Building the First Online Platform to Serve Migrant Women in China
Despite China’ s explodingsocial media space and its fast-growing userpopulation, less privileged womenhave found that very few web-based contents are intended for them or address theissues they face. As a matter of fact, the media itself remains staggeringly limitedto a single demographic, that is, urban, well-educated young women with considerablepurchasing power. Women migrants are still woefully underrepresentedif not negatively portrayed.
To fill this gap, Jianjiaobuluo--Chilli Pepper Blog--will be the first online site in China that truly serves migrant women with 1) easy access to relevantinformation on gender equality, labor rights, lifestyles and life management and 2)encourage them to make better use of ICTsso that their voices can be heard.
The main target group of Jianjiaobuluo is female migrant workers in the PearlRiver Delta of Guangdong Province. While this province is often seen as theembodiment of China’ s greatest economic success, its prosperity, however,owes much to state and corporate maneuvers, leaving the migrant workers toface ongoing exploitative consequences. Equally worth noting here is that it hasalso bred a fast-growing population of mobile device consumers with moreliberal spending than that of previous generations. Mobile device and servicebusinesses sprawl across the migrant neighborhoods, especially those that havesprouted around the electronics manufacturers, targeting workers with seeminglyaffordable offers and extracting wages out of their pockets. The migrant workers,young females in particular, are engaged at the two major points in the life cycle ofwireless mobile products, making them and consuming them.
Our digital campaign can be divided inthree strands, each aiming attechnologically empowering the female workers by tackling a specific barrieragainst their digital inclusion. The details of each strand of work are set out below.
Female-worker friendly design and user-generated content
Studies have found that reducing fear of and resistance to technology can be seenas one of the useful steps to bridge the digital divide. There are indeed structuralfactors that can help create a positive user experience for women. For example, themobile version of Jianjiaobuluo is built with a clearunderstanding of ICT access andthe usage pattern of our target audience.
The fact that the majority of the femaleworkers go online via their mobile devices serves as an important reference forus to make the website optimized for mobile use. On this mobile version, thetext is easily readable and links are easily clickable. Everything falls in a nice verticalline that makes use of the available screen space without much fuss and distraction.
Female users will also feel comfortable in navigating the site at a minimalcost of battery power and bandwidth. In view of the fact that a fast-growingnumber of our target audience communicate via WeChat Moments (76 percent),WeChat groups (46 percent) and QQ Space (34 percent), these are their mainsources of information, as seen in our2016 survey. We have also set up aWeChat public account with daily updates and created an animated customservice representative named Jianxiaojiao (Little chilli pepper) to deliver ashort-list of updated, interesting or thought-provoking items for our WeChatuser groups two to three times a day.
We have realized thatincreasing the potential for positive human interaction around the site should helpincrease positive associations with technology in females. Moreover, they alsosuggest that a carefully structured learning environment should be an entrypoint to build confi dence for ICT usage, which in turn could help defray technophobia.
In order to encourage more women to become regular and active users ofthe site and its social media platforms, without having to struggle with technicalobstacles, we produceboth an online and offline tailor-made digital literacyskill-training series, which features a step-by-step approach andaccommodatesa wide range of everyday needs and interests of our current and potential users.
To better suit their tight schedule, the online training series takes the form offive-minute picture-based or short video tutorials, which run on a weekly basisand usually during weekends. The offline workshops are carried outseasonallyin collaboration with community-based NGOs and usually conducted in small classsizes to facilitate better teaching and learning.
In light of the immense growth of user-generated content across the socialnetwork sites, right from the beginning we have largely relied on ourreadershipto contribute their own voices to what we offer. Getting users to contribute tocontent creation has a few interesting advantages. One of them is that it enablesus to engage our users and build trust among them. It also helps us to accommodatetheir needs and interests and gradually cultivate brand loyalty. To this end, wehave utilized online themed discussions, questionnaires, and games, invitingreaders to contribute articles on particular topics.
Given that most of our readershave rather limited time with adisproportionately heavy workload and need considerablemotivation to speak up, while engaging in online interaction, we haveincorporated carefully designed offline activities, such as gender or labor themedmovie and documentary screenings, post-screening sharing sessions,and body awareness workshops, for entertainment or educational purposes with the help of our community partners to build trust and collect voices.
Innovative public education and representation of voices
Another easily identifi able difference between our target audience and that of mostmedia outlets is that ours have comparatively low levels of educational attainment.Therefore, in addition to improving use of our site and making it more user friendly,we have adopted content that uses infographics, comic strips, animationsand popular Internet memes, slang and expressions. These are well loved byfemale workers, as per the results of the 2016 survey and the focus group discussions.
To better accommodate the needs of our target audience across different agegroups, our rights-based content has covered a range of items such as tips aboutjob interviews, interventions following sexual harassment in the workplace,women’ s wellness, and childcare, online talent shows and so on.
As the resultsof the survey and focus group meetings suggest, while young single women intheir early twenties are found to be more willing and more likely to be able toafford time to learn new things and demonstrate genuine interest in a widerarray of activities, their married counterparts aged between thirty to forty aremore drawn towards health, family and labor rights-related content. All of themare also less likely to actively seek relevant information for lack of necessary technicalskills. In consideration of their limited time and busy schedules, we havecreated an animated custom service representative who delivers daily updatesfor our user chat groups and interacts with them.
As a large number of married women come to work in the city, leaving theirchildren and families behind in their hometowns due to the extremely highcosts of living in the city and the restrictions of the household registrationsystem, which prevent them from accessing local social benefits, these womenare more likely to seize opportunities for self-development if given sufficientmotivation. In other words, the government-implemented and market-driveninternal migration has, to some degree, shed light on tackling of longstanding challengesof gender inequalities and the gender digital divide amongst femaleworkers. Therefore, a good proportion of our online and offl ine interactive activitiesare designed to meet their specific interests and needs.
Our work also seeks to diversify the media landscape by integrating a great numberof fair and honest portrayals of migrant women and representing their voices andconcerns. Up till now, we have presented three series of still and living imagesoffemale workers which went viral online and received positive feedback. This isequally important for the digital and social inclusion of grassroots women. Itcan be further strengthened through advocacy-oriented offl ine activities thataddress and work to combat the gender-based discrimination female workersencounter daily. Such activities usually take the form of forum theatre, film screeningand discussion, and body awareness workshops etc.
Gender sensitive media internship program
As long as women remain underrepresented in the decision-making structures ofthe ICT sector, we will still fall behind in our aim to mainstream gender-sensitivepatterns, policies and standards in the sector. Leading studies have shown that,aside from guaranteeing women’ s equitable access to ICTs, it is central for theirempowerment and the construction of an Information Society for all to makesure that women have the autonomy to receive and produce information relevantto their needs and concerns.
Starting from late 2015 wehave launched a three-month subsidized internship program, which exclusivelytargets interested and talented female migrant workers. The participants who arerecommended by our community partners can expect to receive a comprehensivestudy of gender and sexuality related topics and an all-round on-the-job training insocial media, which aim to equip them with necessary skills ranging from contentcreation to social media marketing. We hope to inspire migrant women to becomestakeholders who can speak out for their own communities, make their voicesheard and generate meaningful impact.
We believe that women have the ability, and in manycases, the desire, to engage more actively to use the possibilities that the ICTsoffer. Their technologicalempowerment, if carefully structured and conducted via a gender-sensitive andwomen-friendly approach, is a promising means to combat digital and socialinequalities.
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