While India has 650 million cell phone users, how many married women actually can boast of having mobile access? For the urban-educated woman, using a cell phone is a part of her daily life. But if we look beyond the city landscapes, a gadget whose use seems to be so seamlessly woven in our lives, is in fact, a luxury for many. Women, especially married and living in traditionally rooted setups, don’t always have access to phones. They often face barriers like orthodox ideas, low priority and relevance in a household, etc, which keeps the phone out of their grasp.
A recent Harvard Kennedy School study brings to light how norms, income and education act as central barriers, when it comes to mobile usage among married Indian women. According to it, women’s mobile phone use increases significantly with empowerment, income and educational attainment. Also, women who have studied up till class 11 or 12 are 28 percent more likely to use a mobile phone than women with those with no education. Similarly, women with post-secondary schooling are 32 percentage points more likely to use a phone as compared to women with no education, holding empowerment, income and other factors constant in both cases.
The study puts forth that normative barriers are both statistically and quantitatively important determinants of women’s mobile phone use. One standard deviation increase in the empowerment index is associated with a 3.1 percentage point increase in mobile phone use.
Eventually, it all comes down to the social norms
To understand why education and empowerment cause such a change in the statistics, one has to understand that the married woman’s position in the patriarchal hierarchy. As secondary society members, women’s needs and demands are not a priority across most households. Even in well-to-do families, where mobiles are brought for luxury and not as a necessity, it is the men who get first preference. Then there is the added misconception that access to cell phone puts girls and women on the path of immoral behaviour. It is seen as a distraction, which keeps women from performing their household duties, and puts “ideas” in their heads.
- A study highlights how norms, income and education act as central barriers, when it comes to mobile usage among married Indian women.
- To understand why education and empowerment causes such a change in the statistics, one has to understand that a married woman’s position in the patriarchal hierarchy of our society.
- Women’s mobile phone use increases significantly with empowerment, income and educational attainment.
Also, most married women in average Indian households are still financially dependent on their husbands. Which means having a phone depends not on her needs, but his budget and priorities. Many men question the need for a phone in case of a stay at home wife. However, for working wives, a phone becomes a necessity. The family members need her to be accessible whenever needed. Which is why we see a positive rise in access to mobile phones among working or financially independent women, as compared to those who are not.
Another thing clear from this data is the influence of education on the statistics. Well-educated married women have more access to the phone than poorly educated or uneducated women.
This may be because most parents who educate their girls have progressive sensibilities. They support education, financial independence among their girls, because they believe in their empowerment. Those who believe in empowerment, encourage girls to get a higher education, work and be financially independent. Such women naturally have access to mobiles, because they are in-charge of their lives and even if they are not financially well-performing, their demands are respected.
Photo Credit: NOAH SEELAM
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.