also includes making short documetaries by their own. Or if somebody wants learn something beyond this, we also provide information and logistical support on where she can avail it's training.
Apart from these regular activities, we also organise discussions around issues of gender and patriarchy. In August, we screened Rani Hindustani -a documentary about a women truck driver from Maharastra which gives a narrative about her journey to this profession in her own words. Here she talks about challenges before her, the obstacles and violence she faced while trying to her dreams and the story of her struggles against all odds. In the discussions following the screening, most of us realised how violence has become a part of women's life and what are the reasons behind it.
During another discussion, we made a list about the different works and professions in and around the colony and their gender breakups. We discovered that very few fields are open to women owing to their lack of training in technological skills and education. In such ways, we have been developing an understanding that apart from learning skills we also have to learn and know about the gender inequalities both in and outside our homes and we must fight back against them.
Today, it's been more than a month of me joining the Tech Centre. Me and Saraswathi reach the office around 9:30 and make preparations for the classes. As most of the girls are domestic workers they can come to the centre only at 3 pm for classes. Initially many girls were not very regular but today, we have developed quite a strong bonding and mutual understanding that nobody wants to be absent. Some of them have even begun to come one hour early so that they can spend some more time in the centre.
For us, this tech centre is not just a space to learn about technologies. It's a space which is of our own. It's a space where we envision our dreams for a life of our own and without tensions and inequalities; and work collectively to turn them into reality.