Technological development is not static, however, the level of involvement significantly differs. Some claim that men are more technologically literate than women, although, in developed countries, women take advantage of technological usage equally with men. Nevertheless, the gender divide in technological access is substantially lower in the developed countries.
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This paper defines reasons of the gap in the male’s and female’s technological literacy in emerging countries on an example of India. Also, it compares the gender divide in technological knowledge of American and Indian population considering Internet, smartphones, and computer use. The obstacles that women face with while using technologies will be revealed along with the opportunities that women may have if accessing them freely. Finally, the paper discloses proposals for improving the gender divide in technological education in India.
Social Inequality Caused by the Digital Divide
Technologies change the habitual world, people, and the life around. Appearance of computers, mobile phones, and the internet gives unlimited opportunities to humans, creating inequality, at the same time. As Cheryl B. Leggon stated (2006), “the divide is more than as issue of access to technology; it is also an issue of use and empowerment” (p. 98). The digital gender disparity is only one of its components.
Digital divide can be defined as a gap in education or physical possibility to access the information technology. According to Brake (2014), “implicit in the literature on the digital divide which informs this paper is the assumption that certain forms of computer use benefit those who practice them” (p. 592). Indeed, the access to technology gives the necessary skills but without technical skills it is problematic to use the technology. However, this contradiction is detected in every aspect of the digital divide, not only gender.
The Comparison of ICT Access in Developed and Developing Countries
The gap is especially enhanced if comparing the digital divide in developed and developing countries. In the United States, the gap in usage the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is inessential and blurred. Anyone has an access to the technology and thus the gender does not have a substantial influence. “The promise of a gender-free online existence has morphed into a space where identity is transparent and can dictate one’s usage and potential with technology” (Royal, 2014, p. 175). Although, Jessie Daniels (2012) came to the opposite view while analysing the increase of female’s blogging in America. She argues that the gender digital divide is inherent even in the United States:
Social networking sites and blogs, located at the intersection of affective/reproductive labor and technology, are the venues for women to explore subjectivity formation and identity construction as they simultaneously face objectification and placement in hierarchies of race, gender, geography, and class (as cited in Gajjala & Oh, 2012, p. 4).
Leggon (2006) does not agree with Daniels and claims that in developed countries “gender differences in Internet usage have almost disappeared” (p. 102).
The inequality of Internet access is important because later it creates other disparities in employment, social involvement, and economic dependence. Further exploration shows that in industrial countries the female’s Internet access often exceeds the male’s use. “In most higher-income countries, women’s Internet access only minimally lags that of men’s, and in countries such as France and the United States, in fact exceeds it” (Women and the Web, 2012, p. 10). The usage of ICT has a potential to benefit women and empower them to get the equal conditions with men. However, the digital divide remains to be an obstacle on the women’s financial prosperity, education possibilities, and health care services. Judy Wajcman (2010) argues that women are not tech savvy and technology was developed not for their needs:
On this view technology tends to be thought of in terms of industrial machinery and military weapons, the tools of work and war, overlooking other technologies that affect most aspects of everyday life. The very definition of technology, in other words, is cast in terms of male activities (144).
According to the above, the definition of a gender gap in technology use is still imprecise as it considers the availability but not barriers of accessing to the ICT. There is no digital divide in developed countries, although women from developing countries suffer from the disparity. Also, an obvious link is observed between the economic and social development of the country and the digital gender gap of its citizens. The more developed the country is, the less inequality is detected.
Technical Education of Women in the Developing Countries
Women living in emerging countries face the discrimination ubiquitously. It relates not only to the digital divide but also to the socio-economic aspect of the life. Urban women are more likely to be unemployed, uneducated and unskilled. The traditional vision of their role dominates over the ability to reveal their potential, thus making them unpaid house workers. In the Indian culture, for example, the woman’s role is reduced to the housekeeping, babysitting and supporting the family.
Mass media strengthens this vision and discourage women to fulfil their individual ambitions and self-growth. Women and the web findings confirm it (2012): “one in five women in India and Egypt believe the Internet is not “appropriate” for them. Gender-based barriers are real. These women believe engaging online would not be useful for them, and if they did, their families would disapprove” (p. 12). Even in the educated families, primarily women are obliged to perform the household duties, their education is not in priority.
In the “Women’s education in India” Victoria Velkoff (1998) analyzes the literacy gap in India, focusing on female’s education. She proves the biased attitude towards women’s literacy and highlights that India has the lowest rate of educated females within Asia. Then, she describes the negative impact of low education level on the Indian woman’s life. The lack of financial and economic resources, inadequate health care, and restricted job opportunities, these are the major consequences of the deficiency of the female’s literacy. Velkoff (1998) further explains how governmental measures can increase the access and the level of education of the Indian female population.
The lack of technological literacy is an additional barrier for Indian women on their way to get equal opportunities with men. While the primary education in South Asia is available for both girls and boys, the secondary is basically more accessible for males. In developing countries, where poor families cannot send girls to the school, only boys can study (Velkoff, 1998). Though, if an education becomes free, girls are more likely to get it.
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The Gender Inequality in the Employment
However, the greater educational equality cannot assure the equality in the employment. Even in the developed countries, the responsibility for childcare often restricts women from realising their full potential at the workplace. Thus, an employer becomes the source of biased attitude towards the women’s empowerment. It is harder to find a work for females even in industrial countries.
Usually, women earn less than men and occupy lower posts, even though some of them outperform men in certain fields. “The so-called “glass ceiling” exists: women are disadvantaged when it comes to decision-making responsibilities and senior management positions; by the time they get to the boardroom, there is only one of them for every 10 men” (Closing the Gender Gap, 2012, p. 15). The article also explores the gender disparity of income in emerging and industrial countries. It reveals the governmental role in promoting the equal conditions for women living in developing countries. Financial support, such as parental leave and childcare aid, are only a few of the policies implemented by authorities to equalize the disparity of females.
The majority of industrial countries became prone to provide equal opportunities in education and technology. Resources invested in girls’ education, especially in the field of technology, are more likely to be paid back if the disparity disappears. The article claims that the gap can be blurred once the woman gets an adequate education (Closing the Gender Gap, 2012). Changes in the cultural ideology would positively impact on women’s place in the economic and social life of the developing countries.
The Gender Gap in Internet Access in Developing Countries
ICTs became an integral part of the society. The number of technologically dependent people conducting everyday activities increases. Indeed, internet gives almost unlimited opportunities to those, who are using it. Seeking employment, learning, training and running the business are only a few possibilities available to its users. However, for some people the internet is still unavailable. The computer network access has a great potential in removing the obstacle and allow the rural population to participate in the digital life.
According to the statistics, “nearly 35 percent fewer women than men in South Asia” (Women and the Web, 2012, p. 10) use internet. Every third woman is technologically illiterate and cannot pretend on high-skilled work. Overcoming the Internet gender gap benefits not only an individual but also to the whole economy. “In India, Internet-based economic activity accounts for more than 5 percent of GDP growth” (Women and the Web, 2012, p. 10).
The lack of Internet connection observed in the developing countries affects women more than men. While the mobile internet becomes widespread, men are more luckily to be users as women may not even have a mobile phone. Also, the price of connection does not contribute females to use it. Another option of accessing the internet is the Internet cafe visiting. This is an easy way to get connected, but it turns to be absolutely impractical for Asian women because of cultural and religious reasons.
Furthermore, the deficiency of a basic technological literacy makes them ashamed of possible extraneous reaction. Gill, Brooks, McDougall, Patel, and Kes (2010) disclose that “globally, while many women use computers—mainly for data entry purposes—far fewer work in computer programming, or in designing computer software and hardware” (p. 3). This statement is crucial for understanding the major reason of unequal opportunities in the workplace, especially on decision-making posts.
Deficiency of ICT’s access deprives females of getting necessary information, professional opportunity or increasing their economic participation. Gill et al. (2010) further provide an explanation: “The limited data available on women’s participation in computer science and engineering jobs around the world indicate that women are sorely under-represented in higher-skilled and higher-prestige positions” (p. 3).
Women and the Web (2012) explains how the inability of Internet access affects whole community: “Because women are critical collaborators in the effort to achieve development goals such as reduced child malnutrition and mortality, or increased economic growth, this gap disadvantages not just women, but their families, communities and countries” (p. 10). For better understanding of the Internet access complicacy, major obstacles should be revealed.
Obstacles in Internet Access for Women in Developing Countries
In emerging countries, the internet and computer connection does not guarantee the woman’s access to the Internet. Reasons may include the following: “exclusion from technology education and design; limited free time; social norms favouring men; and financial and/or institutional constraints” (Antonio & Tuffley, 2014, p. 678). Antonio and Tuffley (2014) explain that women can hardly benefit from the study as they have reduced access to the technical and general education.
Thus, authors (2014) argue that, “in some countries, India for example, 51% of women can read and write compared to 75% of men” (Antonio & Tuffley, p. 678). Without basic literacy, the internet stays out of reach for them. Women and the web report (2012) confirms the stereotype that rural females do not feel comfortable and confident while using World Wide Web. It means that they cannot develop necessary skills as they do not learn computer literacy.
Furthermore, rural women, who do not speak English, may face with another barrier while trying to access the Internet, as “90% of online content is in English, yet only one-third of users worldwide speak it” (Antonio & Tuffley, 2014, p. 678). The same conclusion was made by Brake (2014) “Even where the dominant mode of contribution is audio or visual, some knowledge of English may still be important” (p. 602). Therefore, women are discouraged from using the Internet even if they have an access.
Lack of time is another barrier women from developing countries face with. Due to the time-consuming housework, which is performed by females, the access to the online world is highly arguable.
A major digital divide based on gender is emerging in India, which is partly attributed to the constraints that women face in accessing education due to a lack of time to attend school, familial and household duties and socio-cultural norms that give a low priority to education (Antonio & Tuffley, 2014, p. 679).
Another aspect is the location of the computer network. If it is not far, there is the greater chance that females would use it. Even if there are all conditions for online learning at home, the family members may prevent the girl from studying due to the cultural restrictions.
Computer Literacy of Women in Developed and Developing Countries
The deep error that technology is a male’s prerogative already became a consistent pattern. Nevertheless, there is an obvious fact that technological society prefers men. Royal (2014) claims that “the computer science culture can be discouraging to women, who may be unable to receive the proper level of support to be successful in a computer science program” (p. 180). Antonio and Tuffley (2014) support this idea and state that “technologies are often considered to be within the purview of men and gender norms about men’s control of technology, information and knowledge limit women’s opportunity to learn, use and benefit from technology” (p. 679).
However, their subsequent researches disclose an essential factor of personal choice, whether the use of ICT will be beneficial to woman or not: “high rates of access do not imply high rates of usage” (Antonio & Tuffley, 2014, p. 680).
Non-users in both developing and developed countries are females of older age, less educated and with low socio-economic status. The availability of ICT cannot benefit the ones who are technologically illiterate. Simply, Internet access has no value for females without necessary skills. Moreover, if the advantage of ICTs use is going to be low, women are more likely to refuse from its exploitation. Finally, due to the financial and institutional obstacles women do not have means to buy, use or rent the information or communication technologies. Usually, the control of finances is provided by men, thus depriving women of necessary devices to get the internet connection.
All these barriers restrain females from the unlimited use of ICT. “The reason why fewer women access and use ICTs is a direct result of their unfavourable conditions with respect to education, employment, and income. When these variables are controlled, women are generally more active users of digital technologies than men” (Antonio & Tuffley, 2014, p. 681). However, the digital divide relates not only to a computer or internet access but also to the mobile phones use.
Gender Gap in Mobile Phones Use
Gender digital gap in India is one of the highest and makes 36 percent with “114 million fewer women than men owning a mobile phone” (Bridging the Gender Gap, 2015, p. 74). The article correlates with the researches of Watkins, Kitner, and Mehta (2012) who explored the mobile phone use in urban and rural India. The study discloses the gender gap in the middle and the lower class population of India and reveals that the level of literacy directly links to the ICT use.
There are two studies represented: study A and B referring to the urban phone use and rural correspondingly. The major target of the first study was “to generate qualitative data on how ‘middle class’ user segments in Indian cities were using smartphones and other connected mobile devices” (Watkins et al., 2012, p. 678). According to the research, urban females are more tend to have a smartphone, then the rural women. But the way of its exploitation differs.
While, the urban population generally use smartphones for the communication via voice and SMS, social networking and online navigating, responders from the study B use smartphones functions mainly to listen to the radio. “In contrast, the restriction to online access for the Nokia N97 [popular rural] smartphones observed during Study B might indicate how cultural norms and social hierarchies continue to erect barriers to adoption, alongside lower income and digital literacy skills” (Watkins et al., 2012, p. 695).
Urban practices of smartphone usage are far beyond than rural ways of its exploitation. Nevertheless, neither urban nor rural users use all the power of smartphones. Bridging the gender gap (2015) reports the similar findings. There are certain barriers restricting Indian women of accessing to the information and communication technologies. According to Watkins et al. (2012), “low levels of income and digital literacy, and certain social structures and cultural norms may further constrain forecast adoption rates” (p. 685).
The cost of the mobile phone remains an essential obstacle of its owning. Women are not responsible for the family’s income distribution, therefore, basically, men appear to be the users of mobile phones. “Limited resources compounded with social norms often mean that the men of the household are the first to get a mobile phone” (Bridging the Gender Gap, 2015, p. 75). When comparing the quality of mobile phones, female’s models are usually outdated, basic handsets while males possess smartphones.
Another barrier of the mobile use is the network quality. Surprising finding was revealed in the next article. “Women may perceive network quality and coverage as a greater barrier than men because of mobility constraints, more basic handsets, and fewer SIMs to choose from” (Bridging the Gender Gap, 2015, p. 49). Generally, rural women engaged in housekeeping and looking after children, spend more time at home, where “indoor signals can be weaker” (Bridging the Gender Gap, 2015, p. 49). Also, poor selection of SIM-cards and basic handsets may influence on the network quality.
The third barrier of mobile phone use, as any other ICTs, is technical literacy. Technical education which was discussed above has the same influence on all of its components. Watkins et al. (2012) claim that technically literate users may benefit from a larger range of mobile services, that are unavailable to the technically illiterate users (p. 695). Overall education level directly influences on the mobile usage by the women from developing countries. “Less educated women were more likely to report not knowing how to use a mobile phone/ the more complex features of their mobile phone as a barrier more than highly educated women” (Bridging the Gender Gap, 2015, p. 55).
Technical illiteracy reduces the confidence of females while using the mobile phone. From all large selection of mobile phone functions, rural women usually use only voice and SMS communication in particular cases. Another obstacle can appear to be the biggest challenge if the mobile handset has settings in the unfamiliar language. Mobile services and content are usually developed on general basis that is not customer oriented. Less educated rural women may not be able to read or understand the information, necessary to fully use the device.
Mobile phones designers oriented on the needs of customers from developed countries rarely introduce the simplified handsets. “Research by Grameen Foundation in India, for instance, shows that multi-step mobile phone menus and the use of unfamiliar syntax are confusing for rural women” (Bridging the Gender Gap, 2015, p. 56). Thus, the technically illiterate woman may not be able to use the mobile phone even having it.
Proposals for Reducing the Gender Gap in ICT Use
The gender gap in ICT usage can be significantly reduced by implementing certain social reforms and engaging women to the technical development. The cultural restrictions along with other barriers deprive women of work opportunities and social involvement.
Anderson and Shrum (2007) claim that social restrictions imposed on Indian women prevent their improvement in both professional and private lives. However, the active measures may reduce the biased attitude towards women and significantly benefit them. “Technology driven development policies will continue to undermine the status of women in less developed countries until they are able to take an active role in the adoption and reshaping of such innovations” (Anderson & Shrum, 2007, p. 234).
Reshma Thomas (2013) proposes accurate measures of deactivating females’ inequality in India. While men have more freedom in terms of education and employment, women sometimes do not even have the primary education. The higher unemployment rate and the lower income among females create a digital divide and leads to the greater gender gap. The author (2013) insists on increasing the general education availability and providing women with better employment opportunities (Thomas, p. 50).
Finally, “in governance all rights and all legal measures should be available for women’s protection and support” (Thomas, 2007, p. 50). Indeed, giving women equal opportunities would benefit them economically, financially and socially.
Females’ use of ICTs contributes not only to a particular person but also the whole community. Women are the key figures in the food production. The personal involvement into the process of distribution would financially motive females and lead to the economic growth. Antonio and Tuffley (2014) claimed “that increasing women’s control over household inputs and farm income could boost farm yields by as much as 20%” (p. 682). Another economic advantage of female’s ICT use may bring a significant reduction of poverty. “Indian states with higher female labour market participation rates enjoyed greater poverty reduction” (Antonio & Tuffley, 2014, p. 682).
The Internet gives an unlimited access to the education and training programs which can positively influence on the women’s literacy level in developing countries. Also, it contributes to the personal involvement into economic and social life. According to the Woman and the Web report (2012), “in India, 49 percent of women sought information on accessing government services and 54 percent sought information on financial services and banking” (p. 32).
As for employment, the internet gives huge opportunities for seeking, selecting and performing the work. “Use of the Internet provides direct benefits to employment by helping women search for jobs or expand networks to improve job prospects” (Women and the Web, 2012, p. 33). In fact, the qualified work requires the essential level of computer literacy which is directly proportional to the income.
The social benefit of ICT usage appears in the simplicity of the personal communication. Women may take advantage of cheap and available communication with friends, family or potential employers. Mobile phones, social networks, and electronic mailboxes contribute to the female’s involvement into the social life. Antonio and Tuffley (2014) argued that “having support to go online may help women in developing countries address the negative stereotypes and attitudinal biases that may impede access” (p. 681).
Limited access to the ICTs deprives women from developing countries of equal studying, working and living opportunities. The internet offers a wide range of education programs which cannot be used due to the lack of technical knowledge. However, deeper engagement with technology can essentially improve females’ professional and social performance. Eventually, the social and economic prosperity of women in developing countries would positively affect the whole country.
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