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What Is A Gendered Digital Divide? How To Bridge The Gap When It Comes To Digital Access Of Women In India

Technology has the power to unite everyone and promote equality, but once the gender divide gets embedded in this, it unleashes a digital gap, especially in the case of women in lower-middle-income countries. Today, having access to the internet and technology is considered a necessity rather than a luxury.

Having access to digital tools and literacy can empower people to gain better access to education, healthcare, skills and livelihood opportunities. Not only it can empower adults, and elderly people, but women too who do not have basic digital access in comparison to men.

According to Oxfam India's latest "India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide" report, the percentage of men owning phones is as high as 61 per cent while only 31 percent of women-owned phones in 2021... and the reach of digital technologies remains limited to largely male, urban, upper caste and upper-class households, individuals, mentions the report.

The shocking part is that in the entire Asia Pacific region, India has the worst and widest gender gap of 40.4 percent. Also, more than half of women (53.9%) in India own mobile phones, but amongst these only 22.5% reported using them for financial transactions, says National Family Survey-5 (2019-2021).

As of the end of 2021, 84 per cent of women in LMICs (Lower Middle-Income Countries) owned a mobile phone compared to 89 per cent of men, which translates to a gender gap of seven per cent. Despite a perception that mobile ownership is near universal, more than 372 million women in LMICs still do not own a phone, compared to 239 million men, says The Mobile Gender Gap Report by GSM Association (commonly referred to as 'the GSMA' or Global System for Mobile Communication.


India's Digital Gender Gap: Why Are Women Deprived Of Opportunities?

The gender digital divide is the gap between men's and women's ability to access and use the Internet and digital technologies and contribute to and benefit from their development. But, due to the set of biases, barriers and constraints women and girls are restricted from fully adopting and using digital technologies in their lives.

To map this gap, GDDI (Gender Digital Divide Index) has been created which shows the current state of the gender digital divide with the goal to help decision-makers in government bodies have a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in a particular economy.

GDDI measures the gender gap in the use and development of information and communications technologies (ICTs) across three pillars: starting point, inputs, and outputs. Starting point measures where a country is in terms of overall infrastructure, affordability, and readiness. Inputs measure government policies and programs to reduce the gender digital divide. Outputs measure the outcomes, mentions gddindex.com.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reports that more than 50% of the world's women are offline. This is more pronounced in developing countries, where the internet penetration rate for adult women is 41%, compared to 53% for men.9 GSMA found that 393 million adult women in developing countries do not own mobile phones, and globally, women are 8% less likely to own a mobile phone than men, mentions UNICEF Gender and Innovation, a literature review.

According to Oxfam, there are three major factors that contribute to India's digital gender gap and create a gendered digital divide.

a. Rural-Urban Divide - Women who live in urban areas are more likely to own mobile phones than women in rural India. Also, digital payments can be seen more amongst urban women than rural women. Further, the cost of data and services restricts the latter in terms of the usage of digital technology and hence creates a digital gender gap.

b. Income-Based Divide - It creates a huge obstacle when it comes to including women and girls in the Digital economy and therefore, this gender always trails behind when it comes to digital transformation. The increase in the cost of data can cost women from low-income households 3% of their monthly income.

c. Social Norms - When having access to mobile phones can be seen as a threat to the reputation of a woman pre-marriage and as an interruption or obstacle in post-marriage while attending to caregiving responsibilities, the gendered digital gap increases.

How To Bridge The Digital Gender Gap?

When a woman is denied digital access, it affects her entire life, especially when it comes to livelihood opportunities. It restricts her prospects in terms of entrepreneurship and pushes them towards low revenue-generating opportunities like handicrafts or food-related businesses that have fewer or limited scope for growth.

Bridging the gender divide, also in the digital world, can provide new sources of global economic growth, support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and help achieve the G20 goal of strong, sustainable and inclusive growth, mentioned a report by OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

To make digital technology accessible for all, especially women, changes need to be implemented in the following areas.

a. Making mobile phones and data affordable and internet services accessible to women.

b. Asking the Government to invest in better digital infrastructure and develop a strong regulatory figure to ensure private players do not monopolize data and broadband services.

c. Government can also lower taxes on phones and computers so people from lower-income households can buy them.

d. Digitizing schools and panchayats in rural India and conducting digital literacy camps to make the mass understand the uses and benefits of technology.

e. Developing an accountable grievance redressal mechanism that is active and responsive to address HealthTech and EdTech-related problems.

f. By monitoring the efficiency of tech-based solutions, in times of crisis such as dealing with a pandemic or a natural disaster.

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