India, in the age of globalization, is recklessly focusing on getting connected to the world in a single thread. And internet, with all its power and potential, is serving as a vital means to create opportunities for people to communicate, network, and connect at a global scale. Our agrarian country’s attempt to connect the remote areas with the developed ones around the globe could only be possible through this powerful means. But, even at the dawn of digital age, one can still encounter millions of women remaining unconnected to the Internet’s social, economic, educational, and other life enhancing opportunities; especially those residing in rural settings. The reasons may vary, including everything from lack of money to lack of interest. Thus, it is crucial to ensure that women are equal beneficiaries of technology, at a competitive pace as their male counterparts. According to a recent report by Google, India is soon going to be the second largest internet user in the world, after USA. Still, women account for only a tenth of the total rural Internet users and 49 percent of women who are non-users of the Internet in India see no benefits of the Internet. Lack of access to resources and acute levels of illiteracy have deprived women from equal access to internet and communication technology. This ‘divide’ is a real concern, as it further restricts women’s access to other forms of empowerment, such as education, healthcare, and community support.
Internet is versatile enough to meet the needs of different social groups and can facilitate as a means of social inclusion, primarily to voice the opinions of discriminated, excluded, and disabled people and help them reach the policy makers. For women per se, media is the most potent means to change how the world sees women; for it was always media which has shaped women’s image as a sexual commodity, oppressed being, and the subordinate counterpart. It is thus vital to utilize the power of internet to integrate women holistically into the social, economic, and political mainstream of India and improve the status quo of women and bring forth their role in national development. When a few women in rural Rajasthan tried their hands on internet for the first time, little did they know how this new experience would take them aback. They not only learned about the shocking facts about female foeticide and uneven sex ratio, but also realized that women throughout the country are fighting the same battle as they are. Also, there were times when rapes were considered ‘bizarre’ for it was almost impossible for people to accept the bitter truth. Nobody wanted to talk about it. But in recent times, with the online platforms increasingly becoming powerful mechanisms, we have witnessed media’s power to mobilize people’s support and make their voices heard. There is no room for rapes any longer. The outpouring responses of people raised on the new media were not accidental; instead were highly organized. For the first time, internet was used to mobilize public support and we could successfully come up with a Rape law in our legislation.
The new media i.e. Internet can create a space for women who have long been suppressed in the social, traditional, and cultural setup; to persuade them to come out of adverse conditions and realize their true worth and potential. Building women’s capacities through internet in various decision-making structures, thereby helping them to make more informed decisions in their day-to-day life, can bring forth numerous gains for them. Internet would allow them to encounter various new opportunities, their own rights, and thus better connect with the outside world. Access to accurate and timely information would serve in enhanced social and economic development and an essential key at a personal level as well as for various government-aided programmes. It can transform the economic opportunities available to women belonging to low-income groups, by promoting entrepreneurial activities and can be an important source to speak out against the odds; the oppression and marginalization of women, especially at the grassroots level. Rise in power of internet in itself can turn into a massive revolution that can affect the basic structure of the societies. Blogs could be used as public diaries by women; discussing various public and private issues that directly or indirectly impact them. It can certainly change the communication paradigm, making it no longer difficult to come across different voices; thereby connecting millions of minds and souls together. Thus, internet can provide spaces for adoption of a bottom-up approach, thereby ensuring a diverse means of communication.
However, while internet is identified as an agent of positive social change, its effects are not gender neutral. Several socio-cultural barriers are firmly rooted giving rise to various issues like diversity of languages, unequal access to resources, low educational levels, and poverty which are responsible for further widening the digital divide. Thus, Gender Sensitivity is a prerequisite that must prevail at all levels and must be strengthened to combat the undesired havoc. Still, women have limited access to technology in India and face huge disparity in its control and ownership.
Forthwith, ICTs for Development (ICT4D) are being promoted internationally as a means of bridging the digital divide. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), primarily focusing on communication technologies, hold great importance in this regard as these technologies provide access to information and communication to under-served populations. They have been aiding development process by addressing various women’s issues and concerns. Summarily put, a better understanding of all aspects of the gender digital divide is essential in order to prevent the adverse impact of the current trends of access on women universally as well as to enhance the potential of ICTs to become an effective tool for women’s empowerment. But, in order for the potential of ICTs for women’s empowerment to be harnessed to the maximum, there is a need for women in developed and developing countries to share their knowledge, strategies, and situations in order to better inform policy makers and develop lobbying activities on a wider scale.
About the Author
“Arshiya Wadhwa is a Development Sector professional, with a keen interest in women’s issues.”
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