New study finds women constitute only one-third of internet users in South Asian country
Experts in India called for more steps to include women from every walk of life in boosting digital literacy after a new report on India’s “digital divide” showed women constitute only one-third of internet users in the country and mobile ownership was 30% higher among men than women by the end of 2021.
This week, non-governmental organization Oxfam in its India Inequality Report 2022 highlighted the extent of the digital divide in India and its impact on essential services such as education, health, and financial inclusion.
The report, which analyzed data from the Indian private think tank, Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, noted that India has the widest gender gap of 40.4% within the Asia-Pacific region when it comes to internet access.
Oxfam India’s CEO Amitabh Behar said that there is a notable “digital divide” in the country and it “mirrors the existing socioeconomic inequalities of the country.”
“The digitally disconnected are often also the most marginalized communities, who have been excluded from reaping the benefits of digitalization,” he mentioned in the publication.
“The growing ‘digital divide’ has the potential to further exacerbate inequalities by hindering the access of the marginalized groups to the most basic of the essential services such as education, health, and financial inclusion.”
The report further said that Indian women are 15% less likely to own a mobile phone, and 33% less likely to use mobile internet services than men. It also said that “despite registering a significant (digital) growth rate of 13% in a year, only 31% of the rural population uses internet compared to 67% of their urban counterparts.”
Among the poorest 20% of Indian households, only 2.7% have access to a computer, while 8.9% have access to the internet, the report revealed, which also explored the impact of the digital divide in three sectors — education, health, and financial inclusion.
Calling the report “worrying,” a woman activist and founder mentor of Global Concerns India, Brinda Adige, said: “Patriarchal mindsets continue to invade even the possession of a mobile phone for women, deepening the digital divide.”
“Digital literacy must be embarked upon in a mission mode across India if women are to be included as equal citizens in new India. The government must start this work on a war footing to include women from every walk of life to promote digital literacy and education,” she told Anadolu Agency.
“The government must invest in digital literacy at every place frequented by women … encourage civil society organizations, corporations to educate all women, especially women in the unorganized sectors and those involved in jobs that do not necessarily involve use of internet/computers.”
Adige said authorities should announce incentives for women who complete different stages of digital literacy, based on their achievements and proficiency in handling the internet.
Access to internet
Geeta Seshu, the founder of the Free Speech Collective, an independent organization, told Anadolu Agency that the findings are “extremely disquieting,” especially because of the overall governmental and corporate thrust toward a “digital India.”
“Despite all the pronouncements and slogans and public relations exercises, women are still a majority of the digital have-nots,” she said, adding that this affects “their ability to engage with commerce as most women are employed as unorganized labor.”
Emphasizing that young women are denied access to education during the pandemic lockdown, she said: “Access to the internet and digital media must be seen as part of fundamental rights.”
“Socially too, discrimination and censorship must be actively resisted and governments need to be proactive to protect the right of women to use digital media freely and safely,” Seshu said.
Digital India initiative
The Indian government, however, says it is implementing programs to boost digital literacy under the country’s “digital India initiative.”
The Indian government informed the parliament that the country’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is focusing on providing digital literacy to citizens across the country, especially in rural areas, to enhance digital adoption.
“In line with this, the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA) was approved by Union Cabinet in February 2017 to usher in digital literacy in rural India with a target to cover 6 crores (60 million) rural households (1 person per household) across the country,” the ministry said in a written reply in July this year.