Small-Scale Technologies Improve Lives of Women

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Technology helps women raise their income, education and social status.The Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP), an NGO illustrated this when they electrified villages in north Pakistan.

AKRSP arrived in the district of Chitral and the Northern areas of Pakistan in the 1980s. At this point, the mountainside villages either had sporadic connection with the national grid or none at all. Pricey Kerosene lights and pinewood torches were the only reliable form of light.

AKRSP used micro-hydro-electric technology (micro-hydros) to the region which provided energy via the water from nearby rivers.

By 2012, 209 micro-hydros had been built in 2012 and more than 50 percent of the region had electricity.

Village groups install the micro-hydros, and determine the fee for each house provided with electiricty. The poorer families are granted subsidies. Village groups also determine whether or not to restrict the use of washing machines in the evenings when televisions and lights are in high use.

Micro-hydros enable women to spend their time more productively. Instead of churning butter by hand or washing clothes by hand, women can educate themselves and their families.

Hans Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute expounded upon this point in his TEDtalk, The Magic Washing Machine, in which he discussed the impact his mother’s first washing machine had upon her life and that of her family.

Rosling was only 4 years old when he saw his mother load a washing machine for the first day in her life. He said that it was a great day for his mother, so great that even his grandma was invited to watch the first load of laundry.

“Grandma said ‘no no no, let me, let me push the button,’ and Grandma pushed the button and she said ‘oh, fantastic I want to see this, give me a chair, give me a chair, I want to see it.’ To my grandma the washing machine was a miracle,” said Rosling.

Rosling makes the case for the existence of a “washing line” or a poverty line under which families in the developing world cannot afford washing machines or other simple technologies that make daily life easier and education more obtainable.

Rosling quoted his mother’s explanation of why the washing machine was magic: “Now Hans, we have loaded the laundry, the machine will make the work and now we can go to the library. Because this is the magic, you load the laundry and what do you get out of the machine? You get books,” said Rosling’s mother.

For the first time in her life, Rosling’s mother had time to go to the library to get books to read to him and to herself. She even taught herself English as a foreign language.

Back in Pakistan, AKRSP’s project likewise enabled women to educate themselves with the help of a small-scale technology that was never available before, television. The Allam Iqbal Open University, Pakistan created televised courses for women who are unable to leave their villages due to the strict practices of the culture of purdah (women are concealed from men).

Electricity at night also enabled women in northern Pakistan to earn a living at night via using wool or shu to create clothes and other saleable products. Moreover, the decreased use of kerosene and pinewood torches led to a decline in eye and respiratory diseases that were once common among women who spent large periods of time in the home.

The provision of small-scale technologies like electric lights, televisions and washing machines can have an enormous impact on a woman’s education and overall well-being.

– Kasey Beduhn

Source: SciDev Net, TEDtalk
Photo: Flickr

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