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 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

Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk  In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here ), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep. She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India." According to her, Aiyar’s two articl

Hindutva groups threat to peace, freedom: US diaspora groups tell FBI, other govt depts

By Our Representative  The Islamophobic and neo-Nazi ideology of Hindutva is a clear and present danger to peace and freedoms in the United States, a coalition of civil rights organizations told key officials of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at a recent event in Edison, New Jersey. At the event titled United Against Hate, activists from American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) and Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) made detailed presentations on this ideology of Hindu supremacism that is committing mass persecution of India’s Muslims and Christians and is rearing its ugly head in New Jersey as well as across the US. Attending the event were David S Leonardis, Special Investigator from the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety; Michael E Campion, Chief of the Civil Rights Division for the US Attorney General's Office; and Jonathan R Norbut of the U.S. Dep

Facing tough times, Rajasthan's Raika herders hold first-ever camel cheese festival

By Rosamma Thomas*  During the pandemic, the annual Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan did not occur for fear of contagion; in 2022, it was called off again as lumpy skin disease affected cattle. At Sadri in Pali district, however, festivity continues – a two-day Camel Cheese Festival was held on November 23 and 24, 2022. Visitors spent time with the camel herds and their Raika, drank camel-milk tea with the herders and then returned to lunch at the Kumbhalgarh Camel Dairy, from where the Kumbhalgarh Fort is visible, to taste camel cheese. The Raika herders have been facing a tough time – camels are no longer used as much for transport or agriculture in Rajasthan. The animals have limited utility, but their milk is prized. Camel Charisma, the dairy at Kumbhalgarh, sends camel milk across the country to people who use it in therapy – for autistic children, improved blood sugar levels, or even to treat cancer. It is believed that the health benefits of the camel milk is because the animals

As polls approach, electorate 'failing to realise': Gujarat model is in a shambles

By DN Rath*  Gujarat assembly elections, scheduled to be held on 1 and 5 December 2022, is viewed by many as dress rehearsal for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. When the suffering people have been pointing towards redressal of some local issues like absence of cleanliness, sewage problem, shortage of water supply, troubles created by stray cattle, insufficiency of streetlights, etc., it is evident that they are not fully aware that assembly elections are being fought on ideological standpoints and policy decisions. Nor is there the realisation that the state is in a shambles and the much-trumpeted ‘Gujarat model’ of development has proved to be a hoax. Like other states, the people of Gujarat are also back-broken by steep rise in prices to the tune of 400% in last 20 years. It is not that the government cannot control the spurt in prices if it so wants. Apart from the fact that price rise is an inevitability in a capitalist economy, artificial shortage triggered by massive hoarding, b

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Shedding Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan? New Modi-Shah love for Tamil Nadu 'ignores' Periyar

By Sandeep Pandey*   The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have long argued for ‘Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan’, which into recent years has translated into a crisper English expression: ‘One Nation-One Religion-One Language’. Given this backdrop, it is curious that the BJP government has organised the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency. Why did the BJP and RSS feel the need for such an event? All Narendra Modi events are highly publicised and have multiple political objectives. It is never an innocuous religious/cultural event as it may appear from the face of it. Afterall, RSS calls itself a cultural organisation, but has never ceased to surprise us with its political designs. Tamil Nadu has a long history of opposing imposition of Hindi by Union governments. Periyar EV Ramasamy had opposed the idea of compulsory teaching in Hindi as far back as in 1937. The 1960s witnessed violent protests against Hindi in which a number

GM mustard not swadeshi, it's a patent of MNC Bayer, GoI 'misleading' SC: Modi told

Counterview Desk  In a representation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as many as 42 farmers’ organisations though their representatives , backed by senior scientists and experts, have said that the Government of India (GoI) should stop misleading the Supreme Court “with untrue and incorrect” statements on GM mustard. Insisting that India does not need unsafe GM mustard, in their representation, they urged the Supreme Court to order immediate uprooting of GM mustard crop in various locations. The representation comes even as a penal of experts, coming down heavily on the GoI for refusing to see how in less than a week’s time the pollen from GM mustard will “start contaminating” non-GM mustard fields with transgenes, including male sterility and herbicide tolerant traits. Alleging that the GoI is actively misleading the Supreme Court with untrue and incorrect statements on GM mustard, Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India said, “We can list at least five areas where Gov

Demand to withdraw 'anti-environment, anti-adivasi' forest conservation rules 2022

By Gopinath Majhi*  The Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, a coalition of adivasis and forest dwellers’ organisations, has sent a memorandum to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) raising serious concerns over Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022, notified by the Centre on June 29.  Contending that recent amendments and a host of executive orders/guidelines issued by the ministry undermine and dilute the FRA and threaten the rights of adivasis and forest dwellers, CSD demands that the 2022 FC Rules should be rescinded forthwith. Demanding withdrawal of such anti-people and anti-environment rules CSD Odisha organised a protest Dharana in front of State Assembly today on 25th November 2022 and submitted memorandums to the Hon’ble Governor of Odisha, Chief Secretary and Commissioner-cum-Secretary, ST & SC Development Department for conveying our concerns against the FC Rules 2022 to the Central Government for its withdrawal. The memorandums w

BJP poll gimmick? Bilkis Bano rape case 'pardon' vs Rajiv assassins' release

By Sandeep Pandey*  Supreme Court has released six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This was bound to happen as earlier AG Perarivalan was released in the same case, setting a precedent. Even though four of them are Sri Lankans but a popular Tamil sentiment favoured the release of these convicts which is why Tamil political parties supported this and resolutions were passed by different governments in Tamil Nadu to his effect.  Rajiv Gandhi paid the price of sending Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka where it got entangled with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and eventually the whole operation ended up is a fiasco.  However, most importantly Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi and probably Rahul too do not have any objections to the release of these convicts. In fact, Sonia Gandhi played an important role in getting the death sentence of the only lady among the convicts Nalini commuted to life term through the Tamil Nadu Governor. Priyanka visited Nalini in Vellore Jail and

Never-ending saga of sin tax: What if murder is taxed at Rs 1 crore, rape at Rs 5 crore?

By Moses Raj GS, Sangeetha Thomas*  What should have ended by June 30, 2022 as a 5 year experiment has resurfaced. The government has extended the levy of GST compensation cess by another 4 years till March 31, 2026. This cess, dubbed as the sin tax imposed on sin(ful) goods, is double the highest slab on indirect taxes. But only a few pay for it and the majority benefit, unendingly. The year 2017 is a landmark year for indirect taxes. With the grand idea of ‘One Nation, One Tax’ as a fiscal slogan subsuming all State based taxes such as octroi /entry tax, Value Added Tax (VAT), sales tax, taxes on lottery, betting and gambling, luxury tax, purchase tax, entertainment tax, property tax, professional tax and central sales tax into a single framework of Goods and Services Tax (GST) changed the contours of revenue collection. Complicating it further, India, with each State having its own size and revenue problems, has the most complex and highly centralised indirect tax structure in the w