By Taha Siddiqui
It is International Women’s Day. A day with strong historical significance and a reminder for women to fight for their right and imagine a gender equal world. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “break the bias”. In today’s information era, it would be unfair to just talk about breaking social and cultural biases and not talk about gender bias in technology. One of the prominent areas where women are often discriminated in is ‘media and technology’. The way we see women in advertisements, films and serials is often a perception of a patriarchal society that we live in. Media messages often convey content and visuals that reinstate the gender disparity and patriarchal society.
That’s why it is very essential to be media literate and conscious of what we are consuming on a daily basis. Media literacy is a growing field that intends to make media consumers aware of their media messages and increase critical thinking about media’s constructions of reality. This ability to read, understand and analyse images and implicit meanings in all types of media content can provide a robust platform for debate and discussions on gender bias.
In many of my trainings that I give under FactShala programme, a pan India Media Literacy Programme by DataLeads supported by Google.org, I often come across lots of women who are either struggling with new technologies revolving around media and consider themselves less than their counterparts (male). My trainings that are often focussed on rural women belonging to SGHs, women-centric NGOs, homemakers, teachers, healthcare workers, etc., definitely have a bunch of females who feel that media literacy is not their cup of tea and often feel handicapped. Having said this, there are a handful of women in the same group, who also feel empowered because their efforts pushed them to get exposed to media tools and put them to use to earn a living. I once came across a woman who started her tailoring business online on a mere WhatsApp. She told me that she is could not complete her studies but always wanted to be financially independent. By just using a mobile phone judiciously and creatively, she was able to do it in no time. There comes a full circle. So, what’s seemingly part of the problem can also become a part of a solution. Media Literacy, which we often think as a very heavy loaded term, can become a part of solutions to many women related problems revolving around technology. Media literacy is essential to be an active citizen who is aware yet critical. And, women have to be both. Being a media educator, I often come across young girls who are hesitant to pick up a camera for a shoot or sit on the edit table. That’s because the society has ingrained in them the thought that men are better with technology and tools. A mere tool or technology is sufficient to build or break the bias!
The picture is the same everywhere, for a female working in a corporate metro city or a female in rural India trying to make both ends meet. Women are often discriminated against over technology. The male counterparts are often thought to be better with technologies and media tools. This year’s international women theme, Break the Bias has many dimensions to deliberate. Gender bias in technology is an emerging area where lots of work needs to be done. Media can be an empowering tool for women across all strata of society. The sooner we adapt ourselves to media tools and new technologies, the sooner we can break the bias and march through the unlevelled societies created around us. It is time to break this bias and befriend technology.
(Taha Siddiqui is Trainer at Google News Initiative and Assistant Professor at Graphic Era Hill University).