An external evaluation of Making Women's Voices and Votes Count was carried out between February-June 2015 by two feminist evaluators Ms Anita Ratnam and Ms Vandana Mahajan. The evaluation observed: "The project has been catalytic in building innovative linkagesbetween gender, governance and technology at KMVS, ANANDI and Prakriye.... (causing) a disruption in the traditional landscape of male control over information and communication, positioning women as key interlocutors in the local governance context.” See executive summary and full report.

The final programme report for the ‘Making Women’s Voices and Votes Count’ (2013-15) project brings together stories of change from the field, key outcomes and lessons, and reflections on the strategies that were implemented at the three sites. It outlines the insights that the organisations gained over the duration of the project, which can help in the better understanding of the challenges to, and possibilities for enhancing women’s political participation in local governance systems. The full report may be accessed here.

Social auditing forms a key component of the efforts directed towards enabling the development of an alternative model of 'data-centred governance'. Thus, there is a strong emphasis on community ownership and auditing of local data by working closely with panchayats in which information centres are located, to help them utilise techno-social possibilities, to put out data-centred decision making processes in the public domain, and to explore mobile phone-based strategies for public information outreach.

For instance, with the help of infomediaries and Elected Women Representatives (EWRs), the KMVS team carried out social audits in 3 villages - in order to address the loop holes in the delivery of Public Distribution System (PDS) benefits in all three villages. Following the completion of the audit, a detailed analysis was also carried out and a memorandum was presented to the collector. This comprehensive social audit process played an important role in improving the PDS system in Lakhapar village.

Similarly, at the Attiguppe Community information centre in Mysore district, the Managing Committee and the information intermediary are now invited by the local Child Care Centre to audit its food grains distribution, every month. In fact, at present, it is the information intermediary who takes the photographs that are sent as documentary evidence to the block level departments, by the Child Care Centre workers. In this way, there is a strong effort and focus on evolving a gendered framework for data-led local governace at the panchayat level, ultimately.

In order to inform women about different Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) and showcase women who have already used technology, a fair, or an 'info mela' was held in Hunsur on 5th July, 2014. All Mahila Samakhya women from Hunsur attended the mela. In the mela, the use of Interactive Voice Response Systems (IVRS), Tablet PC, radio and video, as well as animated information, information on Open Education System, department information available on the internet, and information about Namma Mahiti Kendras (NMK) was shared with attendees. Demonstrations on how IVRS can be used to request for information and how this could be useful to them, were carried out. Along with the women from the village, college students and men also attended the mela and asked for information on agriculture, horticulture, Gram Panchayat etc. We also showed them how to take pictures and write on the Tablet PC, and how Kelu Sakhi, the radio programme, is created and broadcast on the radio. Films on Prakriye's work, our work with departments and other women's achievements were screened as well. There was also a stall for school students that informed about them about the functions of the different parts of the body. Another stall explained how information can be sought on the departments' websites. About 700 people came to the info mela, including Hunsur Memeber of Legisative Assembly Manjunath who said that the ICT information given by IT for Change to village women is very useful and essential.

Similarly, an info-mela on community health, video and audio content on ante-natal care, importance of vaccination, details of entitlements under the National Rural Health Mission on the benefits of various government schemes etc was organised by the KMVS team as well. Along with these resources, a presentation about Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools for facilitating decentralised planning at the panchayat level was also made to the visitors to the mela. The info-mela was extremely effective in conveying vital health-care related information and ideas of decentralised governance to the members from the community that KMVS works with. These info-melas have played an important role in establishing the importance of easy access to information on government schemes and provisions and have also supplemented efforts at legitimising the presence of info-centres as an important souce of such information.

As a crucial step towards enabling more gender responsive governance, the field centre in Mysore organised digicam and Tablet PC trainings with 40 Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) across 7 panchayats. During these trainings, the Prakriye team focussed on demystifying the art of still photography and videography; opening up discussions about the relevance of photo and video documentation to the ongoing work of the panchayat; familiarising panchayat members to the Tablet PC; and introducing the idea of using a Tablet PC as a mobile library with audio and video resources on various 'gender and governance' thematics.

 

 

 

 

 

An all-women village assembly in which women from the community are able to interact with local authorities i.e., Mahila Gram Sabha , was organised in Mysore in February 2014. Women's collectives raised the following concerns before the panchayat President and the Panchayat Development Officer:

lack of adequate drinking water supply in many houses.

Households which are eligible for electrification under the Bhagya Jyoti scheme have not received electricity connections.

Streetlights are out of order. This makes it very difficult for women and girls to move about in the village, in the evenings.

There is open sewerage in the village, which poses a health hazard.

There is undue delay in the release of subsidies under the universal sanitation scheme -- Nirmal Bharat.

 

Following the Mahila Gram Sabha, the panchayat took the following steps:

  •  Drinking water supply has been provided to all households.
  • Streetlights have been repaired.
  •  Drains in the village have been cleaned and disinfected.
  • The Panchayat Development Officer has suggested that a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping of all household toilets that have been constructed under the Nirmal Bharat scheme be carried out, in order to identify irregularities in subsidy allocation.

 

Prakriye, field centre of IT for Change, will be taking forward this agenda in the months ahead, by carrying out a participatory GIS mapping of allotment of rural sanitation subsidies, and other infrastructural works undertaken by the panchayat.

Participatory mapping aims to empower marginalised communities to represent themselves spatially, bringing their local knowledge and perspectives in education, science, culture and communication and information to the attention of local governmental authorities and decision-makers and improving their livelihoods. Such maps can also be used to highlight existing gaps in infrastructure and services, such as low school enrolment rates and low quality public infratructure provisioning (schools, primary health care centres, water points,sanitation facilities etc.) It is important also because the extent and lack of textual literacy hinders community's ability to meaningfully participate in decision making and planning activities in their communities, and often forms a barrier between them and new technologies. Visual mapping (including audio metadata possibilities ) could allow for these sections of the population to find meaningful ways to participate in development planning processes, giving them a sense of ownership and engagement.

Thus, training sessions on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mappings have formed an important part of the efforts aimed at facilitating greater accountabilty of local government structures towards marginalised communities. For instance, the training session organised by the ANANDI team in April 2014 emphasised the advantages of mapping infrastructural facilities of the village. This training was organised with the panchayat body and school staff of a village in Bhavnagar and was facilitated by a student from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Members of the panchayat body and school staff participated in the session and also contributed to the process of putting up the data on Google Maps later.

Between 2013-14, the Prakiye team also carried out 'GIS Mapping on OpenStreetMaps' for Hunsur block, as part of a UNESCO supported programme to map 'points of interest' on OpenStreetMap, covering all public / social infrastructure such as roads, schools, health centres, panchayat offices etc. The team also trained the staff of a local NGO, DEED, on mapping points on OpenStreetMaps, as part of building capacities for data mapping and visualisation among local civil society organisations.

The maps thus created, are easily accessible from the OpenStreetMaps website. Access need not only be limited to individuals, but can also include facilitated,communal access through village tele-centres and in the offices of NGOs, CBOs etc. Such a collective viewing of visual representation of key public information though GIS-enabled mapping, in a facilitated manner, can trigger discussions amongst community members and support bottom-up and participatory processes towards deepening democracy and enforcing the accountable governance agenda.

At the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) site in Kutch, four cluster level information centres have been established. These centres are fully functional and have been able to support many women members in claiming their entitlements.

IT for Change represented the 'Making Women's Voices and Votes Count' project at the  UN Women Fund for Gender Equality Asia Pacific and Europe and Central Asia Grantee Convening, organised in Bangkok, between September 2-5, 2013. The Convening was an attempt to bring together UN Women Fund For Gender Equality grantees from various countries of Central Asia and South Asia. The Convening focussed on enhancing participants' understanding of Results Based Management  and the monitoring and evaluation and reporting requirements of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. Additionally, the participants were encouraged to share details of their projects, as part of a one-hour 'Share-fair' slot that was allotted for networking and peer sharing. A 5-minute film was shared on behalf of the 'Making Women's Voices and Votes Count' project, to showcase the vision and strategies, guiding the interventions at the three sites.

In spite of threats and stiff opposition from the upper caste groups, the IT for Change team backed by Dalit women of Bharatwadi set up a centre in their colony. The upper castes initially responded with a strategy of 'boycott' and the women's collectives from the upper caste neighbourhood, who had previously shown keen interest in associating themselves with the information centre's activities, became lukewarm in their attitude towards the centre. However, despite this opposition, the information centre began its activities, including outreach visits by the Dalit woman infomediary to the upper caste neighbourhood, in the village.

Between 2013-14, significant progress was made on the work initiated in the previous year for the creation of a dialogic platform using the possibilities offered by Interactive Voice Recording System (IVRS) technology, for geographically dispersed Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) and women's collectives. The idea was to enable the sharing of insights on their specific experiences with, and challenges they have faced in dealing with, local governance institutions.

Thus, this strategy has been instrumental in enabling the creation of an information network between geographically dispersed EWRs in all three sites. At the IT for Change and ANANDI sites, this involved the process of building an open source IVRS platform and training staff in broadcasting messages on the platform. While there is still a lot of ground to be covered before this vision can be fully realised, some headway has been made in the direction of forming an IVRS network of women's collectives and elected women leaders in the project area in Mysore district. At this point, test-runs of the voice-blast system have been satisfactorily completed – since January 2014, weekly reminders of the Kelu Sakhi programme and welcome messages to key women community leaders for project events, have been regularly sent. At every meeting, the mobile numbers of the participants are being enrolled by the field centre team who intend to send 1 minute “info capsules” about governance schemes, panchayat functioning, women's rights vis-a-vis local institutions, from June 2014 onwards, on the IVRS network thus being created. At the KMVS site, the existing Awaz De voice-blast system has been adapted to meet the requirements of the information networking strategy of this project. The strategy continues to be adapted and utilised creatively.

The horrifying gang rape of a young woman, on 16th December, 2012, on a public transport vehicle in Delhi, which led to widespread media and public outrage on the incompetence of existing institutional structures to protect women's rights to bodily integrity and protection from violence, coincided with the formal launch of the project. Mahila Swaraj Manch, the collective of Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) in Shihor block that the ANANDI team works with, wanted to express their solidarity with the women's groups and organisations who were expressing their outrage and shock, and demanding state accountability for the increasing lack of safety for women, in urban centres. Therefore, they decided to take out a rally, to the block headquarters, as an expression of their solidarity with the global One Billion Rising Campaign against gender-based violence. The participants secured the required permissions to take out the rally and successfully sought the support of local police and government authorities. This rally received widespread coverage in the local media. 1600 signatures were collected in support of the One Billion Rising Campaign, and another 1200 signatures were obtained for a petition to the Government of Gujarat seeking changes to existing legal provisions – for ensuring adequate,effective and timely response to victims of sexual violence. This is a significant step in linking the mandate of EWRs, to represent the interests of a women's constituency, with the concerns of the larger feminist movement, at a very tangible level.

Between June 17-18 2013, the three partnering organisations – IT for Change, Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan and ANANDI – met at Ahmedabad, to share implementation experiences across the three sites, six months into the project period. The objective of the meeting was to enable all three partners to take stock of key insights and challenges to be addressed across the three sites and consolidate plans for the next six months. Ms. Cynthia Stephen, State Programme Director, Mahila Samakhya Karnataka – in partnership with whom IT for Change is implementing the project in Mysore – also participated in the meeting.
On the Second Day, officers from UN Women and the Gujarat State Resource Centre of the National Mission for the Empowerment of Women joined the meeting. Ms. Anita Gurumuthy from IT for Change made a consolidated presentation about the project progress across the three sites, the key challenges the project has had to encounter and the revisions in the strategy that has been neccesitated by on-ground developments.

 

 

Between 19-22 June 2013, Anita and Nandini from IT for Change, with Shreeja, Mangala, Rajesh and Harish from the Prakriye field centre of IT for Change, visited KMVS and Kutch Nav Nirman Abhiyan (Abhiyan). The objectives of the exposure visit were as follows:

 

To understand the insights and learnings of KMVS from their experiences of collectively organising and building capacities of Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) in Mundra and Nakhthrana Blocks of Kutch district for over 20 years.

 

To understand Abhiyan's Information Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) model and ICT-based telecentre strategy for enabling marginalised communities to challenge existing informational hierarchies, that impede their access to entitlements and provide new information channels that can enable the emergence of a community-centred local governance and development model, on the ground.

 

The field visit opened up alternative imaginaries for the team, on addressing the questions of 'the politics of context' and 'the politics of technology' in the search for a context-appropriate, situated, ICTD paradigm. Also, the field visit re-affirmed the partnering organisations' commitments to pay close attention to the differential local governance institutional scenario in Gujarat and Karnataka, while evolving a common strategy for the 'Making Women's Voices and Votes Count' project.

The ANANDI and KMVS teams wanted to know more about IT for Change's experiences in exploring new techno-social possibilities for supporting women's collectives' empowerment process in context-appropriate ways, and the specific Information Communication Technology strategies that the Prakriye field centre of IT for Change was planning to explore under the 'Making Women's Voices and Votes Count' project. Also, the KMVS and ANANDI teams, wanted to understand the specificities of working with community video and GIS platforms, as they were planning to explore these techno-social possibilities for the first time, under this project. Therefore, Lata Sachde, Bharmal Marwada, Kruti Laheru and Dilip Patel from KMVS and Hira Behn Solanki, Jahnvi Andharia and Upasana Munjpara from ANANDI visited the Prakriye field centre between 29th March 2013-1st April 2013.

In this one-week long exposure visit, the teams learnt about the technical aspects of video production such as handling the camera appropriately, ensuring audio-video sync, and working on video editing software platforms. They also discussed with the Prakriye team, various ways of addressing the main challenge of producing community video – the need to ensure that the intended messages are communicated in an appealing way, and not in a top-down manner that is reminiscent of development communication films which are usually screened under government and NGO programmes. During the visit, the Prakriye team members also shared with the ANANDI and KMVS teams, the technical know-how of working with Geographic Information System (GIS) platforms, and some of the strategies for utilising GIS possibilities to visually re-combine and re-present datasets before the community  – in order to enable women to critically engage with the micro-politics of entitlements.