With less than one-third of India’s internet users being females, the country’s girls and women risk becoming further marginalised in society and at home if they remain digitally illiterate in the backdrop of the country making a public push towards a more digital economy, a Unicef report says.
“There is a digital gender gap as well. Globally, 12% more men than women used the internet in 2017. In India, less than one third of internet users are female.
“... Recently, India has made a public push towards a more digitalised economy, including reducing dependency on physical cash. If girls and women remain digitally illiterate, they risk becoming further marginalised in society and at home,” says the 2017 edition of Unicef’s annual flagship publication “The State of the World’s Children Report” launched in Kolkata on December 22.
Themed “Children in a digital world”, the latest report provides country-level examples to give a sense of the kinds of barriers girls and women confront.
In India, where only 29% of all internet users are female, girls in rural areas often face restrictions on their use of ICTs solely because of their gender, it says.
Citing examples, the report quotes a village governing body in rural Rajasthan as stating that girls were not to use mobile phones or social media. “Another village in Uttar Pradesh banned unmarried girls from using mobile phones along with a ban on wearing certain kinds of clothing, such as jeans and T-shirts.”
Pointing out that digital connection and literacy offer advantages in a knowledge-based society, improving children’s lives and their future earning potential, the report says: “At the same time, connectivity doesn’t always equalise opportunity.”
“Digital divides can mirror broader societal divides — between rich and poor, cities and rural areas, between those with or without an education — and between women and men.
“India is one place in which the digital divide highlights society’s deep chasms,” says the report, calling for addressing the disparity at the highest levels for universal, safe access to be realised.
It says the digital gender divide is caused by a number of factors — social norms, education levels, lack of technical literacy and lack of confidence among them — but is often rooted in parents’ concern for the safety of their daughters.
“Many fear that allowing girls to use the internet will lead to liaisons with men, bringing shame on the family. For most girls, if they are allowed to use the internet, their every move is monitored by their parents or brothers.
“In a society that is still largely patriarchal, for girls, traits like deference and obedience are often valued over intelligence and curiosity. In some households, technology is not seen as necessary or beneficial for girls and women,” the report says.