ICT 4 SRHR: National Consultation on Leveraging Technology for Advancing Knowledge on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

27 September 2016

Issues related to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) remain taboo within Indian society. Silence and stigma associated with these issues have meant that many people – particularly those marginalised, such as young people, people with disabilities, women – often do not have a chance to clarify myths and misconceptions around SRH. Over the past decade, the increasing diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), particularly mobile phones, in urban as well as rural areas, has supported the steady growth of the use of ICTs to disseminate varied information, including on health and well-being. ICTs also present immense potential to break the stigma and silence on issues related to sexuality and SRHR in a way that is relatively anonymous and confidential. The nature of the content, however, has been geared towards harm prevention and linked to public health outcomes related to maternal health, family planning, HIV and AIDS. Such an approach has primarily engaged married women in the reproductive age group. 

Alongside, there has been an increasing focus by the government and donor community on investing in India's demographic dividend, given its substantial population of young people – 232 million (10-19 years) of which close to half (111 million) are adolescent girls (ICRW, 2013). Interventions related to adolescent education, life skills, vocational training and health (including SRH) have grown significantly in number to optimise the potential of this age group. Much of this engagement with young people, both by the state and civil society, is through the use of ICTs to disseminate knowledge, information and awareness. The nature of the information imparted, though, continues to be problematic as sexuality and SRHR remain hugely contested issues with regard to this age group. 

However, some civil society organisations working on SRHR and young people are helping advance a more rights-based, sex positive, sexuality focused approach. There has been a notable growth in the number of community-based civil society interventions and ICT-based platforms which seek to demystify sex and sexuality and address issues of bodily integrity, safety, consent and well-being in a more comprehensive manner. These interventions speak to the experiences of young people and their lived realities rather than adopt a public health-focused approach. This has been partly catalysed by donors who in the last decade have increasingly seen the value of investing in the SRHR of young people. The 24X7 mobile phone infoline Kahi Ankahi Baatein (number to dial: 9266292662) is one such example. 

Technology, however, is no panacea: it does not operate in a neutral fashion but is, in many ways, used and perceived within the same social fabric that makes society unjust and gender inequitable. Additionally, at the societal and community levels, there has been a growing perception of technology – mobile phones in particular – as something that can lead young people, especially women, astray. This is part of a larger, severe backlash that women face as they stake claim to public spaces – physical and virtual – and challenge gender stereotypes and prevalent sexual norms. 

ICT 4 SRHR is an attempt to substantively interrogate the potential and pros and cons of the use of ICTs for SRHR. The lessons learned from implementing Kahi Ankahi Baatein provided the impetus to the various partner organisations (CREA, TARSHI, Gurgaon ki Awaaz, Gram Vaani [now Onion Dev]) to plan this national consultation. 

The consultation seeks to take forward the vital conversation on the potential and successes in use of ICTs but also the critical challenges related to access, control over technology and content creation, privacy, freedom of expression and the increasing use of criminal laws to adjudicate on information dissemination using ICTs (such as through the Information Technology Act, 2000) and in working with young people (such as the age of sexual consent, through POCSO, 2012, among other laws). 

The consultation brings together diverse civil society organisations, individuals and other stakeholders who have implemented or invested in similar programmes as Kahi Ankahi Baatein or who have critically examined, over the years, various dimensions of the use of ICTs to disseminate information related to gender, sexuality and SRHR. It seeks to create a space for building collaborations and learning from both the successes and failures in the use of ICTs, to prepare for the future.

Objectives of the consultation:

1. Bringing together different groups working in the area of SRHR related information dissemination using technological innovations and encouraging a cross sector engagement to create visibility around the work done in this space.
2. To create a space for discussing achievements, challenges and processes in programme implementation for SRHR information dissemination.
3. To foster strategic partnerships with the government/funders/other civil society groups 

When: 27-28 September, 2016
Where: Delhi, India