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Mayuravarshini Mohana
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The digital revolution ushered in an era which changed the way our world functions. The latter half of the twentieth century witnessed a rapid change in functioning as global interactions, be it economic, scientific, medical, social or humanist, migrated to digital platforms. Today, with the pandemic imposing isolation and distancing, the use of technology has percolated even to the local pockets of society as the perfect alternative to direct human contact.
Gender inequality prevalent in societies has found its way to the digital arena, effecting what is widely termed a digital gender divide. The term denotes the existing gap between men and women in the usage and access to ITCs. The International Telecommunication Union found the presence of a 17% digital gender gap in 2019.

As the world rapidly moves towards complete digitization, the effect of this gap gets amplified leaving half of the world population unable to contribute to socio-economic progress. This would foment an anthropological isolation of women from the progress of human civilization as their societal participation is hampered.

At the root of the problem is the belief that women are inherently unskilled at technological ventures. It draws from the essentialist perception of women as being inferior and hence incapable of navigating new and complex avenues as the ITCs. The constant discouragement is why the STEM fields are still largely male dominated. Girls showing any interest or promise in tech subjects are often nudged away towards the humanities and other ‘lighter’ fields. If not, expect backhanded compliments like, “Oh you’re good at this for a girl! It must be so hard.”

Unaffordability, lack of connectivity and low literacy rates are substantial influencers. The digital gender divide is as much an access based problem as it is of gendered discrimination. Boutheina Guermazi, director of digital development at the World Bank believes that the gap is related to the larger gender divide in society. World over, digital gender gaps remain enunciated in places where women do not have equal access to say, land, property or employment opportunities. In India, especially in rural sections where there is one handset per family, men receive priority in usage. Even if women have devices of their own, they are mostly hand me downs in damaged conditions or lack internet access facility.

The gender divide has severe social, economic and humanist implications for women. The almost spontaneous digitization of the world has the existing gender gap deny women social participation. They no longer have a role in deciding the course of humankind. With digital skills being prerequisite for a majority of jobs, women lose out on a number of employment opportunities. Not only does this stunt social progress, it also increases female employment in informal and unorganised sectors. If the digital divide is not addressed soon, it would only further the existing gender inequality in society.

Perhaps the greatest threat of digital gender divide is the monopolisation of information. In the present era information transaction largely occurs through digital platforms and women are clearly at a disadvantage. The lopsided reach of information would keep women in the dark, denying them access to medical, educational and employment facilities. The growing overreliance on the internet is a threat to India’s inclusive growth. The gap is only increasingly accentuated and will ultimately stagger any scheme or policy that governments wish to roll out in the future. Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive. With an utterly digitised registration process, the vaccination drive has witnessed a clear cut gender gap with a greater number of male beneficiaries. The implementation of micro-containment zones makes Common Service Centres and NGOs redundant, leaving a large section of the female population with no access to e-registration.

Digital access is no longer a luxury. Our present life style and global functioning necessitate digital fluency and the digital gender divide is as much a global crisis. Governments worldwide need to take joint initiatives to resolve the issue by increasing widespread connectivity and making digital devices affordable. Educational institutions must expose students to female role models in the STEM fields. However, such initiatives will only bear fruit when there is an inclusive improvement in overall standard of human life.