Despite the multiple initiatives introduced by the G20, a more holistic approach needs to be adopted to diminish the gaping gender divide.
Despite the current discrepancies in socio-economic access to technology, women’s participation in digital economies predicts that including 600 million female users can increase the global GDP by US$ 5 Billion.
Notwithstanding this need for inclusion, even economically, women were found to own more rudimentary mobile phones than men, and 81 percent of women in India reported incognisance of the internet on mobile phones.
About 70 percent of the adult population in Southeast Asia has already been demarcated as digital consumers, where over 50 percent (expected to reach 84 percent by 2025) of people have also adopted digital wallets. However, in India, 44 percent of women did not know how to utilise mobile money and 47 percent were inhibited by the fear of making errors. Whereas, merely 22 percent of women were aware of any leading mobile money brands, as compared to 40 percent of men.
Digital financial inclusion can assist in increasing women’s labour force participation, socio-economic agency, and prevent time poverty.
Technological solutions such as mobile payments systems and neo-banks play a crucial role in financially including those who have been denied access to traditional banking systems. Digital financial inclusion can assist in increasing women’s labour force participation, socio-economic agency, and prevent time poverty. Over the years, evidence from mobile payment technologies has indicated the key role of fintech in bridging the gender gap. Still, fintech adoption remains comparatively low amongst women with 61 percent of women still preferring cash over mobile money services. In 2021, 46 percent of women used mobile money for informal transactions. Similarly, only 17 percent used mobile money to get a loan and 23 percent used it to pay for small expenses.
For women in India, as in many other developing nations, the primary barrier to accessing goods such as mobile internet is the lack of literacy and digital skills. Moreover, in India, the sub-barrier of functional literacy—including reading and writing—is particularly of big concern for women. About 23 percent of women in India had difficulty in reading and writing while using a mobile, which limited the access of less-economically privileged women to job opportunities, income, and access to government services.
There is no doubt that the gender digital divide is more pronounced in low and middle-income countries (LMIC). South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have the largest gender gap in terms of mobile ownership. The divide in question is augmented by social structures at local levels that demonise the use of mobiles and prevent technology penetration at all levels. Movements like the Khap Panchayat primarily are targeted at women.
Expanding broadband in rural areas using public funding can be enhanced to increase digital reliability for users at rural levels, and additionally increase the trust in technology that rural residents currently may lack.
Conversely, the advantage of having low-cost broadband in India is lacking in other G20 countries, where broadband and access to devices is an expensive venture. Thus, making urbanisation a solution for the digital divide (in India and other LMICs) can be aimed for while including lower-priced broadband available in high-income countries.
This can include Public-Private Partnerships, where local organisations, conglomerates and government structures collaborate to ensure the implementation of digital services. Such models have been successful in Singapore, Mexico, Ireland, New Zealand, and other countries.
Expanding broadband in rural areas using public funding can be enhanced to increase digital reliability for users at rural levels, and additionally increase the trust in technology that rural residents currently may lack. Such moves have been successful in other G20 countries.
In 2016, G20’s Digital Economy Ministerial Declaration called on the countries to promote action to help bridge the gender digital divide by working in tandem with the Developing Working Group. Under the German G20 Presidency in 2017, the G20 launched the #eSkills4Girls initiative, which aimed to tackle the existing gender digital divide in LMICs. Furthermore, under the Argentine and Saudi Arabian G20 presidencies, the grouping has helped amplify the need for bridging the gender gap in digital financial inclusion.
While the G20 has undertaken initiatives like the above, it remains crucial for the grouping to work across the different working groups to leverage its mechanisms in tackling the divide. The W20 (Women 20, a G20 Engagement group) along with the Development Working Group can consider setting up a task force to identify the gaps in national policies, plans and budgets in addressing the gender digital divide.
Governance will need to target multiple facets of the economy, including the current restrictions on mobility, or sanitation services, and the lack of urbanisation which inhibits female access and motivation for participation in newer age technologies.
Currently, in India, as in most other countries, there is a glaring lack of gender dimensions in ICT policies. There are sections in the IPC and IT Rules that address the usage of digital technology that can hamper women’s participation, however, none mention the augmentation of women’s participation, which remains an area of concern. Such a move should include caveats for indicators and frameworks that regularly measure gender-based participation in regulation formation, STEM, and other verticals.
Overall, governance will need to target multiple facets of the economy, including the current restrictions on mobility, or sanitation services, and the lack of urbanisation which inhibits female access and motivation for participation in newer age technologies. Further, skilling will have to be undertaken as a primary goal alongside broader social policy interventions.
The technology sector is rapidly advancing and if gender discrepancies are not attended to, the digital divide threatens only to widen.
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Shravishtha Ajaykumar is Associate Fellow at the Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology. Her fields of research include geospatial technology, data privacy, cybersecurity, and strategic ...Read More +
Shruti Jain was Coordinator for the Think20 India Secretariat and Associate Fellow Geoeconomics Programme at ORF. She holds a Masters degree in Public Policy and ...Read More +