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

Ganga world's second most polluted river, Modi's Varanasi tops microplastics pollution

By Rajiv Shah  Will the new report by well-known elite NGO Toxics Link create a ripple in the powerful corridors of Delhi? Titled “Quantitative analysis of microplastics along River Ganga”, forwarded to Counterview, doesn’t just say that Ganga is the second most polluted river in the world, next only to Yangtze (China). It goes ahead to do a comparison of microplastics pollution in three cities shows Varanasi – the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – is more polluted compared to Kanpur and Haridwar.

How real is Mamata challenge to Modi? Preparing for 2024 'khela hobey' moment

By Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury*  Third time elected West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee is on a whirlwind tour of Delhi, meeting everyone who matters within and beyond the government, the Prime Minister, the President, some Cabinet ministers, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, several other opposition leaders, et al.

Did Modi promote Dholavira, a UNESCO site now, as Gujarat CM? Facts don't tally

By Rajiv Shah  As would generally happen, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweet – that not only was he “absolutely delighted” with the news of UNESCO tag to Dholavira, but he “ first visited ” the site during his “student days and was mesmerised by the place” – is being doubted by his detractors. None of the two tweets, strangely, even recalls once that it’s a Harappan site in Gujarat.

UP arrest of 'terrorists': Diverting attention from Covid goof-up, Ram temple land scam?

By Advocate Mohammad Shoaib, Sandeep Pandey* That corruption is rampant in police department is a common experience. However, there is another form of corruption which devastates lives of individuals and their families. It has now emerged as a common phenomenon that police more often than not register false cases because of which individuals have to spend number of years in jail.

If not Modi, then who? Why? I (an ordinary citizen) am there! Main hoon naa!

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The number of women ministers is doubled in early July from the first term after cabinet reshuffle by the present government led by Narendra Modi. While there were 06 women ministers in the previous term, this term there are 11. The previous two governments led by Dr Manmohan Singh had 10 women ministers in each tenure. Are these number of women ministers something to rejoice in the near 75 years of independence? Yes maybe, if we think that things are slowly improving in the patriarchal system. This change is less likely to achieve gender balance in the parliament otherwise we require more than 11 as per the 33% reservation . This change is also less likely because the men politicians’ inability to handle the country’s mess is becoming more and more evident and especially during the corona crisis. Seems, the addition of more women ministers may be a result of the recent assembly elections where women played a decisive role in the election results. For example

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

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".

Effluent discharge into deep sea? Modi told to 'reconsider' Rs 2275 crore Gujarat project

Counterview Desk  In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, well-known Gujarat-based environmentalist, Mahesh Pandya of the Paryavaran Mitra, has protested against the manner in with the Gujarat government is continuing with its deep sea effluent disposal project despite environmental concerns.

Khorigaon demolition: People being 'brutally' evicted, cops 'restricting' food, water

By Ishita Chatterjee, Neelesh Kumar, Manju Menon, Vimal Bhai* On July 23, the Faridabad Municipal Corporation told the Supreme Court that they have cleared 74 acres out of 150 acres. Despite the affidavit of the Municipal Corporation, the court, on the complaint of various litigants, that the arrangements for living, food etc. have not been made for the people. 

Gujarat govt gender insensitive? Cyclone package for fisherfolk 'ignores' poor women

By Our Representative A memorandum submitted to the Gujarat government by various fisherfolk associations of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat under the leadership of Ahmedabad NGO Centre for Social Justice's senior activist Arvind Khuman, who is based in Amreli, has suggested that the relief package offered to the fishermen affected by the Tauktae cyclone is not only inadequate, it is also gender insensitive.