July discussion - The FAT dillemmas

Gayatri Buragohain
Posted July 24, 2012 from India

After promising to share a post in July here in this group, I am doing so almost near the end of the month! Sorry about the delay, but such is our workload!

First I would like to give you a brief idea about our work. We, Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT) based in New Delhi in India, are working towards bridging the gap between women and technology through many different strategies. One of our programs is to work with adolescent girls and young women (age group 15 to 25) from underprivileged families to provide them a space to learn technical skills and also build their awareness on social issues which effect them. We integrate lessons on IT skills (mostly computer, photography and videography) with workshops and group discussions on various topics like gender, education, violence, sexuality, communalism, health, law, etc.

Today I want to share with you 2 steps we took that we feel worked very well with our adolescent girls, and also 2 challenges we are facing.

Due to lack of enough team members, we were not able to reach out to many girls. So we decided to work with a small group for a period of 6 months and prepare them so that they could do some of our work. We selected a group of 12 girls, worked with them extensively, and after their course was over we asked them to help us run the next course. Even though we call it a course of six months, we actually want an ongoing long term involvement of the participants with our program. However, retaining girls for such a long term relationship is not so easy, unless they find the involvement beneficial for them. The idea of being volunteer computer trainers for the next batch of girls was attractive to many of the girls. And having trainers from within the community helped us attract more girls to join the program. It gave the new trainers visibility and respect within their community. Though they are not fully ready to train independently, they are assisting our staff member and enhancing their own skills. Presently we have 5 such volunteers.

Another step that really helped us was forming a girls collective. We organize discussions on various issues with the group as a part of our program. After each discussion, the girls are highly energized as they share their personal experiences and vent out their anger in front of their peers. We decided to direct this energy to do some activism within the community. We organized a celebration on International Women's Day within the community. The girls prepared for the event by writing slogans, making posters and preparing a street play. It was both fun and liberating for them to prepare for this event together. They invited every family in the community to the event. Finally mostly women turned up at the event. Though the girls did not perform the street play, they sang songs, shouted slogans and talked about International Women's Day at the event. At the event we proposed the girls start a collective of their own to bring change in young women's lives within their community, and the mother support the collective. The idea received a lot of support from both the girls and the women present in the event. There after, a collective called the "Nayi Soch Nayo Rah" (New Thinking New Ways) was started. The girls named this collective themselve. We only supported the collective with our guidance and left most of the functioning to them. This collective has helped us get many new girls into the program. During this summer vacations, we had as many as 30 girls coming to our small centre every day. The collective meets once every week and reaches out on its own to other girls. The reach has now extended beyond the community we started working.

However, we are facing challenges keeping the collective active as the schools and colleges reopened on 9th July. Most of the school/college going girls are not able to come regularly now, which means the weekly meetings have very few girls and hence are not really working well. We also recently shifted our office and the new space is slightly further away from the girls' houses. The heat in Delhi is unbearable. After a hot day in the school, it is not possible to come out in the heat to again. We are worried that such a discontinuity may result in dissolution of the collective.

On the other hand, the girls who have continued with us so far are a little upset that they have not really been able to use their new skills to get a job so far. When they joined the program we had made it very clear that we are not running the program to help them get jobs. The program's aim is to give them access to new technologies since they don't have the access, and raise awareness about women's rights within their community through the girls. We do not want them to discontinue their education by getting into jobs at a young age. (Most of the girls in our program are between the age of 15 to 19). However, their families expect them to earn rather than study. Each one of the girls feels it is her responsibility to earn and help her family. But given a choice, they would like to study. Job market has become very competitive today and even those who are old enough to apply for jobs cannot get jobs easily because they dont know to speak English which is a must to get jobs these days! We are a little confused about our position in this matter. We do not want to promote the idea that the girls should leave their education and start working now just because they have learnt basic computer skills. (It has taken a lot of efforts from us to get some girls stay at school and get some into colleges). Most families can support their education but do not do so for their girls. We would rather like to empower the girls to negotiate with their families to support their education. A few girls have tried to negotiate as well (while many are uncertain if they want to negotiate). Those who have tried to negotiate have faced violence within the family. 2 of them are being forced to get married.

We would like to know from you if you have faced such problems and how have you dealt with them. What do you suggest us, should we help the girls to get jobs or should we continue negotiating with the families. What are the best ways to work with tough parents? What can we do to keep the larger group engaged on a regular basis? The girls' collective (Nayi Soch Nayi Rah) needs a lot of motivation. What can we do to keep the collective alive? Please do keep in mind that we do not have much funds. We just have enough to pay for the rent of the centre space, salary of the main computer skills trainer and an assistant who is one of our old students. We have 3 volunteers who conduct the workshops and discussions / provide counseling to the girls / talk to parents when needed.

Lessons learnt from your experiences would be invaluable for us!


Comments 3

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Anjali M
Jul 31, 2012
Jul 31, 2012

Hi Gayatri,

Thank you so much for this informative and very interesting entry. I shared parts of your entry with my colleagues in the GGI cohort (peer grantmakers including Global Fund for Children, Mama Cash, etc). One organization, EMpower, sent me the following response that I wanted to share with you (see below). I hope you'll find it helpful!


One of my lessons learned this year from our investments in non-standard income generation in Ghana and Nigeria is that ICT is definitely a more widely accepted pathway towards crossing gender lines than some other lines of work perceived as ‘male-only’. These programs have not yet reached the challenging stage in which FAT now finds themselves, so your message was a really helpful reminder to have this conversation with such grantee partners before too long. That said, we have had experience with other partners in which their managing expectations, specifically wrt employment, is an ongoing challenge.

Often for young people that enroll in programs offered by our partners in which there is a livelihoods component, it is the first step in a long process towards becoming ready for formal employment (age, education, market and tradition being determining factors for readiness) or intentional self-employment with financial goals and growth in mind. It is so important that partners set realistic expectations for parents and participants. Girls might leave with any combination of: 1) rights-based education, negotiating skills, a greater sense of agency; 2) a job, an internship, a volunteer placement (a link which also takes time and resources); 3) a certificate or a concrete, step by step plan for finishing education and continuing onto employment. While organizations may be offering a free service to the community, time is money and we find that sometimes programs need to clearly think through (rather than have a general aspiration) of what specific assets participants will leave the program with.

Carmen made a good point and I agree: FAT needs to think about whether they are in fact offering a LIVELIHOODS program or an EDUCATION program as there is a huge difference in the expectations and required staff capacity for each pathway. We have had experiences with grantees that are internationally recognized for their work in education or health, but once they move into the livelihoods space, many assumptions are made and they may find themselves unprepared and risking their reputation with their core constituency. If girls are expecting jobs at the end of the FAT training, then there is a disconnect in communicating the program’s objectives. If retention rates fall or FAT feels they are not responding to the girls' needs, it would seem that they need to re-think their recruitment criteria or program design.

If expectations are clear, they might want to revisit the program design: How can we address the economic needs of the family which affect and limit girls' education (while maintaining our focus on working directly w/ girls) while also addressing the girls’ interest in continuing their education and their sense of responsibility to contribute to the family income? Positioning the IT component to address practical, every day, more immediate needs might help increase buy-in from both participants and gatekeepers.

Carmen learned from a grantee partner in Brazil that youth had immediate needs to work but wanted to keep studying. In response, the organization had to change the training schedule to meet these demands (e.g. extended the program from 12 months to 18 months, less hours per week so that youth could participate in trainings but wouldn't have to "give up" jobs, made the trainings more relevant, among other things). They were realistic in their approach: if adolescent girls need to work, FAT would want to consider redesigning the program or hours/scheduling so that it's not an either/or decision. It’s unclear from your email if the girls that FAT works with are currently enrolled in formal schooling and are at risk of being pulled out by parents to work or if they are currently working and not enrolled in school. Depending on the context, perhaps FAT’s value is more along the lines of helping girls to negotiate their schedules and chore burden at home.

One idea would be for FAT to explore and integrate into their training curriculum ways in which technology can add value to the family income generation plan (household budgeting, data entry, accessing internet information of value to the family such as prices of products they sell or make etc), which would also (in theory):

raise the profile of adolescent girls within the family unit create space for negotiation which would hopefully allow girls to continue their education while contributing towards earning efforts

Cynthia suggests FAT might get in touch with Navsarjan in Gujarat, as they have had some interesting experiences training rural girls who then can sell their computer skills in their communities (helping with travel, preparing Word documents etc.)

Like all interventions, the feasibility and practicality of such training should of course be discussed with parents and community members early on. I understand the complexity of job training in a depressed job market; this is likely an issue that all of our partners are dealing with at this time. That said, acknowledging the family unit as an entity in which adolescent girls can be up-skilled and gain work experience, rather than be exploited or married prematurely, could possibly put them in a better position for formal employment or non-formal entrepreneurship at a later stage in life after they complete their educational goals. Carmen learned from some programs that deeper involvement with parents (e.g. providing occasional relevant trainings for them or having them participate in a training with the girls) opened up their eyes to what the trainings actually were and their utility. Oftentimes parents started wanted their own trainings (which of course is another issue cost-wise and program-wise). But thinking about how to incorporate the family more closely is key.

Gayatri Buragohain
Dec 04, 2012
Dec 04, 2012

Hi anjali,

Thanks for posting this response from EmPower. In response to the suggestion that we should make it very clear to our girls about what we are offering at our program, Education or Livelihood, we have always been clear that we are offering education. However, we feel that the expectations of job came with the fact that computer skills is associated with the job market. There are so many computer training centers around that market their programs using a "GUARANTEED JOB" scheme, that most people who are not familiar with the concept of using computers as a day-to-day communication and leisure tool usually tend to associate it with jobs only. We also realized that the age group of our students at that time had immediate need for a job. After a few months of completion of their 6 months course with us, many of the girls eventually found employment in different private businesses and companies which eventually worked well for us. The constitution of the new batch of girls who are presently enrolled happened to mostly young school going teenagers, and we see that the expectations of this group is much different from the previous group.

I really like the idea that Navsarjan has used to used computer skills to help community members and earn money in return. I think we can develop something like this.

Theresa Michael
Dec 11, 2012
Dec 11, 2012

Furthermore on this conversation, FAT's objective as I understand it, FAT's objective is educational and targetted at adolescent girls 15-19 years of age. For these, the program could integrate information on school enrollment for those that are out of school; those already in school could be given access to information on further educational opportunities in IT professional institutes, tertiary institutions, while also providing them with information on work-study programs, vacation jobs for students, internship opportunities in IT and women's rights, etc. In this way, the program will take care of their practical needs at the same time as their strategic need to improve themselves through study.

Having said that, I want to add that in our experience at WOPED, programs focusing on adolescents are greatly enhanced by an outreach extension to parents, particularly mothers. Such extension would keep FAT on top of the situation regarding challenges and emerging needs within households that may affect the program negatively or positively, a kind of feed in and feed back system that enables better preparedness and response. The extension could be a girls support group, parents advisory council, parents-community seminar series, or if fund permits, micro-credit target group.

In whatever way FAT chooses to reach out to them, the objective must be precise and clearly linked to creating better understanding and support for the girls' IT program. Gaining parents and community understanding of program objectives can be very empowering both to FAT's work in general and to the girls' program in particular.

On behalf of WOPED Women's Centre for Peace and Development www.womenscentreforpeace.org www.facebook.com/womenscentreforpeace www.twitter.com/wopedwomen