Mobile Phones And Gender: Do Women Really Own Their Technology?


Mobile Phones And Gender: Do Women Really Own Their Technology?



In 2020, my housekeeper called me after one month of the lockdown to ask if I was still going to pay her the monthly salary even though she was unable to report to work. She said that her wage was the only source of money for her family, which included her husband, an autorickshaw driver, and their three children.

She urgently emphasised how little money he was making at the time. I agreed to pay but asked if she could give me her bank account information or a Google Pay or Paytm account number so I could transfer the money electronically because our apartment did not permit visitors and I did not have enough cash.

Her husband's account was blocked due to some KYC issues, and she didn't have a bank account, so the only person in the family who could provide for the family's needs didn't have a phone of her own or a bank account. The irony of this situation is that she had to ask another male relative to share his phone number in order to transfer the money.

The epidemic significantly altered my domestic help's life; she now has her own bank account and mobile phone, the latter of which first allowed her children to take classes online. The GSMA Report from 2021, The Mobile Gender Gap Report, which discusses how women are now in a better position to negotiate the ownership of a technology-based gadget at home as the onus of monitoring the children's online education invariably falls on them, matches these life milestones with hers. This naturally encourages women to experiment with their mobile devices, download new apps, look for new information online, and seek advice from their social networks on suggesting tasks that may be completed using a mobile device.

Purchase but not fully Possess

Beyond these numbers, one must consider the socioeconomic issues that exist. My housekeeper no longer carries a phone with her when she reports working in 2022. She commutes by public transportation at least three kilometres away from her home. She said, "The kids use the phone," adding, "My equilibrium is over as my son, who is in his mid-teens, is attracted to images and videos," when questioned.

This puts into perspective an important truth, namely that even if the mobile was purchased with the needs of this middle-aged woman in mind, its ownership inevitably passes to the male family members and the kids.

Although the pandemic made efforts toward increasing the number of women who had mobile phones, the device still rarely stays in a woman's hands. Despite having mobile phones, women are hesitant to use social media platforms or even conduct online searches out of fear that they might find something they don't want to see or read, or out of concern that they might use the platform incorrectly, according to the GSMA report and a recent study on women audiences by Meta.

As a part of a digital literacy initiative run by Meta in 2019, I was providing digital literacy mentorship to young women from rural West Bengal. While interacting with the participants, I noticed that although this programme gave each of them an Android phone, their families soon took control of it.

They would use it to download different programmes and utilise the offered data. One participant also shared her parents' opinion, according to which using a phone is a major distraction that shouldn't be promoted.

The idea that a woman's morality can be compromised or distracted by a mobile phone reinforces the idea of possessing but not utilising a phone. The National Health Survey also notes that a large percentage of women own phones but rarely use them.

While the government and NGOs in India steadily promote mobile ownership and other technological adoption, women are unable to possess their own devices due to societal norms and patriarchal structures. As a culture and a nation, we still need to concentrate on using the technology responsibly and not be alarmed by the nature of some internet content. To ensure that the internet does not obstruct the advantages that technology could provide, we must also educate ourselves on good digital hygiene.

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