Skip to main content

At 33%, India's gender gap in mobile phone usage is fourth highest in world

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released Harvard Kennedy School study has estimated that, today in India, 71% of men use mobile phones, as against 38% of women, pointing out that India, along with Pakistan and Bangladesh, are “clear outliers among countries of similar levels of development”, exhibiting “some of the world’s highest gender gaps in access to technology.”
The study provides a comparative graph which suggests that, while Pakistan and Bangladesh “outstrips” India in gender gap in mobile ownership, the only country outside the South Asian region, where the gap is even higher, is Uganda.
The study, “A Tough Call: Understanding barriers to and impacts of women’s mobile phone adoption in India”, by Giorgia Barboni, Erica Field, Rohini Pande, Natalia Rigol, Simone Schaner, and Charity Troyer Moore, insists, “While the mobile gender gap matters in its own right, it is particularly problematic because it can exacerbate other important forms of inequality — in earnings, networking opportunities, and access to information.”
Pointing out that “men are 33 percentage points more likely to own a phone than women, on average”, the study, based on disaggregation of data by a range of demographic characteristics, including age group, state of residence, marital status, educational attainment, urbanicity, and poverty status, says, “The mobile gap exists across Indian society. While there is substantial variation in the gap, it is always 10 percentage points or higher.”
The study believes, “Women’s mobile phone usage challenges traditional gender norms”, adding, its interviews “reveal that phone usage can stir questions about girls’ ‘purity’ prior to marriage and worries that women will be subject to digital harassment as reported in the media.”
“After marriage”, the study adds, “Norms dictate that a woman’s primary responsibility is to take care of her family and household. This home-centric role leaves women with few opportunities to use the phone for socially-acceptable, ‘productive’ purposes.”
Claiming to have analyzed the sample 45,000 mobile phone users, the study uses a range of sources — 125 original qualitative interviews, a literature review, and analysis of secondary quantitative data — to identify leading barriers to Indian women’s use of mobile phones.
Stating that 47% of the women who access a phone in its sample “are phone borrowers rather than owners, as compared to 16% of men”, the study says, “For obvious reasons, borrowing a phone rather than owning one imposes practical limitations on diversification and independence. Moreover, results from our qualitative work suggest that diversification and independence constraints are especially binding given most women borrow from their husbands.”
The study says, “Women lag behind men with relative gaps growing with task sophistication: while the relative gap is between 15-20% for making and receiving calls, the gender gap jumps to 51% for a feature as simple as SMS and remains above 60% for other more complex activities such as social media.”
During interviews, the study says, “Some women felt that they did not have the technical ability to perform complex tasks, or that they did not see a need to perform certain tasks (social media and YouTube, for example, were often seen as wasting time and a distraction from more pressing responsibilities).”
“However”, it underscores, “Complex tasks were not just seen as a waste of time, they were also described in terms of propriety and decency vis-à-vis normative prescriptions of gender roles. In one respondent’s words, whether or not a phone activity is ‘good or bad depends on the way we are using our phone’.”
Pointing out that “purpose of phone use and duration of phone use are gendered in the Indian context, with rules and expectations applying differently for females and males”, the study says, “Several respondents suggested that women should limit the amount of time they spend on their phones as well as limit their conversations to their specific needs.”
“Talking to family, using phones during a commute, using phones to discuss work or studies were thus considered appropriate uses of mobile phones for women”, the study says, adding, “Importantly, these parameters seemed to be set and enforced by the community. For instance, if a girl chatted on the phone with a boy for a long period of time or in a light-hearted manner, the community might become suspicious that they will develop a relationship.”
“Across our sample, women were encouraged to use their phones inside the house”, the study says, adding, “Especially in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, there was a strong preference for women to use their phones inside the house as a measure to avoid community suspicion about what they were using their phones for.”
“At the same time, we found a strong preference for women using their phones in front of family members while within the household”, the study says, adding, “In a focus group discussion with college students in Maharashtra, for example, respondents suggested that women had to share their passcodes and could not hide their phones from their families. This suggests a preference for women’s use to be supervised, and at the same time, not public.”
The study also found, “In our discussions of social media, women expressed a strong preference for relationship-driven services like WhatsApp, instead of more open access services like Facebook, which open women up to being contacted by a network of friends-of-friends and strangers. For this reason, most female respondents who owned a smart phone were active WhatsApp users, but did not use or upload pictures onto Facebook.”

Comments

Uma Sheth said…
People like me, who live in cities, are unaware of this and other instances of gender discrimination. This article has made me realise how backward our country is in many ways including Sabarimala.
Anand Sahay said…
Not unexpected. But I expect middle class and above, there shouldn't really be a gap. If the sample leaned in favour of rural and small town india, then you will get such big disparities.

TRENDING

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

"Misleading" satellite images being shared on Balakot surgical strike on Jaish camp

By Dr Vinay Kate*
With every passing day more questions are being raised about the surgical strike India did in Balakot as a response to Pulwama attacks. So far the Indian media has claimed mass casulaty of 300+ terrorists of Jaish-e-Mohammad in this surgical strike, but there is hardly any report from foreign media about the same.

Extreme repression, corporate loot, cultural genocide "characterise" India's tribal belt

Counterview Desk
As Lok Sabha polls approach, there is considerable ferment in one section of the population -- India's Adivasis, forming about 8.6 per cent of India's population. Things became particularly critical following the February 14, 2019 Supreme Court order, allegedly seeking to evict lakhs of tribals from their forest lands.

Industry in India "barely growing", export growth 0%, whither moral anchors?

Counterview Desk
In a sharp critique of the Modi government, the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A), one of world renowned economist Prof Kaushik Basu, who is Professor of Economics and Carl Marks Professor of International Studies at Cornell University, has told students at the IIM-A’s 54th Annual Convocation on March 16, 2019 that they have a “special responsibility” on their shoulders, “the responsibility to reject narrow sectarianism, uphold scientific thinking, openness to new ideas, and freedom of speech.”

Gujarat model? Industrial effluents "invade" borewells, discharge coloured water in farms

By Rajiv Shah
In a major embarrassment for Gujarat model, of the 21 samples taken by officials of the state government's environmental watchdog Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) in two villages of Vadodara district and analyzed by its laboratory in Gandhinagar, the state capital, to find out pollution level in groundwater, 16 were assessed as highly contaminated – these were, in fact, found to be discharging reddish, brownish, reddish, or yellowish water.

Refugees as criminals? US govt report blames Amit Shah for calling Bangladeshis termites

Counterview Desk
The chapter “Freedom of Movement” of the US State Department’s “India 2018 Human Rights Report”, released recently, has criticized BJP chief Amit Shah for terming alleged Bangladeshis who may be in Assam as “termites”, because their names were struck down from the list of National Register of Citizens, under preparation in the state.
Pointing out that four million residents were excluded from Assam’s final draft list, leading to “uncertainty over the status of these individuals, many of whose families had lived in the state for several generations”, the report regrets, the Indian law does not even contain the term “refugee,” treating refugees like Rohingiyas as “any other foreigners.”
“Undocumented physical presence in the country is a criminal offense. Persons without documentation were vulnerable to forced returns and abuse”, the report says.
Text of the Freedom of Movement chapter: The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, a…

Congress would win just 9 of 26 Lok Sabha seats: Gujarat Assembly segment-wise analysis

By Rajiv Shah
Even as the Congress plans its first working committee meet in Gujarat on February 28 after an almost 58 year gap, there is reason to wonder what is in store for India’s grand old party in a state which has been long been a BJP bastion – in fact ever since mid-1990s. Ahead of the then assembly polls in late 2012, talking with me, a senior Gujarat Congress leader, currently Rajya Sabha MP, frankly said he saw no reason why Congress would win.

"Pro-corporate" Supreme Court order on FRA would further marginalize Adivasis

By VS Roy David, JP Raju*
For millions of Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers February 13, 2019 will go down in history as the day of apocalypse. This is like the proverbial Black Friday where millions of most marginalized people of India were ordered by malicious anti-people draconian Supreme Court order depriving them the life and livelihood by evicting them from their habitats.

Financial inclusion? Not micro-loans; India's poor "need" investment in health, education

By Moin Qazi*
India has grown into a global powerhouse. Its economy is soaring but the picture on the ground is still quite arid. The green shoots that you see are only a patch of its landscape. Most Indians are hapless victims of inequity. India is one country where intense poverty abounds in the shadow of immense wealth.

India, Pakistan told to eliminate nuclear weapons: N-war "would kill" 2 billion

Counterview Desk
The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), a non-partisan federation of national medical organizations in 64 countries, representing tens of thousands of doctors, medical students, other health workers, and concerned citizens, claiming to share the common goal of creating a more peaceful and secure world freed from the threat of nuclear annihilation, has warned that “an unprecedented global catastrophe” awaits the globe against the backdrop of warmongering in India and Pakistan.