With the world’s largest adolescent population, India stands at a mark of 253 million teens in its entire demographic, which essentially means every fifth person in our country is aged between the range of 10 and 19 years according to the Census 2011. Close to half of this population comprises of girls, which holds very obvious advantages for the country’s development in the near future. However, without access to digital modes and media, this potential would remain largely unfulfilled. Even as India finds itself in a digitally emergent phase, it has not moved ahead with the required pace on bridging the digital gap that exists among its young people, especially girls.
In India, a mere one-third of the total internet users are women. As a result, India alone accounts for nearly 50% of the gendered digital divide in the world. The current pandemic has forced nations and communities into realigning their priorities. With this, the issue of gendered digital divide where the negative impacts of the pandemic are being disproportionately felt by adolescent girls — has resurfaced in a big way in a country like ours.
When the two genders attain adolescence, boys are brought up in a way where they get prepared to acquire skills and become the breadwinner of the family. Conversely, social norms determine that girls are largely suitable for marriage and managing the unpaid care work of households, with constrained mobility and agency. Restrictions on movement, concerns about safety, economic constraints, and household responsibilities keep girls away from participating in the public sphere. These constraints have now extended into the digital space.
Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3), a New Delhi-based NGO, in association with Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) conducted a survey in 29 districts of 10 states with 4,100 respondents to understand digital access to young girls in India. It has found that about 42 per cent adolescent girls are allowed access to a mobile phone for less than an hour in a day with most parents feeling that they are “unsafe” and an “unhealthy distraction” for them.
The survey, released ahead of the National Girl Child Day, covered 4,100 respondents across four key stakeholder groups adolescent girls, family members, teachers, and representatives of community organisations (like NGOs) in ten states — Assam, Haryana, Karnataka, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The survey found that there is a crisis of access to digital devices for adolescent girls in India.
“81 per cent of families say they cannot afford one, while 79 per cent do not have a computer at home,” it said. Access to digital modes in community facilities like schools, community centers and internet cafes is limited — 83 per cent of the girls get less than an hour’s access in a week, the survey said.
Releasing the findings of the survey to mark National Girl Child Day, Dr Aparajita Gogoi, Executive Director, C3 said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities girls in India face.