Interview: How Hera Hussain helps women empower themselves through technology

Hera Hussain

Guest post written by Rebecca Sentance

By day, she’s the Communities and Partnerships Manager at OpenCorporates, ensuring that data is used for social good. By night, Hera Hussain helps women to empower themselves through technology with the organisation Chayn.

Chayn is a small, volunteer-driven organisation which mainly works with women, primarily in countries such as India and Pakistan, who are victims of domestic violence.

Its team are developing a number of technology-driven projects to help these women in different ways, whether through open-source how-to guides, informative websites or uplifting mental health campaigns. Hera, its founder, says:

“We use technology wherever we can to empower women.”

When Chayn was first founded in 2013, it was a “very lean start-up operation” with a budget of just £500, which was used to launch its website. All of its projects are open-source, collaborative and crowd-sourced from a global team of volunteers.

Why digital is powerful

Using the internet, it can reach and empower vulnerable women who may not leave the house very often, but will likely have a smartphone with internet access.

“That’s why digital is really powerful, because most women have access to a smartphone and internet.”

Not all of them, of course, but rather than try to tackle the complex issue of getting women online in the developing world, Hera and Chayn just make a difference where they can.

“You’ve got to pick your battles,” Hera states.

“So if the middle class has smartphones, then let’s go for that. It’s about targeting women you are able to help.”

Helping women escape abuse

Chayn’s resources on domestic violence aim to plug key gaps in the information available to women and give them simple, practical advice, such as how to save money if they want to leave home, or information on divorce laws in their country. So far it has helped 15 women from Pakistan to escape domestic abuse situations in some way.

The organisation has also recently started developing workshops which will teach women the basics of email, internet navigation and simple website-building.

Basic though it may seem, these are powerful technological skills which can open up a new world for women and give them marketable skills that they can adapt to their lifestyle, especially if they have children.

Empowerment pop-ups

“[Learning these skills] feels really empowering for them,” Hera says. “Getting them to set up their own website, even if it’s a WordPress site, is so empowering because many women grow up thinking they can’t do much; the fact that they can do something is life-changing for them.”

“It’s little things that add up to a big thing.”

Hera envisions these workshops taking the form of “empowerment pop-ups”, day-long workshops on key employment skills.

In the future, she also aspires to open an academy in which women who are leaving domestic violence situations learn how to build websites. “I think it’s a great profession for women,” she says.

“I think it’s great and I really want to see more women in tech.”

(Featured image: Open Corporates)

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