“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
- Maya Angelou
The fact that we live in a world, where a large part of the communication and dialogue happens on social media is well known. However, what’s less acknowledged is how this access to social media and technology is unequal, gendered, and restricted to certain sections of the population. Gender and economic divides in the physical world are also replicated in the digital world. So, when Femme First Foundation started looking for stories to bring to light the exceptional work done by the #WomenChangemakers in Governance during the COVID ’19 pandemic, we were expecting to find stories of resilience, courage, empathy, and commitment. But what we also found common amongst most of these women leaders was their creative use of social media platforms to make public services more accessible, enabling those on the margins.
These women leaders spoke about how they used various platforms like Twitter, Whatsapp, and Instagram; and also made use of digital software to create content and spread awareness about COVID norms and reduce risks. As a result, leveraging a "technocratic world" that is not only often remote, but also gendered and male-dominated. However, what stood out was how this abstract space of the internet and social media was made more humane by our changemakers as they actively worked to ensure that people and their needs could be catered to, transcending geographical locations, identities, etc. One of our changemakers, Ms. Pomi Baruah (Officer on Special Duty , National Health Mission, Assam), talked about this specific incident that made her realise the power of social media in bringing people together and saving lives across boundaries. "An individual from Dubai tagged me on Twitter, requesting if I could help his mother-in-law in Guwahati. We immediately managed to hospitalise her. I am so glad we reached out to her in time. If not, we could have lost her. That’s when I realised the power of social media and we began to proactively use it to reach out to people and help those in need, " she shared.
Ms. Jebi Mather (Deputy Chairperson, Aluva Municipality) also shared how social media and various apps have become an opportunity for people to have a sense of community in times when physical human interaction is limited. She talked about the creative initiative started by her along with the team wherein they brought people from the Aluva Municipality to create and record content on COVID awareness norms. She said, "Government personnel and civilians who did not have any acting experience turned out to be actors and real heroes. They acted in small movies and videos of 3-4 minutes, which were circulated through various media and helped spread awareness of COVID, busting myths and giving people hope in fighting against this invisible enemy. "
Being a cancer patient herself and coming from the densely populated area of Pune, Ms. Mukta Tilak (MLA, Maharashtra) shared how she could not be on the ground frequently as she had to be extra cautious. She highlighted how social media came in really handy in reaching out to people. "The largest red light area falls within my constituency and the sex workers were gravely affected. I read on the internet how the community was further ostracised and did not have access to basic means of livelihood. So we reached out to the ration suppliers, held them accountable, and ensured the various government schemes were made accessible to them, thus providing them with food and healthcare benefits.
Similarly, Savita Anand (Ex- Personal Secretary, Hon'ble Minister SW & WCD, Govt of Delhi), who started an NGO called ALIVE to help the distressed animals during COVID, also highlighted how she used social media to find foster homes for these animals. Additionally, she actively works for gender sensitisation and the empowerment of the trans community. "We used social media, especially Twitter, to raise funds and also spread awareness among people about the trans community."
The #WomenChangemakers in Governance campaign in partnership with Twitter India brought out various facets of women's leadership and governance. Having a platform where women leaders could come together, share their experiences and express solidarity beyond sectors and party lines was empowering.