Write-up for UNDP Regional Workshop 2007 on Local Poverty Reduction and MDG Localisation
By: Chong Sheau Ching, founder and ED of www.ehomemakers.net
The Malaysian government supports ICT4D with various initiatives including giving funds to the civil societies to build e-community for BDD. eHomemakers was one of the recipient of a e-community grant.
In 1998, I founded ‘Mothers for Mothers’ as a voluntary group of single mothers and “housewives” helping each other to earn income through ICT-based home businesses. Against the backdrop of the Asian economic crisis, we supported our families with income derived from home-based businesses as spouses had been retrenched and the single mothers did not get any child support.
We had no choice but to help ourselves.
And we saw that using ICT was the WAY to go.
The group energy on self-reliance gave tremendous momentum for the community to grow on its own without funding, relying solely on a traditional ‘housewife’ skill—bartering with businesses. We projected our group as a niche group of consumers, giving businesses media coverage and a means to promote their goods and services through our activities such as ‘working @ home’ conferences, trainings, educational talks, newsletters and publications.
While helping each other through women-connecting-women activities, we also had to overcome public prejudice about useless “housewives” who could not contribute to the family and society, let alone BDD. We face ridicules and put-downs when we talked about our ICT interests and our visions of our lives – using the home as a social-economic platform without having to leave the house.
As the message of self-reliance and choice spread to the public, it became obvious that more homemakers needed economic empowerment to uplift their gender status especially the disadvantaged – the unemployed, no/low skilled urban poor who are single mothers, patients of chronic illnesses, the physically-challenged and mentally challenged women, and women who are caretakers of patients and physically/mentally-challenged persons. These are women who are invisible in the BDD group. No one spoke up for them, let alone giving them assistance.
In 2002, we converted the voluntary group into a social enterprise, eHomemakers, through a one-year grant from the government. Since then, we have been sustaining the enterprise through small grants and business revenues. We spend most of our precious resources helping the poor to gain dignity through homebased income generation.
Our portal, www.eHomemakers.net provides home business and ICT usage information to homemakers besides giving members a cyber-networking platform
Now, then years later, we are a e-network of 13,000 homemakers/home entrepreneurs/teleworkers who are bound together by common interests in ICT-based economic activities, homemaking and concerns on social, family, environment and gender development. One third of our membership consists of fathers who work from home besides taking care of the children and household. This figure, however, does not include the larger membership of those who do not formally register themselves but still use the portal contents and attend ground activities. The highest page download last year was 650,000, and 750,000 hits, proving that our portal and ground activities are helping women and the disadvantaged in socio-economic development.
Salaam Wanita (SW) is a pilot project to equip disadvantaged women in the urban regions of Klang Valley and Ipoh with basic ICT and homepreneurship knowledge so that they can work from home. The 300 odd members have received basic training on the use of computers and the Internet, basket weaving from paper or other odd job skills. eHomemakers helps SW members to source bulk orders and homebased administrative assistance work from private companies. The marketing website (www.justmarketing.info) advertises the products/services and is linked to a web-to-handphone application that supports their cooperative work.
Our core team works in a cyber-office from private homes, showcasing an example for the members to operate their businesses from cyber-offices to achieve efficiency and making full use of ICT.
eHomemakers is also actively involved in advocacy for the informal sector. Women homeworkers are mostly in the informal sector which is still unrecognized in Malaysia. Thus, there is no legislation for safety/health protection nor benefits for those who are sub-contracting work from factories and small and medium enterprises. Because of these, homeworkers’ status is transient, often moving in and out of paid outside work and homebased work depending on circumstances. Changing of contact addresses is very common and they are hard to trace. Their work culture is made up of uncertainties of status, work volume, income levels and income sources, thus affecting their gender status.
We dispel the general feeling among disadvantaged groups that they are doomed to accept the “ill fate” that has befallen them. Participation in this e-community has brought women new skills and relationships that reinforce their self-esteem and contribute to their social and economic empowerment. When women start to think and act to become self-reliant, it can change the power relations within a traditional family set-up. Today many members are so successful that even their husbands have quit their full-time jobs to join the home-based ventures.
We have found freedom from our home as we reach out through ICT. The world is an oyster even for the disadvantaged. But the road is long as we do not have all the resources to help more disadvantaged.
One thing for sure, our ten-year journey shows that we have helped ourselves to BDD through a simple solution – helping each other with commitment.