This Women’s Day, Ask: Where Are The Women Missing On The Internet?

Many women have no access to the internet. On IWD 2023, let’s address why this is so, and look for ways to breach this gap, crucial for their empowerment today..

“The internet could be a very empowering place for girls and women, but only if we’re willing to recognize the challenges that exist and commit to working together to solve them,” says Melinda Gates.

Surely you must have noticed that some of us own two extremely powerful tools- a mobile phone and an internet connection. The two tools which let us explore and conquer worlds with a click. While a digital presence is ubiquitous today, make a note when I say only some of us have access to it.

The Mobile Gender Gap 2022 report revealed that only 26% of Indian adult women used smartphones in 2021, compared to 49% of men. Even among them, only 30% of women used mobile internet in 2020, compared to 41% of men.

The data collated shows us the gendered digital divide prevalent in India. More so, it shows us that women with access to mobile phones or the internet do not necessarily have a digital presence. While technology is gender agnostic, women remain distant from the virtual world for various reasons.

As we celebrate the theme of ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’ on International Women’s Day, let’s address this issue. Let’s question why women are absent from digital spaces despite the available resources in search of solutions to bridge the gap.

Why are women missing from the digital medium?

As the Founder of Women’s Web, I have spent over a decade building a digital platform that connects women pan India. When I see the numbers in the report cited above, I find the need to question the barriers that keep women away from the virtual world. What stops women from using digital resources even when they have a phone and a connection?

Unsafe digital spaces 

My team and I often discuss the unscrupulous comments subjected to our contributors by faceless trolls. Note here I draw a line between negative criticism and trolling. The former is based on individual opinions and is acceptable, but the latter refers to unjustified comments and threats.

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Why do our contributors receive such comments? Merely for having an opinion or expressing a thought that shatters the principles and self-esteem of patriarchal elements.

Cyberbullying has become common today, and women are judged disproportionately for their online presence. Lack of safety is one of the reasons women hesitate to use digital spaces. How can women be comfortable online when such restrictions envelop them?

Restricted access to personal devices 

While intolerant trolls harass women online, societal norms steal their autonomy to use personal devices. Some communities highly discourage girls from using mobiles and the internet under the pretext of respect and safety. As a result of such barriers, girls and women are curbed from the virtual world and lose out on access to education, information, and development.

Digital illiteracy 

The low levels of female literacy also translate into their digital illiteracy. Talented women are deprived of their digital presence as language and technological barriers hinder their journey. On the other hand, some women with language access refrain from using digital media because of the fear of technology. How can external sources equip women to be digitally literate?

Low internet connectivity

Making an online presence can be difficult for populations living in remote areas without reliable internet connectivity. As a result, the wider world remains unaware of their abilities. Imagine the progress women in these spaces can make when they present their skills to the developing world through reliable websites.

As we address these problems that hinder women’s presence in the digital world, let us seek innovative solutions to bring women on the virtual map.

How can we bridge the gap?

Working toward progress is an ongoing task. As we list the problems that encircle women from onboarding on their digital journey, we also chart solutions that help women build their digital path. Upon reading through the barriers women face, I believe there are ways in which we can help women get better digital exposure. Here’s how women can be a part of the virtual world:

Include more women in tech 

The first thing we need to make digital spaces approachable for women is women in tech. Here’s how they can help:

Empathetic women in tech can design safe platforms for women. With an understanding of women’s problems, they can create websites and applications that have an in-built safety mechanism. As a result, more women can feel safe online.

As more women explore the technological world, they can ask for policies expanding on women’s digital safety and rights.

The innovators can bring in diverse ideas which utilize the digital medium to empower women further.

Women in tech can act as role models for other women and encourage them to be the next-gen leaders in tech.

Build feasible digital spaces

With problems such as digital illiteracy and the fear of technology that women experience, we need easily accessible websites. Attributes include:

# Websites and applications that tackle language barriers

# Digital spaces which are accessible for someone with even a low reading proficiency

# Web pages that require a minimal internet connection to perform tasks

# Provision of easily accessible tutorials to teach consumers how to use the website

# Websites with humane designs and in-built safety provisions.

Improve provisions for online presence 

Digital illiteracy often hinders talented female entrepreneurs from converting their local business into digital marketplace. With digital education, we can accelerate the presence of women online. Through these resources, they can generate monetary and intellectual capital.

Government policies such as Pradhan Mantri Digital Saksharta Abhiyan are already paving the path to success. Organizations such as the United Nations also proclaim that digital equality is a human right and also women must have access to this space.

We also require mechanisms that educate social communities about the advantages of the digital medium for women to flourish. In-person digital training, better internet connectivity, and well-scheduled workshops on digital literacy can help women across the country become tech-savvy.

As IWD’23 welcomes another year of empowerment and growth, let us contribute to solutions that nurture DigitALL. Only when virtual spaces become safe and accessible for all women can we celebrate our rights to digital equality.

Research and writing support provided by Rhea Sakhardande.

Image source: shutterstock

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About the Author

Aparna Vedapuri Singh

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas and conversations to create change. She has been writing since she was ten. In another life, she used to be read more...

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