Technology is not made for women. Women are supposed to adapt to the male world and use male tools for themselves. For example, my calendar is not just my calendar. It is my family’s calendar. As a house manager, mother, daughter, wife, businesswoman, engineer, I record things like medicine schedules of my family members, homework and school events for my son, immunization schedule of my toddler, even vaccine schedule of my five pets. I have grocery reminders, bill reminders, and small loans and leaves of domestic help and office staff. I also have work deadlines, meetings scheduled in between. As a small business owner, you will find reminders and notes of thousand kinds in memos. But alongside, you will see recipes for tiffin box, craft ideas, dieting goals, yoga routines. I am sure lot of women juggle these familiar roles and have forced technology not made for them to work for them.
So at Pink Rickshaw Design, we wanted to make technology for women. Where should we begin? Should we design a new phone or a smart watch? Should we make completely new devices– hitherto unseen– meant for women only.
Then Pink Rickshaw Design received orders to make technology for rural women.
Our first task was the field visit. I knew this bit. During my PhD I had conducted studies to measure creativity across R&D labs in USA. I armed myself with the observation sheets, camera, interview questions. I was expecting listless bored participants and I was determined to ‘extract’ the needed information like I did in USA. I couldn’t be more wrong. We were welcomed by empowered positive women from our heartland. I may have been subconsciously projecting the narrative of “upliftment” supported by our urban biases. Nothing could be further from the truth. These women have surmounted numerous obstacles and found themselves an empowering narrative. A narrative of comradeship, of cooperation, and above all of initiative. They know what they want. They are not afraid of the unfamiliar. I realized how beautiful empowerment is and as engineers we must be able to create technology that augments their narrative. The experience was overwhelmingly positive. We came back with an agenda and renewed motivation to make something useful for women.
As a PhD student, I was part of an effort in my university called women in computer science. We would go to schools to talk about computer science and even to my undergraduate students as TA and instructor I would try and extol the virtues of computer science.
But I see now what I could not see then. I was holding the stick from the wrong end. Why would a young girl want to invest in the field that says “only for men” at the entry gate. All the clamor on women in tech focusses on getting women into tech and hardly so much for getting tech to women. Why would women try and make things that they don’t see themselves in? Where are the studies that tell us design needs of women for devices? The world is about to repeat this mistake with Internet of Things(IoT). Smart homes or smart offices without women users in mind is a disaster waiting to happen.
So Pink Rickshaw Design has a vision of making technology for women. We are committed to supporting their busy lives. And the beginning of this vision are these three products for education, collaboration, and communication among rural women:
1)MagicCarpet: This is an Internet of Things carpet which allows rural women sitting around it to participate in a meeting and exchange information.
2)MeetingMediator: Coupled with the Magic Carpet this portable computer has custom software that allows the group of participants to run a meeting and discuss finance, education, health and agriculture. The mediator also couples with the carpet to ascertain which women are engaged in the meeting and which aren’t and then take necessary actions to improve engagement. It is designed to be completely run in any native language.
3)EngagementBookTab: This is a flip book combined with a tablet in a seamless manner to allow delivering messages of health, finance, education to a group of women. It is coupled with a custom designed 1000W public announcement system that runs on mobile batteries. This is a device used to propagate messages across communities.
The journey so far has been rewarding. The quest to make technology for women continues. At the core, we keep asking ourselves: How can technology augment multiple roles and help in the task of breaking new grounds by women?