Gender, Technology, and Digital Divide; the Feminization of the Labour Process: Suchismita Das

Introduction:

One fundamental way in which gender is expressed in any society is through technology. Technical skills and domains of expertise are divided between and within the sexes, shaping masculinities and femininities. Maybe the iconic womanly skill is basket making, whereas men should excel at hunting (Dickerscheid, 1997); or boys must learn to clean their fathers’ tools but girls are taught to organize the tasks of reeling, spinning, and weaving among her servants (Bray 1997); or boys huddle around the computer screen practicing hacking skills, while girls develop new communication codes using emoticons (Volman, 2001). In the contemporary world, or at any rate in the Western nations which pioneered industrialization and have thus been able for so long to dominate worldwide production of material and intellectual goods, services, and desires, technology is firmly coded male. Men are viewed as having a natural affinity with technology, whereas women supposedly fear or dislike it. Men actively engage with machines, making, using, tinkering with, and loving them.

ICT, or information and communications technology (or technologies), is the infrastructure and components that enable modern computing. Although there is no single, universal definition of ICT, the term is generally accepted to mean all devices, networking components, applications and systems that combined allow people and organizations (i.e., businesses, nonprofit agencies, governments and criminal enterprises) to interact in the digital world. ICT encompasses both the internet-enabled sphere as well as the mobile one powered by wireless networks. It also includes antiquated technologies, such as landline telephones, radio and television broadcast, networking sites all of which are still widely used today alongside cutting-edge ICT pieces such as artificial intelligence and robotics. Information and Communication Technologies (hereafter ICTs) has now become a potent force in transforming social, economic, and political life on a world scale and have lead changes in the structural adjustments of this new liberal economy as well. One of the important impacts of this voluminous growth of ICTs is the germination of digital divide between nations, ethnic groups, and marginalized peoples and so on(Bizimungu,2017).A digital divide is an economic and social inequality with regard to access to, use of, or impact of information and communication technologies (ICT). The divide within countries (such as the digital divide in the United States) may refer to inequalities between individuals, households, businesses, or geographic areas, usually at different socioeconomic levels or other demographic categories. The divide between differing countries or regions of the world is referred to as the global digital divide. ICTs have been lauded as the new tool for economic and social development. They have been praised for promoting new forms of learning, education, health services, income-generation, and community development and governance mechanisms.

The Traditional Digital Divide:

The digital divide can be viewed as lacks or differences in network access, human capability, knowledge, software usage, hardware ownership and technology usage and expertise. Advantages in the use of technologies determined by demographic and socioeconomic variables represent the traditional digital divide framework. The digital divide represents the access and usage gaps between individuals and within communities, which has diverse impacts on life outcomes, and is commonly conceived of as the divide between groups labeled as the haves and the have nots. The digital divide consists of individuals that form the groups that either have or do not have home computer ownership, computer accessibility, and internet usage (whether broadband or dial- up subscription) within the household or other nearby locations. Thus, the digital divide describes differences between user and non-user ability in usage and access to information. Definitions of the digital divide refer to the inequalities of access to the technologies and resources available which distribute the information to those able to obtain it. People who are among the technological have  nots do not fully utilize computers and the internet to get information about educational opportunities, to search for employment, and to access other opportunities, so it is important to explore how people can improve their access to information and opportunities through using technology.

Households with internet access at home are at a socioeconomic advantage as compared with households which do not have home internet access. According to Attewell (2001), poor and minority families are less likely to have access to computers or to the internet, thus creating a technology gap between the haves and information have nots. As a result, many African Americans and other minority groups have limited opportunities to participate in the modern economy. Similarly, higher income households have higher percentages of internet use within the home as compared with lower income.  However, primarily digital divide occurs in three levels:

(I) Global digital divide: The concept of global digital divide focuses on inequalities in computer and Internet penetration across countries, particularly at differences between developed and developing countries. (Such as divide in US, West Europe and the third world countries)

 (II) Regional digital divide: This refers to differences among countries within a region. For example, there are wide variations in access to information and communication technologies within Asia. Countries like South Korea, China are far ahead of India and Pakistan in internet usage.

 (III) National digital divide: At the national level, there is often an urban-rural divide. There are also inter-state differences.

Gender and Digital Divide:

In addition to regional and socio-economic variables, race and gender also determine internet activity. “Since technology and gender are both socially constructed and socially pervasive, we can never fully understand one without also understanding the other” (Kristin, 2007). A dense web of debate within the field of gender and technology studies, or feminist technology studies (FTS), catalyzes continual advances in studying what FTS terms the coproduction of gender and technology. The modernist association of technology with masculinity translates into everyday experiences of gender, historical narratives, employment practices, education, the design of new technologies, and the distribution of power across a global society in which technology is seen as the driving force of progress. CTs provide access to information and knowledge is power. It gives women better chances ill of improving their lives. Through information, they know and determine their rights. The question is who has access to internet and email? For the last three or four decades we only reach the economically empowered and there is a further division in gender. (Mary Frank Fox, 2007)And last but not the least question is that is it possible for women to gain access to male-dominated domains, such as politics, business, finance? The answer can be yes if ICTs become more accessible. Women don’t have what men have –“time and money”. (Goretti, 2007) They have to play multiple roles in their households. But once they gain access to ICTs, women don’t have to rely on men anymore to convey information. They can move into male dominated areas and become leaders in those fields. It has become increasingly clear that being able to use ICTs is an expected skill. Access to information gives women the power to learn and then enter male domains, especially if they couple their interest in ICTs with another knowledge area.

ICTs are intended for everyone. Hence, women and girls have to equally benefit from the advantages offered by new technologies and the products and processes which result from their use. Yet, due to widespread gender biases in the ICT sector, women are far more likely than men to face discrimination in the information society, especially in developing courtiers like India as well. Broadly speaking, the difference is not necessarily determined by the access to the Internet, but by access to ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) and to Media that the different segments of society can use. With regards to the Internet, the access is only one aspect, other factors such as the quality of connection and related services should be considered. Today the most discussed issue is the availability of the access at an affordable cost and quality.

A Case Study on Women of South 24 Pargana, West Bengal:

This is in reference to the survey details which portrays that in most of the cases women have computers at home and Smart phones for communication (51%) but the men of their family found it unnecessary to provide them the internet service (24%). 31 % of women did not have clear idea about their precaution and nutrition during their pregnancy but only 18% women use internet while clearing their doubts about pregnancy or contraception. In this present survey total 32 women have internet accessible mobile phones while only 28.12% amongst them often use internet through their phones and 40.62%  never used. In this case of 48% women they will find themselves in an achieving end if they could have a better idea about the use of digital devices and networking components. The easy use of digital devices and internet is still an almost alien concept to most of the women in rural and sub-urban areas. There is another propensity I found that is making the use of digital devices and internet as a mystic and not at hand thing to the women by their husbands and family (35%). A newly wedded woman from my respondents answered that “He (her husband) gave me an imprecise idea about contraception but when I go through the Internet it was quite different.”

In case of few women from relatively backward economic conditions (mainly domestic workers, 18%) internet is like a foreign concept for them which even blurring their awareness about their basic human rights. The government policies are now introduced like generating the ‘E- Aadhar Card’, taking loans sometimes involves the use of internet and online forms and in most the cases the men of their economic class somehow learns use on internets but women do not. “I am getting so much of trouble as I have no man in my home”-as a middle aged domestic worker has responded in my survey.

 In rural areas people are facing the problem of vicious circle of poverty. They are not able to meet their both ends properly, how can they think about the use of technology? Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Assam lag behind other states in the use and development of ICTs. India has a multi-cultural, multi-language and multi-religion country with complex socio-economic fabric. The Education is strong compliment to the use of technologies like internet. The relevant education levels are secondary and tertiary levels as the government is expected to upgrade the national capacity for adaptation and innovation.

 But there is a growing tendency among middle class women (26%) to learn the use of internet and computers to help their school children in their studies and in making their project. One of my respondents is engaged in online business also but as I have found that this is restricted to the upper middle classes only. Unfortunately, quite a few women still focus on learning basic ICT skills, like typing, while men generally aim for degrees and higher education in ICTs. That needs to change. Women need more in-depth ICT training if they want to reach into male-dominated areas.

Conclusion:

The present study unfolds the fact that women don’t have access to ICTs due to lack of education, illiteracy, poverty and lack of finances. Men still have much more access, especially in rural areas. In India, girls for example, are not encouraged to take math and science in school for a long time, and this influences their career choices. In addition, high levels of poverty limit women’s access to ICTs.

Expectations are especially high when it comes to ICTs opportunities for women and girls in developing countries,  perhaps based on the popular saying ‘if you educate a woman, you educate a nation’, meaning that investment in women is of value not only to them individually, but to their communities and the wider society. The gender divide among internet users in rural India is quite stark. In 2015, 114 million fewer women than men owned a mobile phone in India, according to GSM Association. In urbanized centers, 62% of women use their own handsets, but in rural regions the figure is under 37%. The participation of women plays a fundamental role in the health and efficacy of any political society. This involvement is defined not only by the levels with which women share electoral representation with men, but also in terms of the space available for them to engage with and contribute to political conversations. While online communication has been lauded for the empowering potential it has for women and civil society, in reality, the democratic space of the Internet and social media often replicate and even amplify real-world inequalities. Women consists the half of the potential for the betterment of any society but as their labour tends to remain ‘unrecognized’ in the agricultural field they are also at the receiving end of the ICTs benefits. Without women’s empowerment and gender equality, societies will not be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and their full development potential. ICTs provide access to information and knowledge is power. It gives women better chances ill of improving their lives.

Yet, due to widespread gender biases in the ICT sector, women are far more likely to men to face discrimination in the information society. Lack of access to resources and education, illiteracy as well as insufficient time as a result of a woman’s multiple roles in families and communities hinders the way of her digital smartness. Accessing internet, email and using cell phones remains expensive, and therefore ICTs are not accessible for many. The Indian government has made efforts to start up telemeters in rural areas but infrastructure remains the main barrier. Lack of electricity continues to be a big issue. We also need to provide women with incentives to use ICTs because, in the end, they have to prepare and serve the food on the table. One more concerning point is that in developing countries like us; when you live on the poverty line, access to ICTs becomes almost irrelevant to you. Women need firstly education and then are to be made internet-literate. They also need a developed infrastructure to access ICTs, including electricity (Goretti,2011). Thus, we need subsidies for women to give them access to ICTs. Rural women need to be made aware of the benefits of ICTs and the options around usage. A group of rural women can, for example, share a cell phone or buy a PC together to cut costs. They can also ask to use a local school’s facilities after hours for a small fee. ICTs are intended for everyone. Hence, women and girls should be equally benefitted from the advantages offered by new technologies and the products and processes which result from their use.

References:                 

Bray Francesca, Gender and Technology, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 36,2007

Bizimungu Julius, Push for Bridging of Gender Digital Divide, 2017

Danielle Taana Smith and Roderick Graham, Household Expenditures on Information and Communication Technologies: A Proposal for aDigital Practice Mode,2012

Dickerscheid. Jean, Profiles of Rural Egyptian Women: Rules, Status and Need,1997

Hook Sara Anne, Encyclopedia of Gender and Information Technology,2007

James Sani,Women in ICT, Bridging the Gender Digital Divide, 2010

Mary Frank Fox, Deborah G.Johnson and Sue V. Rosser, Women, Gender, and Technology,2007

Monique Volman and Edith van Eck,Gender Equity and Information Technology in Education: The Second Decade,2001

Ono Hiroshi and Madeline Zavodny,Gender Differences in Information Technology Usage: A U.S.-Japan Comparison,  Sociological Perspectives, Vol. 48, 2005

Palitza Kristin, Robynne Erwin, Jane Godia and Goretti Amuriat, ICTs – Closing or Expanding the Gender Digital Divide?,Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity, No. 71,2007

JUBBbbLIUSSegrave Marie, Laura Vitis,Gender, Technology and Violence,2017

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Tareq Rashid,Digital Inclusion and Social Inequality,Gender Differences in ICT Access and Use in Five Developing Countries,2016

Warschauer,Reconceptualizing the digital divide,1990

 

Suchismita Das is currently pursuing her Masters degree in Sociology from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. 

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