Dear India Inc., Here’s How Digital Gender Divide Is Holding Back Women

Digital gender divide is unequal access, use and knowledge of information and communication technologies between men and women.

Dear India Inc., Here’s How Digital Gender Divide Is Holding Back Women

There are several reports that say India has more phones than toilets, and in both cases, a woman’s access to it is limited. 

Dear India, let's talk about the new face of gender inequality—the gender digital divide.

Exclusion of women from the digital world has caused a staggering loss of $1 trillion from the GDP of low and middle income countries in the last decade, says UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 report. It further warns that without proactive intervention, the shortfall will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2025.

The digital gender divide refers to the unequal access, use, and knowledge of information and communication technologies between men and women. The divide has been recognized as a significant challenge for women's empowerment and gender equality as it affects women, particularly in the areas of education, employment, health and social participation.

According to a Nielsen company India Internet Report, 2022, India has over 700 million Internet users, with the age group starting at two years. From these, 450 million own smartphones.

Now, smartphones are critical to accessing the internet and reducing the gender gap. Once women own a smartphone, their awareness and use of mobile internet is almost on par with men. Unfortunately, according to The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022 by GSMA, the smartphone ownership story is also not so positive. While the gender gap in smartphone ownership dropped from 21% in 2019 to 16% in 2020, it widened to 18% in 2021.

Oxfam’s Digital Divide-India Inequality Report 2022 says that India accounts for half of the world’s gendered digital divide. A mere one-third of its internet users are women. Indian women are 15% less likely to own a mobile phone, and 33% less likely to use mobile internet services than men. The report further states that women tend to use mobiles and the internet differently than men. For example, they use cheaper, less sophisticated  handsets, they use a smaller range of digital services and their internet consumption is also far less.

When it comes to online banking and digital payments, 69% men and only 31% women use these facilities. Men consume social networking, digital news, videos, music, etc., much more than women.

Education is one of the areas where the digital gender divide affects women significantly. Women's access to digital skills is often limited due to various factors such as social and cultural norms, poverty, and lack of infrastructure. As a result, women are less likely to pursue careers in fields that require digital skills, such as technology and engineering, perpetuating the gender gap in these sectors.

Additionally, women who lack access to digital technologies are often excluded from the global gig economy.

If women have larger access to the digital world, we will see Femtech platforms grow. Not just for better management of life and health, but also business. More women will be part of the workforce by leveraging the power of digital payments, online offices, training, upskilling and mentoring.

There are several social and patriarchal factors at play, too. In rural areas, women are denied access to phones on the most ridiculous pretexts.

One of the reasons for digital exclusion is also safety. In a recent UNICEF report on the digital divide for girls, more than 50% of women globally have faced digital harm. The report also states that 68% of abuse takes place on social media platforms and this has severely restricted women from expressing themselves freely and fearlessly in the digital realm.

We need robust addressal systems, anti-cyberbullying and harassment cells, quick action, proper training, encouragement to report and timely justice to fix this issue.

Watch the full video here:

Mugdha Kalra is a journalist with over 20 years of experience. She is a renowned inclusivity expert and was chosen as one of BBC100Women, 2021.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.