Open Access Research article

Harnessing information technology to improve women’s health information: evidence from Pakistan

Rubeena Zakar1, Muhammad Z Zakar1, Shazia Qureshi2 and Florian Fischer3*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Social and Cultural Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan

2 Faculty of Law, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan

3 Department of Public Health Medicine, School of Public Health, Bielefeld University, P.O. Box 100 131, 33501 Bielefeld, Germany

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BMC Women's Health 2014, 14:105  doi:10.1186/1472-6874-14-105

Published: 4 September 2014

Abstract

Background

More than half of Pakistani women are illiterate, marginalized, and experience myriad health problems. These women are also disadvantaged in terms of their restricted mobility and limited access to public space. Nonetheless, user-friendly information and communication technologies (ICTs) have opened up new opportunities to provide them with information that is essential for their health and well-being.

Methods

We established an Information and Communication Centre (ICC) in a village in Sialkot (Pakistan) on a pilot basis in 2009. The basic philosophy of the ICC was to provide women with health-related information by exposing them to modern sources of information on their doorstep. By design, the ICC was a community-based and community-managed institution where women could access information through online (e.g., internet, mobile phone etc.) and offline (e.g., CDs, TV etc.) resources. The ICC was managed by a group of local volunteer women who had the capacity and skills to use the devices and tools of modern ICTs.

Results

We noted an overwhelming participation and interest from local women in the activities of the ICC. The women wanted to receive information on a wide range of issues, from family planning, antenatal care, and childcare to garbage disposal and prevention of domestic violence. Overall, the ICC was successful in initiating a meaningful “information dialogue” at community level, where much-needed information was retrieved, negotiated, mediated, and disseminated through intimate and trusted relations.

Conclusion

We conclude that ICTs have the capacity to cross the barriers of illiteracy and can reach out to disadvantaged women living under a conservative patriarchal regime.

Keywords:
Health information; Information communication; Women’s health; Pakistan; Rural women