Science & Technology

Many Indian women denied mobile phones to keep them 'pure'

A study finds a 33 per cent gender gap in access to mobile phones in India that is inhibiting women’s earnings

By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Friday 02 November 2018
Gender Inequality
The primary reason behind this gap is that it “challenges traditional gender norms”. Credit: Getty Images The primary reason behind this gap is that it “challenges traditional gender norms”. Credit: Getty Images

Gender inequality is not new to Indian society, but did you know it was technological as well? There exists a 33 per cent gap in access to mobile phones, which keeps women from earning and having access to networking opportunities, and information, says a study conducted by Harvard Kennedy School.

The report titled ‘A tough call: Understanding barriers to and impacts of women’s mobile phone adoption in India’ uses 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 and assess the importance of these barriers. While 71 per cent of Indian men own mobile phones, only 38 per cent of women have that privilege in the country, says the report.

The primary reason behind this gap, as mentioned in the report, is that it “challenges traditional gender norms”. The researchers found that unmarried women are not given mobile phones or the practice of them using the device is looked down upon because it can stir questions about their “purity” before marriage and that they can be subjected to digital harassment, which is widely reported in the media.

When it comes to married women, the report says, “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 and productive purposes.”

It would be wrong to assume that this scenario is limited to rural areas or the older generation. “The mobile gap exists across Indian society. We disaggregate data by a range of demographic characteristics including age group, state of residence, marital status, educational attainment, urbanicity, and poverty status. While there is substantial variation in the gap, it is always 10 percentage points or higher,” says the report.

The researchers, while providing these evidences on the nature and strength of economic and normative barriers Indian women face, suggest that they be used to design policies to reduce the cost of phones or work to change the customs surrounding their use.

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