Google India and Tata Trusts Tuesday said their Internet Saathi initiative, that aims to facilitate digital literacy among women in rural India, will be expanded to villages in Punjab and Odisha.

Launched in July 2015, the Internet Saathi programme has so far, trained 70,000 'Internet Saathis', who have in turn impacted 2.6 crore women in the country.

"The programme now reaches 2.6 lakh villages across 18 states and we are adding two more - Punjab and Odisha. Internet Saathi has contributed towards bridging the digital gender divide in rural India - female to male ratio was 1 in 10 in 2015 and in 2018, it has increased to 4 in 10," Neha Barjatya, Chief Internet Saathi, Google India told PTI.

In Punjab, the program will cover around 5,000 villages, like Paras Rampur, Kotli Than Singh, Burj, Vehra and from Hoshiarpur and Kapurthala districts.

In Odisha, the program has been kicked off from Sindhia in Baleshwar, Parakana in Puri, Bhuinpur in Kendrapara, and will cover over 16,000 villages.

The programme started as a pilot in Rajasthan and has been expanded to states including Gujarat, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana,Tamil Nadu, Goa, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Telangana.

"Internet Saathi program has shown us that with the right opportunities, there is no limit to what women can achieve. These women in rural India are learning about the Internet, not just for their own needs but for their families, kids and their communities," Barjatya said.

She added that some of the women trained under the programme have started their own micro-business like stitching, honeybee farming, and beauty parlours.

"There are also many who are driving awareness for issues like girl child education, menstrual hygiene and more within their communities," she added.

Raman Kalyanakrishnan, Head - Strategy, Tata Trusts said it is imperative that women in rural India are provided with adequate opportunities and knowledge for inclusive growth and societal progress.

"The Trusts have increasingly been using technology in all its programmes across 29 states in India. Punjab and Odisha being a geography of focus for several Tata Trusts' existing initiatives gives us an added advantage in planning and implementing the Internet Saathi programme in these regions," he added.

Barjatya cited a study with Kantar that found a significant number of the Internet Saathis saying they believe they are seen as a source of information in their village -- people are coming to them consistently for answers to help children with schoolwork, to learn new cooking recipes, search for jobs, or to run a business.

The study was based on interviews of over 2,500 people across rural India.

"The study shows that 8 in 10 Saathis and their beneficiaries believe people in their village respect them more. Also, 9 in 10 women beneficiaries believe in a woman's right to express herself, and earn a living for her family," she said. PTI SR DRR

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