Only 30-35% Women in India Have Internet Access: Facebook India MD

Facebook, with Ministry of Tribal Affairs, launched a program to  train tribal girls in digital skills. 

3 min read

Acknowledging the sharp gender imbalance in access to the internet and in utilising its resources, Facebook India head Ajit Mohan said on Wednesday that “there was a big task” ahead in addressing this problem.

“Despite the enormous progress that we have made in expanding access to internet in the last 3-4 years, the percentage of women who have access remains between 30 and 35 percent,” said Ajit Mohan, who took over as Vice President & Managing Director in September.

Mohan’s statement comes in the backdrop of a recent landmark judgment by Kerala High Court which declared access to internet as a fundamental right of all citizens.

Incidentally, the High Court was hearing a case brought by 19-year-old Faheema Shirin against her college hostel’s prohibition on the use of mobile phones by girls.

India has the second highest active internet users in the world after China with approximately 550 million connected to the internet in some form. India is also Facebook’s largest market globally with over 300 million users. Facebook also owns WhatsApp and Instagram.


Persistent Gender Disparity

Mohan’s claims on gender disparity in access to internet is supported by recent global studies. A study by GSMA – The Mobile Gender Gap Report, 2019 – also highlights that this imbalance is prevalent not only in going online but also in ownership of mobile phones.

“There is a persistent mobile gender gap. Women in low- and middle-income countries are 10 percent less likely than men to own a mobile,” the report says. It adds among its key findings “across low- and middle-income countries, 313 million fewer women than men use mobile internet, representing a gender gap of 23 percent.”

The mobile gender gap varies by region and country, but is widest in South Asia where women are 28 percent less likely than men to own a mobile and 58 percent less likely to use mobile internet.
GSMA - The Mobile Gender Gap Report, 2019

Another comprehensive report – ‘Internet in India 2017’ by the Internet And Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) – had predicted 500 million by June 2018, but cautioned that women will comprise only 30 percent of the number.

According to the report, there were 481 million internet users in December 2017, of which only 143 million or 29.7 percent were women. In this context, Mohan’s comments on 16 October 2019 reveals that the gap is alive and persistent.

Digital Training For Tribal Girls

Speaking at an event, also attended by Minister for Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda at Facebook India’s New Delhi office, Mohan added “so, we clearly have a big task to do to change the gender imbalance.”

GOAL (Going Online as Leaders), a Facebook program in collaboration with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, is aimed at training 5,000 girls from tribal regions across India to become village-level digital young leaders for their communities.

The program connects underprivileged young women from tribal areas with senior expert mentors in the areas of business, fashion and arts to learn digital and life skills.

Elaborating on the gender imbalance in cyberspace, Mohan explained that the problem was made more acute by their finding that even among the women who do have access to internet do not “have access to all the power that comes from being online”.

Mohan has taken over as Facebook India’s head from his previous role as CEO of streaming platform Hotstar at a time when the tech giant is grappling with a range of tricky policy issues in the country. From the government’s aggressive push for data localisation to pushing for introducing traceability of messages on WhatsApp by breaking encryption.

Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda highlighted the dire need to get internet and digital skills across to tribal areas. “All the tribal areas in India are blessed with immense natural resources. Many in these areas are doing a lot but cannot join the mainstream,” he said.

“Empowering girls can enable them to move forward with confidence. If women remain behind then the population can become a liability tomorrow,” Munda added.

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