India is going digital you may have heard. But do you know who isn’t? 71% of Indian women.
The United Nations released a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) titled State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a digital world in New Delhi on Monday.
This report highlights how the internet in India is still a gender-based privilege, a ‘male bastion’ or ‘male preserve.’
The population of India is 1.34 billion. Women constitute over 48.5 percent of it.
And while globally 12 percent more men used the internet than women in 2017, it is important to note that less than 1/3rd of India’s total interest users, i.e. 29%, are females.
What is shocking is that despite the difference in population (in terms of percentage) between men and women being only three percent, over 71 percent of Indians who use the internet are male.
While digital India tries to crawl its way into its remote rural villages, thousands of Indian girls in these far-flung areas are refused access to Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) solely based on gender, which is a primary cause of low female representation in the digital space.
This lack of equal opportunities to access online services and information deprive women of higher/quality education and skill training that could help them contribute to the economy and become leaders on a global level.
How then do we bridge this glaring gender divide while also protecting children and adults alike from the dangers the internet poses?
As per The Wire, while 43% of Indian men owned a cell phone, women only constituted 28% of mobile owners. The gender gap is sure to shock you, but it doesn’t give the full picture.
According to a survey conducted in semi-rural Madhya Pradesh, a majority of women – despite having cell phones – couldn’t use them due to a lack of literacy. These women were dependent upon their literate kin to dial a number or even read messages.
So the biggest roadblock we need to tackle is illiteracy. Make primary and secondary education for girls and women accessible even in the remotest parts of India.
According to the Census 2011, 65.46% of women were literate when compared to over 80% of men. Also, over 23% of girls drop out of school before they reach puberty – this needs to be tackled.
Many Indian rural homes are governed by patriarchal beliefs which restrict the movement of women in public spaces. As most ICT facilities are available at community internet centres, they are unable to access them. So, more accessibility, coupled with a change of attitude, is needed.
This digital divide can be tackled only when citizens are made aware of the use of digital technology to reduce information inequality and how it will benefit them at all levels.
Bridging the digital divide calls for collective action by governments, the private sector, families and children themselves to level the digital playing field and make the internet a safe and resourceful tool for women and children.
“Girls and boys in India have the unique opportunity to benefit from the connectivity that the digital world can provide. India is famous as an IT hub and no matter where they live, every girl or boy should have a digital advantage,” said UNICEF representative in India, Yasmin Ali Haque, at the launch.