Info Ladies travel around the countryside bringing the Internet and other tech. services to poor villagers. This is a cottage industry, 21-century style. Farmers whose crops are damaged by an unfamiliar disease get the Info Lady to google the problem. Women whose husbands are working in the Middle East ask the Info Lady to Skype call them. Older people get their blood pressure checked in their homes without having to travel miles to see a doctor.
However, this is more than a tech revolution - it’s socially bold too: in Bangladesh, it’s unusual and frowned-upon for women to cycle around on their own. As one of the Info Ladies, Bithy, says, “My mother-in-law had her apprehensions about me cycling around and neighbours would say, ‘why do you want your daughter-in-law to go and work outside, she would go and run away with another man.’ ”
Also, this isn’t a charity effort, it’s part of a ’social entreprise’. The Info Ladies do provide some services free, like Google searches, but charge for others, like Skype and pregnancy tests. The local manager of the project, Shahadet says that they could have set it up as a charity, but “a charity relies on donor money and donor money is not consistent whereas the demand for the service is consistent. So, if we set the programme up as a charity, as soon as the donor money stopped, the Info Lady service would have stopped.”
Not only are these Info Ladies travelling around on their own but they’re also earning money independent of the men in their lives. However, this is what allows them to break convention: the country is poor and if a woman can bring more money into her family, then the neighbours’ objections can be ignored. So, Bithy’s mother-in-law, Anowara, who originally objected to Bithy taking out the bike, now says, “I have given my permission and that’s all that matters. Neighbours will only talk, they won’t give you money when you are suffering. Anyway, whatever Bithy’s earning, that’s my son’s income; it’s not some other man’s.”
While new technology has given Info Ladies a new life outside the home, the tech. business is constantly-evolving and unpredictable. For example, the men working in the Middle East are now sending smartphones to their wives, which means the wives no longer need the Info Ladies for Skype calling. So, the Info Ladies are innovating and bringing new services out to the remote villages. Like, renting LED torches to families with no electricity, who have children studying into the night for exams.
In March 2014, the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development met in Dublin and declared that access to broadband could be “the universal catalyst that lifts developing countries out of poverty and puts access to health care, education and basic social services within reach of all.” In Bangladesh, the Info Ladies have already made a start.
This programme follows two Info Ladies, Beauty Khatun Bithy and Jhorna Aktar. Both live in the Gaibandha district of Bangladesh.
Also featured are: the local manager of one of the Info Lady projects in Gaibandha, Shahadat Hussein Mondal, and Bithy's mother-in-law, Anowara, who was, initially, reluctant to allow Bithy be an Info Lady.
The readers were, Maherin Ahmed (Bithy), Reema Islam(Anowara), Khondokar Nusrat Hossain (Jhorna), Razib Chatterjee (Shahadat Hussein Mondal), Shahinur Rashid (various male voices) and Supriti Dhar (village woman).
The programme was produced by Ronan Kelly
First broadcast, August 16, 2014
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.