Digitally Invisible: Have girls and women been left behind in Digital India?

The Digital India programme was launched in 2015 as the flagship programme of the Government of India to transform India into a digitally empowered society. However, it was the Covid-19 pandemic that truly gave it a push, with remote online-based work becoming the order of the day for offices, and even schools, which had to impart education online. Only during the pandemic did access to technology and the ‘digital divide’ in the country become an important discussion. 

According to the National Family Health Survey-5, 2020, there is a significant digital divide between men and women, and between rural and urban India, with rural women having the lowest access to the internet. While 73% of urban men have used the internet, the corresponding figure for women is 56%, and in rural India, it stands at 55% of men versus 34% of women. Combined with the statistics on female labour force participation rates — a figure where India has one of the world’s lowest — this makes for rather underwhelming statistics. For instance, female participation rates decreased to 20% in 2019 and further to 16% during the quarter of July-September 2020. Hence, unless the gender gap in technology — access to devices and the internet — is addressed, not only will India’s digitising ambitions remain unfulfilled, but it will also impact women’s participation in the labour market.

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