India is a nation of many cultures,
languages, and traditions but etched on to this fabric of diversity, one can
find repeating patterns of patriarchy and gender discrimination. These patterns are magnified by limited access to
technology, lack of literacy and societal pressures. For example out of the 259
million internet users in India in 2015 only 29% were female (Statista, 2015). With simple processes like banking and
passport services going digital, the average Indian woman is still struggling
to get her hands on a mobile phone or access the internet freely. While India
is swiftly progressing towards a ‘digital movement’ spearheaded by the current
Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, Indian women are not moving at the same pace.
In 2015 a research by GSMA
estimated that around 43% of Indian men own a cellphone whereas only 28% of
women had mobile ownership which translates into 72% of the female population
in the country being unconnected by a mobile device. The report also states
that out of all the respondents surveyed 34% of women were afraid to own a mobile
phone due to fear of harassment and security issues whereas 50% of the responds
could not afford a phone. Technical literacy is a greater barrier for Indian
women than men, with 34% of female respondents (vs 23% of men) reporting that
not knowing how to use a mobile properly is a barrier (GSMA, 2015). No wonder
there is a similar pattern that follows w.r.t to the number of women using
social media in India. The Digital In 2017 survey by Hootsuite and We are
Social points out that out that of the 1.91 million Facebook in India only 24%
are women (We Are Social et al., 2017).
A Pew Center research conducted
in the US states that Women were more likely than men to use social networking
sites for a number of years and 68% of all women use social media, compared
with 62% of all men (Pew Research Center, 2015). The percentage of women using
the Internet lags behind the percentage of men using the Internet in developing
countries across all age groups. However, highly educated women are a notable
exception, as they reportedly use the Internet as much as men, suggesting that
given an education and the means to do so, women will make just as much use of
the Internet as men, refuting the assertion that it is lack of capacity that
causes women to otherwise not use the Internet (Antonio, A. and Tuffley, D.,
To help understand this digital
divide and gender ratio disparity among social media users in India, I have
tried to analyse and gather existing literature that addresses the following questions:
What are the technological, social and emotional
barriers that prevent Indian women from accessing the internet?
Which age group/demographic uses internet the most
and do they access any social networking sites?
Are the social media profiles of Indian women
closely monitored by her family members who act as gatekeepers?
Do women keep their names and identities hidden
on such sites to avoid familial pressure?
Do women feel their privacy is infringed on any
of these sites?
Are there any redressal mechanisms to help women
facing abuse online?
According to Kularski,
C. and Moller (2012), digital
divide is composed of a skill gap and a gap of physical access to Information
Technology (IT) and the two gaps often contribute to each other in circular
causation. Without access to technology, it is difficult to develop technical
skill and it is redundant to have access to technology without first having the
skill to utilise it. Access to digital resources is a multi-faceted phenomenon
consisting of four factors that work to regulate access, namely: psychological,
material, skills and usage. What began as a simple concept of there being
“haves” and “have-nots” in the digital world, has evolved into a finer-grain
conceptual framework. Psychological access is where the user has little
interest in gaining access, or has negative attitudes towards computers.
Material access relates to not having the physical infrastructure. Skills
access is where a person does not have the digital literacy skills to be
effective on-line and usage access is where a person does not have the time or
opportunity to access digital information, regardless of their skill level (Van
Dijk, J. and Hacker, K., 2003). Delving deeper we find that women
who lack access to computers and ICT’s will eventually have lesser or no interest
actively utilizing social media.
A GSMA survey in 2017
has highlighted that mobile internet is either denied to women by gatekeepers
or may seem less relevant and attainable because women are seen as being
vulnerable to threats from the negative side of the web (posing risks to a
family’s reputation), having a lack of purchasing power, leading busy lives
with little free time to learn or use technology, having smaller social
circles, and having less confidence in learning digital skills. These dynamics
mean women require more support than men to adopt mobile internet (GSMA,2017). Further
analyzing the socio economic barriers that prevent women from being active on
Social media, a study by Vinitha Johnson in 2010 highlights that the low uptake
of digital technologies by women is a result of prevailing roles, beliefs, and
traditional norms. Role definition underlies many of the reasons why women do
not make ample use of technology. In Southern India, a woman’s existence is
defined as a source of support for her family and the wellbeing of the family
unit. Culture, the media and society define the roles of women and they are not
generally encouraged to fulfil their individual needs, or pursue self-growth,
even in educated families (Johnson, V., 2012).
Use cases that have
both personal appeal and externally justifiable rational benefits are
particularly important for female Potential Adopters, and will help to persuade
gatekeepers that access to mobile internet will benefit the entire household.
Examples include video calling (especially for those with family living far
away or overseas, as they can not only see the person, but it is also less
expensive), learning a productive new skill (e.g. sewing, cooking), helping
with their children’s education4 or anything that benefits the household
financially (e.g. agricultural tips, help with work). Use by others in their
social circle had a significant and positive influence on adoption for both men
and women New Users. It appears the more family and friends are using mobile
internet, the more likely they are to use it, as it makes the internet less
intimidating, more relevant and easier to learn, and creates a feeling that
usage is inevitable (GSMA,2017).
A similar study conducted in Ghana has discovered that there
is strong correlation between an individual’s work environment and access to
digital resources. “While such access may seem gender neutral at face value,
traditional gender roles, institutional structures and economic realities force
disproportionate numbers of females into the informal sector where such opportunities
for access are limited” (Steeves, H.L.
and Kwami, J.D., 2012).