Are Indian Women Being Left Behind in the Digitization Process Leading to Digital Gender Inequality?
The Covid-19 epidemic emphasized the value of mobile and mobile internet connectivity for information, healthcare, and education as well as e-commerce, financial services, and prospects for revenue production. However, the pandemic also “highlighted the stark digital difference” as individuals without access to mobile internet “are at risk of being left even further behind,” creating a chance for inequality according to the Digital Gender Gap Report, 2022 by GSMA, a global organization that promotes digital inclusion.
According to the National Family Health Survey, just 22.5% of Indian women (53.9%) who own mobile phones reported using them for financial activities (NFHS-5).
Sona Mitra, an economist at Initiative to What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy, stated that given the lower mobile phone usage by women, “naturally there would be a digital gender gap in internet usage” (IWWAGE). According to NFHS-5 data, a third of Indian women use the internet.
Additionally, using the internet appears to perpetuate current inequality and create a digital gender gap. Compared to just 8% of women who had completed grade V of education, more than 72% of women with more than 12 years of education have utilized the internet. Internet use was more prevalent among younger women than older ones and those in the highest quintiles of wealth compared to those in lower quintiles.
Due to the advancement of digitization, India’s digital gender gap in the digital sphere is becoming more apparent. Due to the divide, women are necessarily denied opportunities in a labor market where a need for digital skills exists. A poll conducted by the freelancing website Upwork found that the Covid-19 outbreak increased the prevalence of remote labor.
Women’s prospects for entrepreneurship in India will continue to be negatively impacted by the current digital gender gap unless they can catch up quickly and close it, which will limit their options to low-tech, low-revenue-generating industries like food and handicrafts with limited room for expansion.
When the pandemic hit India, women’s employment was already in steep decline. Between 2017 and 2020, it was anticipated that 21 million women had disappeared from the labor force. The epidemic adversely impacted women’s employment more than men’s. In proportion, more women than men lost their jobs. The number of workers in India has decreased by 2% for males and 13% for women by the end of 2020.
The main causes of the digital gender gap in India are three. The first is an inequality gap between rural and urban parts of India; women who reside in rural areas are less likely to own mobile phones than those who do.
A division based on income is the second. Low-income people may have to spend up to 3% of their monthly income just to access data.
Social norms come in third. Women’s online activity is frequently controlled by male relatives in a culture where mobile phones are seen as a risk to women’s reputations before marriage and disruption to caring responsibilities after marriage.
In India, according to the Mobile Gender Gap 2022 report published by the GSMA, the percentage of males who own smartphones climbed from 36% in 2019 to 41% in 2020 to 49% in 2021. Women have not yet caught up to men in terms of smartphone usage; in 2019, 14% of women had a smartphone; in 2020, 25%; and in 2021, 26%. In 2020, just 30% of adult women used mobile internet.
If not all women, then at least those under 30 need to learn how to use technology. Given the extreme time poverty individuals experience, learning new skills on their own is challenging for them.
With only 35% of active users in the nation being female, women are often less inclined than males to use mobile internet, contributing to a digital gender gap. This serves as a reminder that although digital platforms made possible by online learning have brought up new opportunities, the internet is not a natural equalizer. Additionally, it has given credence to the worry that, in trying to reach every girl, there is a risk of leaving a great number behind.