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Mobile connectivity and access to smartphones can revolutionise women’s lives in India. Are we willing to break through our patriarchal ideas and move with the times?
“Tai, my daughter got her first salary. She bought clothes for her Baba and gave me a special gift. My own mobile phone.” Anita was brimming with pride.
It has been more than seven years she is working at my home as part-time house help. A hardworking mother of two boys and a girl, she has always been a sincere worker. However, she never had her own mobile handset. Whenever she needed to take a leave from work, she would call me from her husband’s phone. I had to contact her on her husband’s phone in any case of emergency.
“Save my number with my name,” she smiled and gave me a small piece of paper with her number written on it. Her smile showed her new found pride and identity in that number.
There is prominent gender discrimination in the usage and ownership of the mobile phone between men and women in India. Anita’s case was one such example.
In today’s era, a phone is not a luxury anymore. It has become one of the bare necessities of life in the digitalized world. In underprivileged families, buying a mobile phone is an expensive deal. Considering the meager income and the prevalent patriarchy, the privilege of owning a phone is considered as men’s right. The preference is given to men as they are the sole earning members of the family. The man goes out and he needs the phone more than the lady who sits back at home.
This is a common perception. In most of the cases, women are not literate enough to operate and use a phone. There is a scare of technology in their minds. In rural areas, smartphones are mostly owned by men, and women are provided with a basic mobile to a larger extent. This limits their exposure to latest information and growth.
The varied reasons that are given for this gender discrimination in the usage of the phone
Because of lesser buying capacity, women are deprived of buying a phone for themselves.
The deep-rooted patriarchal thinking in our society leads to the belief that men have the first right to all the comforts, development and luxuries in life. Women don’t need them as their place is at home handling the kitchen affairs.
This regressive thinking also emphasizes that giving a smartphone to women might liberate them from the shackles of dependency and harm their so-called ‘sanskars’.
Illiteracy is another root cause of this discrimination. A large number of women belonging to poor and underprivileged classes don’t know how to type the numbers and alphabets, as they have been deprived of education. This restricts their chances to use a mobile phone independently.
The root cause is the mental blockade of society and sometimes women themselves, as they have a preconceived notion hammered on their mind that they don’t require technology for their own good.
According to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), just 29% of all internet users in the country are female. The deep-seated cultural barriers, particularly in rural India are one of the main reasons for this discrimination. The report brings forward the backward mentality of the village governing body which has banned girls from using mobile phones. In another example, a village in Uttar Pradesh banned unmarried girls from using mobile phones (and from wearing jeans).
Poverty is another reason for this discrimination. The population living below the poverty line cannot afford to buy a handset. Even if they get access to a mobile phone, high internet service costs make it impossible for them to enjoy the fruits of technology. The United Nations have declared internet as one of the basic human rights. Due to lack of resources, this is denied to one of the larger parts of the female population in India.
A phone with internet capabilities is one stop solution in today’s age. Information related to education, healthcare, finances, law, and rights can be made available at their fingertips. In a country where lakhs of women die because of pregnancy-related disorders and improper prenatal care, a phone with all the information could help a lot in creating awareness.
A phone can also help women in making them financially independent. They can manage their bank accounts and transactions through phone and can have their control over finances. This is one of the crucial ingredients in women empowerment. Women should be educated about financial matters and various apps related to it. Local level workshops should be carried on these topics by the government as well as private service providers.
Education & literacy
Education in many schools has been digitalised but internet facilities have not reached the rural areas and the schools there. This results in poor performance and lower grades by students in internet-based studies and online tests. Add to it the fact that, the girls’ dropout rate from schools is more than that of boys in India. This leads to women becoming less confident about performing complicated tasks on mobile phones in the future.
The discrimination should be uprooted for equal development of both the genders. The world of the internet provides immense opportunities for growth. If women lag behind in mobile revolution, overall technological development of the nation cannot take place.
An all-inclusive movement of internet literacy should be carried out in both rural and underprivileged urban areas. The mental block our society has regarding women, that using phones might ‘dilute the culture’ should be removed.
Apps should be developed by designers and service providers in vernacular languages too, so that they can be easily understood and used by the women who have difficulty in the English language. Women should form various groups and communities and increase their connectivity and reach through mobiles for learning and sharing. Education is an important key factor. Knowledge not only empowers, but also gives confidence. Confidence conquers the weaknesses and gives way to grow out of the box.
The women who are working around us, our maids, dhobis, cleaners, vegetable sellers and many others who are not skilled labour have joined the mobile revolution. They are trying to learn and make its optimum use. With a little support from service providers by lowering the costs for these sections may help women achieve technological literacy in long run.
However, the women who are in the four walls of patriarchial rules are to be focussed to bring about the change. They have to break the wall of gender discrimination in mobile and internet usage. An educated woman empowers a family and a nation as a whole. This applies for internet education too. We have to make way for technology to reach women as the sky is the limit for them if they gain the knowledge and opportunity to use it.
A version of this was first published here.
Image source: shutterstock
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