A study has revealed that India’s mobile phone gender gap stands at 33 per cent, marking it among the highest in the world. The Harvard Kennedy School study estimated that, today in India, 71% of men use mobile phones, as against 38% of women.
The team based their research on a range of demographic characteristics, including age group, state of residence, marital status, educational attainment, urbanity and poverty status. While there is substantial variation in the gap, it is always 10 percentage points or higher, the study noted.
The research points out that, with this huge gap, India, along with Pakistan and Bangladesh, are “clear outliers among countries of similar levels of development”, exhibiting “some of the world’s highest gender gaps in access to technology”.
- On an average, by 33 per cent, men are more likely to own a phone than women.
- 47 per cent of the women who access a phone are phone borrowers rather than owners, as compared to 16 per cent of men. The study noted that borrowing a phone rather than owning one imposes practical limitations on diversification and independence for women.
- The surveyed women acknowledged that after marriage, norms dictate that their primary responsibility is to take care of her family and household. This home-centric role, they believe, leaves them with few opportunities to use the phone for productive purposes.
- The study noted that women’s mobile phone usage challenges traditional gender norms and showed that women are less likely to use smart phones because of potential digital harassment.
- Gap lies somewhere between 15-20 per cent for making and receiving calls, jumps to 51 per cent for an SMS and remains above 60 per cent for social media.
Some women felt that they did not have the technical ability to perform complex tasks
- Some did not see a need to engage in certain aspects like social media, as they considered it a distraction from more important responsibilities.
- Several respondents suggested that women must limit the mobile screen time as well as limit their conversations to their specific needs.
- Talking to family, using phones during a commute or to discuss work or studies, were considered appropriate use of mobile phones for women. Clearly, these are parameters set and enforced by the community.
- In a focus group discussion, respondents revealed that women had to share their passwords and could not hide their phones from their families. In certain areas and communities, there is a sword of supervision hanging over a woman’s mobile phone use, the study noted.
- Over discussions on social media, women expressed a strong preference for relationship-driven services like WhatsApp, instead of more open access services like Facebook.
The study, which analysed the sample 45,000 mobile phone users, used a range of sources — 125 original qualitative interviews, a literature review, and analysis of secondary quantitative data, to identify barriers to women’s use of mobile phones in India.
The cause for worry here is that this mobile gender gap is problematic in more ways than one. This particular gap can aggravate other forms of inequality and mean lesser networking opportunities for women.