Gender-Based Digital Divide: The New Threats of Inequality

Gender-Based Digital Divide: The New Threats of Inequality

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Gender based digital divide

Do you know?

Out of the total population, only 43% are male internet users and 42% are female internet users in India (as per IAMAI-Kantar ICUBE 2020 report). The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines digital inequality as the gap between households, individuals, businesses, and geographic areas in access and access to information and communication technology (ICT) at different socioeconomic levels; the use of the internet for various activities.

Education systems are increasingly striving to provide high-quality digital skills, fair and inclusive education, and training. While digital skills are leading the way for learning and upskilling, women and girls are still lagging behind.

India is witnessing a growing disparity between digital haves and have-nots. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of the Internet and the rapid transformation of digital transformation have become apparent. UN Secretary-General Amina Mohammed even suggested that the digital divide could be “the new face of inequality.”

What is the digital divide?

  • The gap between those who have access to modern information and communication technology (ICT) and those who do not
  • This technology can include televisions and telephones, personal computer, smartphone, and the Internet
  • Until the end of the 20th century, the digital divide was mainly referred to as the divide between people who had or did not have access to a telephone. However, since the late 1990s, this term began to be used for Internet access

What is the gender digital divide?

Inequality or gap between men and women in accessing and using ICT.

There are three disadvantages for women in India:

  • First, there is a rural-urban digital divide, with rural broadband penetration at only 29% compared to the national average of 51%. Across the state, women in rural areas are more likely to own cell phones
  • Second, there is a digital divide between households based on income
  • As a result, domestic discrimination prevents women from having equal access to digital tools in the domestic system, which further widens gender-based digital inequality

The main factors involved in the problem are:

1. Economic dependence:

  1. Gender pay gap
  2. Dependence on male relatives
  3. Lack of financial control
  4. Uneven distribution of paid and unpaid work

2. Social factors:

  1. In some households, women are prohibited from owning or using mobile phones; if allowed, their learning avenues increase.
  2. Cell phones threaten women’s reputation before marriage; Marriage is considered a barrier to cell phone care.

3. Geographical Location:

  1. This divide narrows considerably in countries with easy access.
  2. Depending on their location within the country, rural areas tend to have limited internet access compared to urban areas.

4. Economic development:

  1. Economic growth is severely affected due to the lack of essential labor.
  2. More than half of the world’s graduates are women, and moreover, women are underrepresented in the science and ICT sectors.
  3. Inequality in access and use of the Internet and related technologies can undermine the opportunity to protect human rights and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as ICT can be a gateway to achieving these goals.

For most countries, the main barrier for women to access digital technology is the cost associated with illiteracy and a lack of digital skills.

Fig 1: Percentage of individuals who have never used the internet- State-wise gender divide

Gender1Source: Data from NFHS 2019-21

The NFHS Report suggests that only 57.1 percent of the male population and 33.3 percent of the female population had ever used the internet.

Imp Data:

Within Asia- pacific, the widest gender gap in terms of internet usage was found in India.

Fig 2: Percentage of individuals who have never used the internet- State-wise gender and rural/urban divide

Source: Data from NFHS 2019-21

Fig 3: Percentage of individuals who have never used the internet- State-wise gender and rural/urban divide

Fig 3: Percentage of individuals who have never used the internetSource: Data from NFHS 2019-21 (Cont.)

The NFHS also provides data segregation based on the rural-urban divide. Whilst 72.5% of urban males and 51.8% of urban females have used the internet, only 48.7% of rural males and 24.6% of rural females qualify for this condition.


Regional Disparity

Importance of Bridging:

  • Economy: According to the Mobile Fender Gap Report 2019, closing the gender gap in mobile internet use in developing countries could add $700 billion to their combined economy over the next five years
  • Health: With access to ICTs in the development of eHealth Technologies, it can be extremely beneficial to expand their health knowledge.
  • Education: ICTs open doors for education, both formal and informal, for women, as many do not have access to educational spaces and schools
  • Women’s Empowerment: ICTs can serve as a platform for women’s self-expression such as, by sharing information, creating networks, and organizing movements and campaigns. 

Also Read: Dear teachers, here’s how you make students future-ready


How to Bridge?

  • Encouraging women’s education
  • Women in the labor market: Need access to skilling, upskilling programs, and knowledge to emerge as self-reliant and empowered stakeholders in the economy
  • Ease access to mobile devices
  • Supporting community-based organizations (CBOs)
  • Digital literacy programs: Integrating digital literacy in school curricula, launching tailored digital training courses.
  • Infrastructure: Implementation of programs to provide rural broadband connectivity and establish village-level high-speed internet connectivity hubs.

Way Forward

Along with providing better infrastructure, we should be inherently aware of and strive for gender-based equality in the current education system, since the digital divide is only an extension of the primary fallacy i.e gender discrimination.

With the effect of the Pandemic receding and schools reopening, the centers of learning should be welcoming places for students of all genders.

Learn about gender biases: Administrators can begin by encouraging teachers to take on reflective practices through professional development and training to become conscious of their own gender biases and learn to treat students in ways that are consistent with students’ identities.

Change classroom culture: Teachers can create gender-inclusive classroom cultures by using gendered languages such as friends, scholars, or students, and using literature to introduce and discuss gender.

Fight gender stereotypes: The UN Human Rights Office defines a gender stereotype as a generalization about characteristics and roles men or women “should” have or perform (UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 2020). These can limit children’s opportunities to learn and develop.

In the final analysis, the first-course correction to sort out or at least alleviate the digital divide would lie with the educators i.e. Teachers, institutions, and administrators.