Oxfam report says digital divide hurting women, unemployed & rural poor in India

61 pc men, 31 pc women have access to mobile, says India Inequality 2022: Digital Divide


December 7, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Oxfam report says digital divide hurting women, unemployed & rural poor in India

Women, rural poor and the unemployed have been hit the hardest, says India Inequality 2022: Digital Divide

Despite years of speeches, digital divide in India has only exacerbated as digital technologies are only made accessible to the privileged, says a report by Oxfam India. Women, rural poor and the unemployed have been hit the hardest, says the report, India Inequality 2022: Digital Divide.

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For almost a decade, there has been a lot of noise at leading global forums about the growing menace of digital divide and with leaders of not only various countries but also of civil society groups and large corporations promising to take quick remedial actions to bridge this divide.

India was amongst the earlies to promise equal access to internet, thanks to its extremely low mobile data and telecom charges. And current Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not tire singing paeans of Digital India and its numerous success stories that are meant to have shown that internet has removed many barriers and brought about dramatic equality in the country, at least on the web.

However, a report released earlier this week by civil society group Oxfam India, has highlighted the dramatic digital divide that pervades the entire country. According to the report, India Inequality 2022: Digital Divide, women, rural poor and the unemployed have been victims of a large-scale and widespread digital divide that has created an ocean of disparities within the Indian society.

Oxfam India says that it analysed primary data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) household survey from January 2018 to December 2021, focusing on internet access, mobile ownership, computer, and broadband availability to access the inclusivity of digital initiatives to deliver public services and entitlements.

It says that the reach of digital technologies has remained limited to largely male, urban, upper caste and upper-class households and individuals.

The charitable organisation says that only half as many women have access to a mobile phone as men since just 31 pc women have access to the mobile phones while as 61 pc men owned it in 2021. Backing up this data is Mobile Gender Gap, a report by mobile telecom companies association, GSMA, which says that last year, women were 33 pc less likely to use mobile internet as compared to men.

Similarly, while 95 pc of salaried permanent employees own a mobile phone, only 50 pc of the unemployed have access to a mobile telephone. Similarly, the report also highlighted that contrary to popular perception the use of computer devices has decreased in rural areas.

Another sharp disparity in access to the internet was also noticed on basis of castes. Oxfam says that while 8 pc of the general castes had a computer or a laptop, less than 1 pc of the Scheduled Tribes and 2 pc of the Scheduled Castes had access to it.

The digital divide also exists between urban and rural areas, says the report, adding that before the Covid-19 pandemic, while 3 pc of the rural population had owned a computer, the number has since declined to barely 1 pc, whereas in urban areas, the number of people with computers is 8 pc.

The report called on the government to ensure access to internet connectivity by investing in digital infrastructure and not only making it affordable and they should push access of smartphones to all not only for rich and privileged.

“The report has highlighted how digital technologies are accessible to the rich and privileged. A person with a post-graduate or a PhD is 60 pc more likely to have a phone than a person with no education. This is worrying because the digital divide can further deepen the existing socio-economic inequalities in the country,” says Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India.

“Oxfam India has urged the government to immediately take necessary steps to universalise internet connectivity and treat digital technologies as public utility not a privilege,” adds Behar.

Oxfam says that it has recommended several measures that could be taken by the government to bridge India’s current income inequality by improving the income of the poor. This can be done by setting a decent minimum living wage, easing the indirect tax burden on citizens and provision of universal health and education services. It says that the most basic step toward bridging the digital divide is availability. In rural and hard-to-reach areas, internet availability is either intermittent, poor or non-existent. Service providers need to ensure its availability through community networks and public WiFi/ internet access points.

To ensure universal access to internet connectivity, it has to be affordable for the masses and to drive down prices, the government can invest in digital infrastructure to not only make internet affordable, but also push for greater accessibility to smartphones.

Oxfam says that the government has to be a strong regulatory figure in this regard, ensuring that data and broadband services are not monopolised by private players. Additionally, the government can lower taxes on computers and phones that are often prohibitively high.

The report also calls on the government to conduct digital literacy camps, especially in rural India, to teach the use of technology in schools, and digitise panchayats and schools. It calls for establishment of a responsive and accountable grievance redressal mechanism to handle EdTech and Healthtech related complaints by parents, children and other consumers.

Finally, the charity says that the government must also acknowledge that tech-based solutions are not always the right answers. Even in times of crises like pandemics, the governments also need to consider low- or no-tech solutions, it says.



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