India has a huge gender gap in terms of access to the internet and mobile ownership


  • A recent study by LINREasia, a Colombo-based think tank, says that there is a there is a 57% gap in terms of internet usage between males and females in India.
  • Additionally, only 43% of Indian women have a mobile phone compared to 80% of Indian men.
  • The study also highlighted that only 19% of India’s population actually uses the internet.
The fast rate of Internet penetration and mobile phone usage has been one of the more prominent success stories in India over the last decade. Everyone one from CEOs to market analysts to government officials tout feel-good statements about India being the world’s largest smartphone market and also having the second-largest internet-using population.

However, a recent study by LINREasia, an internet and communications tech-focused think tank based in Sri Lanka, highlights the unequal nature of this penetration, which is due in part to cultural barriers. According to the study, which was released in the presence of officials from India’s telecoms ministry as well as the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), there is a 57% gap in terms of internet usage between males and females. Additionally, only 43% of Indian women have a mobile phone compared to 80% of Indian men.

The study wasn’t limited to India. Around 38,000 households across 18 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa were assessed. While India ranked third-lowest in terms of the gender gap with respect to internet access (after Bangladesh and Rwanda), it had the highest gap in terms of phone ownership.
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Another troubling statistic shed light on just how far India has to go in terms of internet penetration. The study showed that only 19% of the population actually uses the internet. The level of penetration is much lower than a number of India’s counterparts in the developing world, including Nigeria, Kenya and Cambodia.

Rural-urban divide

The gender gap is accentuated in rural areas, where women routinely are denied equal opportunities for education and work. There is a 52% gender gap in mobile ownership in rural areas compared with 34% in urban areas. This of course, is correlated with the gap in total mobile ownership between rural areas, where 55% of people own phones and urban areas, where 71% do.
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The lack of access to the internet and mobile phones could both be a consequence of and factor dictating the low level of participation of women in the economy. Only 18% of India’s GDP is accounted for by women, while the share of females in the country’s labour force is 25%. This also translates into a low level of financial inclusion and access to banking services.

The Department of Telecommunications should closely analyse the study’s findings and develop policies to reduce this gender gap, such as computer skilling programmes for women. An increase in access to the internet means an increase in access to educational resources and information. With data prices hitting rock-bottom, cost should no longer be an impediment to internet access. Besides, as the UN said in 2016, access to the internet is a basic human right.

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