Last year in the International Conference, Women Deliver held in San Francisco in USA, fifteen women were announced as World Pulse Ambassadors.Founder/CEO of the world's largest social network of women leaders,Jensine Larsen made the announcementin the global platform, introducing each woman as a leader in her own right. I heard there was an air of celebration as the audience got on its feet and applauded. One of the women was me.
I was not in San Francisco at that time but I could still feel the wave of joy. I wantedto accept this responsibility placed upon me to advocate for digital empowerment of girls and women but coupled with this moment of joy was also a little voice of uncertainty of how I would carry out my role, if I would match up to expectations. To be able to do justice, the conviction that'sneeded to back your dedication comes from reports on how the gender digital gap is growing wider with Africa reporting the largest divide at 23% and America the narrowest at 2 %(https://webfoundation.org/2016/10/digging-into-data-on-the-gender-digita...) making it all the more important to bring more girls and women 'online'.
My message to women who will come after me as ambassadors is attimes youwill wonder how a program could be organised unless you havefunding, would people be interested in your message, who are the people most likely to be receptive, is it possible to even carry out all the activities and initiatives while you have a fulltime job( like I did), run your own organization or have family commitments.The 'how' will become a constant but let it not be a barrier because this is what I discovered on what could be your message, the do's and don'ts, what approach works and what you eventually will walk away with at the end (read on) .
The year I spent as Ambassador of World Pulse was super eventful. In the last twelve months where Irepresented World Pulse in international and national conferences as a speaker, my message was to increasethe use of internet by girls and women and building connections between them as a vehicle to address social norms that lie at the crux of the manysocial problems in India or elsewhere.To champion digital empowerment of girls, women and the marginalized it is critical to connect the dots between these social evils to women not using their voice to end them. It is important to get more girls and women online so they can tell their stories( and issues pertinent to their community, political background or cultural setting) and pitch for the change they want to see.
One such conference was theUNICEF National Consultation on Social Norms and the Rights of Women and Children attended by close to 100academic professionals on27-28 March 2017 in Bangalore, India where discussions centered around impact of social norms on the development of children and women, on antenatal period in a tribal woman's life, on child birth practices, on feeding practices,on education, on gender based violence, on menarche and the culture of silence, on addressing challenges on maternal, child and adolescent health as experiences by Health Department, gender stereotypes in media.
Initially, you would have to work a little to come up with how use of internet could be seen as a related subject associated with a solution to wide number of problem. It took me a day to come up with how I would fit the vision of World Pulse and use of internet into a discussion on social norms and in this forum meant for sociologists, development communication experts, social researchers and program practitioners Ipitchedfor the role media(World Pulse) and citizen journalism(stories of women by women and for women) could play in changing negative social norms to positive social norms and designing outcomes related to the rights of women and children.
After the first time, it comes easy to visualize the depth of internet use in every possible space of intervention. This is when you truly become an advocate of digital empowerment of women.
I always like to quote Chi Yvonne (https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/leina)and what she achieved using digital skills. Look at the social evil of breast ironing in Cameroon where mothers believe this measure will prevent rape of their daughters. Chi Yvonne who is the Founder of Gender Danger, an NGO working on education towards the eradication of harmful traditions against women and girls in Africa (http://genderdanger.webs.com/) used internet, digital skills of writing her story, her recommendation on how and why to end breast ironing using hercomputer to post it online on World Pulse website(https://www.worldpulse.com/fr/node/182) and other web-based platforms like Facebook and even on herorganization's website and succeeded to bring globalvisibility to this inhuman practice, campaign for its eradication, aligning like minded individuals and organizations to support her and in the process develop a resistance to practices that are harmful for girls.
World Pulse envisions the transitioning of a girl/woman from an existence of being a mere spectator to being vocal and suggest solutions and lead her community to change in partnership with other women around the world.
My learning from this is you do not have to set aside a program specifically for advocating use of internet; you can integrate this message in many of your current activities and public appearances during your job, your own organization work too. Additionally, if you need a success story of a woman change maker who uses internet to enhance impact, you will not face any difficulty in identifying her because World Pulse is an encyclopedia of women leaders. I found Olutosin Oladoshu Adebowale from Nigeria, Zephaniah from Pakistan, Neema Namadamu from Congo, Beatrice Achieng Nas from Republic of Uganda and so many other inspiring women!
If you do not have staff or a team to help you, do what I did! I reached out for help from World Pulse sisters I was close to and who helped me with their expertise. Busayo Obisakin from Nigeria helped me out during the Women Digital Skills Training I conducted in April 2016 for a small group of 10 women sales professionals in Bangalore(https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/groups/voices-our-future-virtual...) by being my co-facilitator using Skype to connect to us in India and sharing her experience in using internet, World Pulse and digital skills to enhance her work. Olutosin Adebowale, Stella Paul and Upasana Chauhan- all World Pulse women extended their support by being panelists on the International Women's Day Skype Program held on 8th March 2017 where close to 30 callers from around the globe joined the skype based conversation and many viewers connected to our Facebook Live streaming(https://www.facebook.com/events/195342270949672/)/
During the Nepal National Training on Menstrual Hygiene Management held in Nagarkot in February 2017 I conducted sessions on digital tools to enhance program implementation on menstrual hygiene management program to 60 participants from Nepal and Pakistan who were government officials from different departments. The participants shared how useful that session had been to unlock their own apprehensions on sharing on social media or on online portals for fear of loss of privacy, lack of idea on benefits of networking and thinking it was only for the new generation to be online.
Noteworthy are accounts of two of my colleagues who were also trainers like me in that program who shared that the session had completely changed their view on being connected to others.
Abdulwahid Ahmed Jama working with Kenya Red Cross Society shares his experience of attending the digital skills session and says,'This training was extremely useful in instilling in me a culture of sharing information in real time. I found there is no greater advocacy than using social media to push for a cause.'
Ayesha Riaz, another participant from Pakistan who works in the Education Department says,' Digital skills training was so inspiring because no body receives training on this topic unless your line of education is this.People might buy the latest gadgets but how many know how to use it well and for good?
And then there were ample opportunities in myfriend circle, among colleagues, with family where I couldgive hand-holding support to set up a Skype account, or an e-mail, take a picture and share it with friends and so on. You will be surprised to find the number of people who find the confidence to be online through your help.
Take every travel opportunity to meet World Pulse sisters who live there or are in transit. Meeting women of World Pulse andbeing personally known to them encourages us all when we see the numbers we are and the collective strength in us! I remember how difficult it was for me and World Pulse Kashmiri journalist Aliya Bashir https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/aliya-bashirto meet in Mumbai where we both had gone on work. It had been a time when the entire country was facing a unique crisis of demonetization and we had no cash at hand. Aliya Bashir was staying in a hotel 15 km from mine. I had more cash with me than Aliya had so I decided to make the effort instead and took a cab to her hotel. I waited in the lobby of the five star hotel looking out for her as known from the pictures I had seen of Aliya. We have known each other for seven years on World Pulse but this was the first time we would be meeting. When I saw her coming with her arms open, my heart knew no joy greater than this.
I also met Paulina Nayrahttps://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/paulina-lawsin from Philippines and Phionah Musumba https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/phionah-musumbafrom Keyna in a conference in New Delhi earlier this year.We were meeting for the first time. We exchanged gifts, hugs, kisses and tears. The women sitting adjacent to us were impressed by our reunion and love for each other and one asked us, ' Can you please share with us more about the love you three have for each other?'. What better way than this to introduce World Pulse to others?
The journey that was meant to facilitate learning process in others also left me with lessons that willchange my life forever, one being that the biggest resource we have is OURSELVES and with that alone, we can move mountains. The other learning is, digital skills are not stand-alone topics, subject of learning or occupation; instead it is a skill that can be used alongside any other activity in any industry you work in or in your personal life- everyone can benefit from it! I found several teams and persons I want to continue working with, a new confidence and peace of doing my best in my circumstances. I also drew closer to World Pulse sisters and take delight in being considered as a focal person or point of reference for other women who train others.
I thank all my friends, sisters, volunteers and others who supported me to accomplish the goals I had set for myself.Thank you World Pulse for giving me the opportunity to serve the global sisterhood and my World Pulse family.
* Note: This article is dedicated to conclude a very important phase of my life of having servedas World Pulse Ambassador and the lessons I learnt I share with others so that they can lead with enhanced efforts.