The Smartphone Is Hurting India’s Women

Smartphones could be exacerbating the gender divide in India. As much of the population is increasingly using online and mobile internet access for job search, commerce, education and to exercise political rights, women are being denied the same advantages and are falling further behind.

Yes, India has a rapidly growing base of smartphone users, but most of those are men. The Wall Street Journal reports that millions of Indian women are prevented from owning a smartphone by fathers or husbands who fear that along with the phone comes a dangerous freedom. Smartphones can be had for less than $50 in India, but it is not the cost that prevents women from using the technology.

In India, the gap between men and women who use smartphones is 114 million, which is over half the total world-wide gap of 200 million, according to the international cellphone-industry group GSMA. Only 28 percent of females have cellphones compared with 43 percent of men. In fact, the smartphone in India is exacerbating the already wide gender gap between men and women, and the latter are now finding communication in the new mobile age harder along with finding work, improving their skills and exercising political rights.

Men outnumber women in India with one of the most skewed ratios globally because of neglect, abortion and infanticide. Girls are less likely to attend school and more likely to suffer from malnutrition. Unmarried women in many parts of rural India are forbidden to own a cellphone, and any resources are considered better spent on boys.

In the past, cellular phones and internet access have proved to be great levelers as far as inequality is concerned, but as the majority are increasingly using online options to find work, study, and transact, many women are increasingly being excluded from the same advantages.

Osama Manzar, founder of the nonprofit Digital Empowerment Foundation thinks that mobile and smartphones will be the biggest challenge to gender equality in India. “Denying them [phones] to women means lost opportunity for women and the economy.”

According to GSMA, if as many women owned phones as men, global phone revenue would increase by $30 billion with $3.5 billion coming from India. Micromax Informatics Inc. is the largest cellphone brand in India and is targeting women by offering affordable, fashionable handsets and local-language operating systems. It also has a panic button on its phones. Telenor AS A goes door-to-door selling sim cards with a discount on calls if purchased by a woman, in an attempt to persuade men to allow women to buy phones.