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INDIA...WOMEN...INTERNET...transforming weakness into power!

An effective gateway for women empowerment in India..

THE global economy and its rapid technological innovations craft an incredible opportunity to bridge the gender and technology divide and leverage the benefits of technology to propel the economic advancement of lower and middle income women in developing countries. More than two-thirds of the world's population about 4.6 billion people still lack Internet access.

ICT is emerging as a powerful tool for gender empowerment in a developing country like India. There has been a rapid growth in the ICT sector since the late 1980's and the use of ICT has dramatically expanded since 1990's. The Internet has rapidly evolved its ability to inform, connect, enable, and empower. From distance learners and small business owners to democracy activists and music downloader's, the Internet has allowed people around the world to imagine and construct new possibilities for themselves, their families, and their nations. Internet has changed lives of women, empowered them, enabled them and connected them to rest of the world.

Many international organisations including World Bank, OECD, IMF, UNESCO have studied the internet growth, its usage and impact especially on women across globe.

According to the World Bank, teledensity in India had reached 3.8% of the population by 2001. The number of internet accounts is growing at a rate of 50% per annum. The ITES-BPO sector alone grew at 59% and employment had reached 106,000 by 2004, The IT and ITES sector is projected to grow 18% in the next five years to become an industry of RS 4.58 laks crores by 2011 according to an IDC release.But there is a strong digital divide in society.while a report by the CISCO learning institute, women comprise only 23% of india's internet users. This gender digital divide in India is charaterised by low levels of access to technologies. Poverty, lack of computer literacy and language barriers are among the factors impeding access to ICT infrastructure, especially in developing countries.In an another report by UNESCO on " Gender issues in the information Society" the capability of women to effectively use information obtained through ICT is clearly dependent on many social factors , including literacy and education, geographic loaction, mobility and social class.

These findings have been further strengthened by a recently released report funded by the global chipmaker “Intel” with input from the United Nations and U.S. State Department, among others, points to stubborn gaps in women's access to the Internet in Africa, the Middle East and other developing parts of the world. This report provides a significant contribution towards understanding the factors affecting their access and use of the Internet, and the beneficial outcomes that can result. Two types of factors influence women's Internet access and use, individual factors, such as capability or household rules and ecosystem factors, such as network infrastructure and gender-sensitive policies.

More needs to be done to boost women's and girl's lagging online access calling for doubling the number of female Internet users in developing nations over the next three years. Surveys and interviews with more than 2,200 women and girls focused on four developing countries - Egypt, India, Mexico and Uganda - found that Internet access was critical for women to earn more money or search and apply for jobs. It found women are nearly 25 percent less likely than men to be online in those regions, and called on policymakers and technology companies to take steps such as making it easier to access the Internet on mobile phones, allowing free mobile content and boosting digital literacy to shrink the gap.

With the powerful capabilities the Internet enables to connect, to learn, to engage, to increase productivity, and to find opportunities women's lack of access is giving rise to a second digital divide, one where women and girls risk being left further and further behind. The United States and other developed nations see fairly high levels of overall Internet access and usage among women; some gaps remain, mostly in rural areas or among the poor. In the developing world, however, the gap is far wider revealing that only 11 percent of men and women in India have Internet access compared to 79 percent in the United States.

The report shows 600 million women in developing nations, or 21 percent, are online now, and another 450 million are expected to gain Internet access by 2016. But taking extra steps could help bring an additional 150 million women and girls online over the next three years. A U.N. Human Rights Council resolution last year recognized the power of the Internet to spur progress and encouraged countries to promote and facilitate access to it. Still, many women surveyed by Intel cited barriers ranging from the belief that Internet use was not suitable for them to the cost of getting connected. Illiteracy and lack of awareness about potential uses also were factors.

Increased access would not only improve women's lives but also boost the global economy, according to Intel's report. It would add between $50 billion and $70 billion in potential new market opportunities, the report said. It could also bring another $13 billion to $18 billion each year globally to the market value of goods and services - a measure known as gross domestic product or GDP.
In developing countries like India, more than 90% of women work in the informal sector and also in rural areas. These women engage in economic activities such as handicrafts and sewing or rolling ciggarettes, weaving of baskets and fabrics,working in cities as vendors working without any contracts or benefits. These are the women who need and deserve poverty alleviation programmes more than any other.

IT will expose these women to telecommunication services , media and broadcast serv ices that will create markets for their products and services. A survey in eight indian cities showed that non working women access the net 63% from cyber cafesa and 32% from home. Similarly, the benefits of women's Internet use accrue both on the micro or household level, such as increased self-esteem and income-generating opportunities; and on the macro level, with gains to the broader economy and greater gender equality. This report focuses on the individual factors and benefits that serve as the building blocks for the ‘macro' level benefits.

There are 600 million women and girls in developing countries using the Internet today, which is nearly 25 percent fewer than men. It is believed that the number of women online can be doubled within three years ie. by 2016, reaching 1.2 billion, due to the projected growth rate of Internet adoption, and assuming action taken by public and private sector actors would accelerate adoption and reduce the gender gap by a further 40 percent. Doubling the number of women and girls online would generate an estimated additional USD 13 to USD 18 billion in GDP across developing countries.

The World Bank has described empowerment as “a multi-dimensional, long-term process" with two essential components: resources that include not only financial and productive assets, but opportunities, capabilities, social networks and other environmental factors, and Agency or the ability to act in one's own best interest. Internet access is fast becoming an indispensable entrée to a hyper-connected world. In India, Internet-based economic activity accounts for more than 5 percent of GDP growth. Without access to the Internet, women lack access to its tools, resources and opportunities. And because women are critical collaborators in the effort to achieve development goals such as reduced child malnutrition and mortality, or increased economic growth, this gap disadvantages not just women, but their families, communities and countries.

Internet access and usage boosts women's income and income potential. Across our surveyed countries, nearly half of respondents used the web to search for and apply for a job, and 30 percent had used the Internet to earn additional income and increases women's sense of empowerment. More than 70 percent of Internet users considered the Internet “liberating” and 85 percent said it “provides more freedom increases women's sense of equity. This gender gap which today prevents a staggering 200 million women from participating online is projected to perpetuate.

For women in developing countries, the Internet can be a gateway to a host of tangible benefits, such as Job and education opportunities, and to less tangible benefits, such as confidence, self esteem, and Empowerment. For many women in the developing world, the Internet serves as a gateway to benefits clustered around empowerment connoting a variety of ideas, including self-confidence, autonomy, and the capacity to alter the structures that govern one's situation. Internet use also provides more subtle, longer-term benefits around empowerment, such as increased confidence, external validation, and expression. Empowerment benefits flow from the fact that the Internet permits information, ideas, and perspectives to travel with greater ease. Social networking allows women to enlarge their communities and to retain their old ones.

''Power corrupts. Knowledge is power. Study hard. Be evil''
Eleanor Roosevelt...

We couldn't agree with you more!

This story was written for World Pulse’s Women Weave the Web Digital Action Campaign. Learn more »


kellyannaustin's picture

so informative

Thanks so much for your thorough contribution. I learned so much! What action (even if it might sam small!) might we take to increase access to the Internet for women? I'd love to hear your insights.


CherylP's picture

Great research

I am so impressed with your intelligent and thought-provoking research. This article taught me so much and has given me so much to think about. There are so many possibilities if we are able to increase the number of women using the internet---just imagining the increased productivity and self-esteem from women. Wow, it would change the world. I too am interested in how you envision this kind of change taking place.

Thank you for putting all this information into a context for better understanding!


AlexandraF's picture

Thank you!

I really enjoyed reading your post, as it makes a very powerful argument for getting women to use the internet and to teach them digital literacy skills. The gender gap you describe in internet use and access is very important to highlight, so that we can work on closing that gap. As you point out we know already from many different studies what some of the barriers are as to why women in India do not have access to the internet or are not using it. I suppose the next step is to work on those barriers. I wonder what the Indian government is doing to provide free internet access for the public? For example, are there libraries or other public places where women can use the internet? In your city where you live, could you access the internet without having to pay for it?

Thank you so much for a very informative post! It really is so much to think about.


busayo's picture

Great Job!

This is a great job of research on the extent of the amount of women that still need to be reach as far as internet access is concerned. This problem as you have rightly said is more pathetic in the developing countries. Thank you for your post Monica, it is full of vital and important information.

Busayo Obisakin

Busayo Obisakin
Women inspiration Development center
Ile-Ife, Nigeria

arunima dutta's picture


Thanks so much for going through the article and sharing your views and inputs.....


Shilpa Balakrishnan's picture

Admiring work...!

Dear Arunima...
I really need to thank you for all those information. I didn't know that ICT is doing all these things. I had only seen ICT in advertisement and in the back of my notebook. As i am also an Indian i think you are right. women and even men lack the information of internet. Thank you once more for all those information...

William's picture

Women's use of the Internet

Dear Arunima,

Thank you for sharing your article with us. I agree that while the number of women able to use the Internet is still low, that rate is increasing with: education about computers; benefits to be gained from the Internet connections; confidence and education gained as a person upon acceptance others using the Internet in a positive way. I'd like to hear your suggestions about increasing girls/women's use of the Internet based on: overcoming class (caste) rules; getting more girls into quality schools to reduce illiteracy; getting more girls/women educated on the use of computers and the Internet.
Please continue to write and share what is happening around you in India.

Jumi's picture

Insightful and reflective

Dear Arunima:

Your piece is insightful and reflective. You make some arguments about the importance of technology to capacity building, especially for women. How can we leverage what is already available to ensure that more women's voices are heard?


tjron1's picture

Dear Arunima,

What a great job you have done in presenting the information! You have talked about the need for women to have better access to computers and the Internet. You have presented statistics showing how many women still need access and how that access would not only improve their lives but the economy of the area they live in.

Excellent Job!!


Diane Ezeji's picture

Thank you for your

Thank you for your informative piece, The start of change is informing people of the need for change. I can see how much time and effort you put into your article. Excellent job.

Diane Ezeji

Ashleigh Lauren's picture

Well done


Thank you for your insights and wealth of information about how bridging the gender digital divide can boost the global economy and empower women.

Your research is well appreciated! Hope to hear more from you soon.

Best wishes and blessings,


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