India’s gendered digital divide:

  • IASbaba
  • August 28, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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  • GS-1: Society & issues related to women.
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • GS-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to it

India’s gendered digital divide:

Context:  As COVID-19 coursed through countries, governments responded with lockdowns that drove people towards digital marketplaces. Globally, digital adoption escalated by five years in merely two months in 2020.

  • India has set a target of reaching a US $1 trillion digital economy by 2025, a five fold growth from the US $200 million in 2017–18.

Progress of digitalization in the wake of COVID-19 Pandemic

  • 500 percent increase in tele-health consultations
  • A structural shift towards online shopping with e-retail reaching 95 percent of Indian districts
  • Digital payments touching the 100 million transactions per day mark.

COVID-19 amplified another trend: The gendered digital divide.

  • Indian women are 15 percent less likely to own a mobile phone, and 33 percent less likely to use mobile internet services than men. 
  • In 2020, 25 percent of the total adult female population owned a smartphone versus 41 percent of adult men.
  • Within Asia-pacific, India had the widest gender gap in internet usage in recent years, a gender gap of 40.4 percent with only 15 percent of women accessing the internet versus 25 percent of men.

This gendered digital divide is often born out of a triple disadvantage for women in India. 

  • First, there is a rural-urban digital divide, such that rural broadband penetration is only 29 percent against a national average of 51 percent. Across states, women in rural areas are less likely to own mobile phones.
  • Second, there is an income-based digital divide between households. Given the average price for data is $0.68/GB in India, estimates show that each GB of data costs low-income households (earning less than $2/day) 3% of their monthly income versus 0.2% for middle-income households (earning US $10–$20 per day).
  • Finally, intra-household discrimination prevents women from equitably accessing digital devices within the domestic sphere, which in turn widens the gender-based digital divide.

Social Factors that excludes women from accessing digital economy

  • Even when they are permitted to own or use household-level mobile devices, women’s online activity is often governed by male relatives. 
  • While mobile phones are viewed as a risk to women’s reputation pre-marriage; post-marriage, phone-use is viewed as an interruption to caregiving responsibilities
  • Women generally refrain from speaking on their phones in public places, preferring to conduct their conversation within the home, owing to prevailing social norms and fear of judgement.
  • Digital illiteracy and unfamiliarity with digital platforms deterred women entrepreneurs from moving to online marketplaces post COVID-19.

Way Forward

It is imperative to not only increase women’s smartphone ownership as it assists in internet adoption, but also to accelerate digital literacy programmes and work towards ending digital discrimination based on gender norms.

Connecting the dots:

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