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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why are Indian women avoiding the Internet?

I've just finished reading a report called 'Women and the Web' done by Intel. For this report, 2,200 women in developing countries (termed as low and middle income like Uganda, Mexico, Egypt and India) were interviewed.

The report reveals that 23% fewer women than men are online, which works out to 200 million women who are not online. In some regions, this gap exceeds 40%. Surprisingly, India can have its own version of Silicon Valley in Bangalore but that doesn't seem to have made a difference to millions of women here (both in rural and urban areas).

In rural India, the problems are lack of infrastructure, education and encouragement. With urban women, it's the latter two reasons but sometimes only the last one. Many women complained of their Internet usage being monitored or just denied to them. And yes, men in their family go online. Their objections to women using the Internet are: It isn't required or safe for them. So they are protecting their women from porn sites (and the good stuff!), which they ironically, surf quite avidly themselves.

What these figures tell us is simply that women are being left behind by the technological/economical/political impact that the internet has on our lives. We are not allowed to be online for reasons ranging from family disapproval to not having an interest in learning about the possibilities of the internet. This means we are not using a fairly freely available tool to enhance our education, our career or our lives. See the graphics from the report that sum it up really well.

What these graphics show are pure numbers but don't really tell the stories behind the numbers. I wasn't surprised by the fact that women in Egypt don't use the Internet as much as the men do, but surprisingly, they were doing it more than women in India do!

So may be those protests that have happened in Tahir Square have given Egyptian women the freedom and the guts to step out of their homes and step into cyber cafes. Meanwhile, women in India are still thinking about doing it....if at all! And while cultural stereotypes are at work everywhere, it was disheartening to note that women in a Muslim country who are supposed to live behind their veil and just look after their home and kids, are more interested in what the world has to offer, than Indian women. The truth is worse.

Egyptian women have 'realised' what they were missing out on, and are making the move to be included in political and economic discussions in their country. While Indian women continue to remain blissfully unaware, of the huge potential being online can have on their lives. (See the graphic Fig 10.)

Anyway, this report was done with the support of a United Nations body called UN Women, and it suggests a number of steps that needs to be taken by both the private and public sectors to ensure that women don't get left out in even larger numbers. Closing this gap soon is imperative because a lot of the world's developing economies are going to benefit from it - by an estimated USD 13-18 billion annually to their GDP.

So if people can't see the fairness involved in doing this, atleast the profit motive should ring a bell. Money always talks in ways that a social conscience does not.

Download the full report from here: http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/technology-in-education/women-in-the-web.html  (Click on graphics to enlarge them.)

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