Vol.1 No.1 July - December 2013 ISSN: 2321 - 6530

DIGITAL GENDER DIVIDE : EDUCATIONAL AND OCCUPATIONAL COROLLARIES



Charu Khatri
Lecturer, PSTE, DIET (Moti Bagh), SCERT.

.D. Research Scholar, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi
e-mail: khatri_charu@yahoo.com


Abstract

The aspect of women empowerment and social change with the help of social media has magnetized the philosophical traditions over last few decades. Women historically have had little access to media and communication technologies. Opportunities to build communities and share experiences with other women on a global basis therefore have remained limited for women. Men have always been almost exclusively the inhabitants of cyberspace since its early developments.

Digital divide is a concept through which inequality in the use of computer technology is mapped. It refers to the gap between regions or groups of people that are left behind in use of computers and internet. Digital gender divide is an extension of this concept and focuses specifically on the inequity of women’s access to use of communication technology. If we consider issues of women using internet for civic participation, the answer is less optimistic than a resounding yes. Many researchers have identified a substantial presence of digital gender divide.

Digital Divide

Digital divide is the expression used to describe gap between geographic areas, households, individuals and businesses at different socio-economic levels with regard to their use of the Internet. The wide variety of internet activities which include imbalance both in physical access to technology and the resources are considered to be pivotal factors in deciding digital divide. Various skills are needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen and absence of these skills invariably leads to digital divide.

The term Digital Divide originally came into existence in the mid 1990s, initially referring to the gap in ownership of computers between certain ethnic groups. This term appeared in several news articles and political speeches of mid 1990s. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore used the term in 1990s in their speeches at various occasions.

The term has rather been defined variedly by various scholars. Bharat Mehra defines it simply as the troubling gap between those who use computers and the Internet and those who do not. More recently, some have used the term to refer to gaps in broadband network access. The term can mean not only unequal access to computer hardware, but also inequalities between groups of people in their ability to use information technology. Given the range of criteria used to assess various technological disparities between groups/nations and lack of data on some aspects of usage, the exact nature of the digital divide is both contextual and debatable. Lisa Servon argued in 2002 that the digital divide is a symptom of a larger and more complex problem - that of persistent poverty and inequality.

Mehra (2004) identifies socioeconomic status, income, educational level, and race among other factors associated with technological attainment, or the potential of the internet to improve everyday life for those on the margins of society and to achieve greater social equity and empowerment.

Based on the theory of the diffusion of innovations through social networks, a common framework can be set up to distinguish the main approaches researchers have taken to conceptualize the digital divide. All kinds of studies and approaches to the digital divide can be classified into the following four categories.

  • Digital divide amongst individuals, organizations, communities, societies, countries and world as a region.
  • Digital divide as a result of variation in income, education, geography, age, gender, type of ownership, size, sector.
  • Digital Divide as a result of access, usage and impact.
  • Digital Divide considering the use of phone, internet, computer, digital TV.

These four distinct dimensions of digital divide could further result into a complex web of other various variables. With each additional variable, the probability of increasing the complexity of this digital divide reinforces itself.

Gender And Digital Divide

A stereotype has been developed that women are rather technophobic, have less interest in, and are less capable of using technology. In his article “The digital divide: the special case of gender”, J. Cooper states that there is “a dramatic digital divide for gender, and women are not reaping the benefits of the technological revolution”. Cooper believes this is due to the types of toys that children play with. While girls play with dolls, boys play with video games and become more connected with technology. Men have always been present in the technological world and the software may be designed primarily to appeal to men. It is also argued that the stereotype of the tech-savvy man acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is a division between men and women, not only in terms of pure economics, but also in the realm of technology. Women’s lack of technological access is caused by many factors, and it will ultimately hurt them. Though there is currently a wide range of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) available, there is still a division of who is allowed access to it. Women are deprived not only economically, but also in terms of information.

Forms Of Digital Gender Divide In Educational Sector

Digital divide is considered to be more prominent in education sector. In the 1990s, better resourced schools were much more likely to provide their students with regular computer access. In the context of schools which have consistently been involved in discussion of the divide, current formulations focus more on how students use computers, rather than simply whether there are computers or internet connections.

Education also extends beyond the classroom. Given that developing countries do not have access to extensive educational opportunities, there is still a great need for technological education. Technology has the potential to greatly contribute to the prosperity of developing areas. With this however, there are several key misconceptions regarding the digital revolution.

Poor areas need more than the equipment; they need to know how to use the technology in a resourceful way so that they can improve their circumstances, whether it is related to health care, economic support, or other areas of distress. The problem of literacy remains as one of the primary setbacks for poverty stricken areas. The misconception here lies in the fact that most people see the availability of technology as the primary factor in reducing the digital divide. As Ranjit Devraj states, “Even literate South Asians cannot benefit from the IT revolution without a working knowledge of the English language because of poor ‘localisation’ — a highly technical process by which computer programmes are translated into another language.” Therefore, in order for the digital divide to decrease, more people must learn to use the technology.

Women have less access to Information and Communication Technology. As a result, a stereotype has been developed that women are rather technophobic. It is the unfortunate social status of women and the elevated social status of men that leads to men having more access to ICT than women. If women are provided a “digital gender opportunity”, they will surely have access to employment, education, income and health services.

Understanding Information And Communication Technology

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) refer to a broad range of technologies such as methods of communication, transmission techniques, communication equipment, media as well as techniques for storing and processing information. ICTs include technologies that provide an enabling environment for physical infrastructure and services development for generation, transmission and processing, storing and disseminating information in all forms, including voice, text, data, graphics and video. ‘Traditional’ and ‘modern’ technologies including radio, television, video, mobile and fixed telephones, letters, posters, brochures and computers are some of the categories of Information and Communication Technologies. The power, speed and global reach of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) provide unprecedented opportunities for sharing information and knowledge.

Women Deprived Of Icts

H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni notes that “when we talk about the gender digital divide we are recognizing a fundamental obstacle to development in our countries. Without access to information and knowledge, women are at risk of permanent economic backwardness, which in turn makes our countries poor.” Women’s ability to contribute fully towards shaping the development of the global knowledge, economy and society is usually constrained by many inequalities. Gender digital divide recognizes a fundamental obstacle to development in our countries. Without access to information and knowledge, women, who compose the majority of our population are at risk of permanent economic backwardness, which in turn makes our countries poor. Women’s ability to contribute fully towards shaping the development of the global knowledge, economy and society is usually constrained by many inequalities.

Infrastructure In Developing Countries

In virtually all developing countries, communications infrastructure is significantly weaker in rural areas and poor urban areas. Women are less likely than men to know the international languages that are used on the Internet. Moreover, given their limited education, women are much less likely than men to have computer skills. Women’s lack of access to transport and inability to leave the home also hamper their access to information.

Gender Based Digital Divide In India

India is one of the largest democracies of the world and challenges faced are of various dimensions. Digital divide is one of the most prominent challenges faced by Indian democracy in the 21st century. In order to increase the participation of women in the political process, government has to take few urgent initiatives. First, there should be an adequate proportion of technically trained female labour force. Second, for the permeation of an alternate gender culture, there needs to be a process of de-learning and re-learning from the new work environment for both men and women. In essence, the family life of a woman and her professional commitments adapt to one another. To illustrate the gender situation, one has to view ‘the women in technology approach’ and ‘the' women and technology approach’. The former approach tries to involve more women via equal access to education and employment; while the latter has a broader focus on the nature of technological work.

The women in technology approach advocate the ‘add women and stir’ approach which insists on imparting skill to women to survive in the world of new technology. This approach locates the problem in women, but does not ask the broader questions of whether and in what way science and its institutions could be reshaped to accommodate women.

The women and technology approach looks into the gender segregation of skills and jobs and the gender sensitivity of the organisation in particular. It aims to alter the masculine practices of these occupations so that women could enter into such work without any loss of identity or integrity. What is needed is a transformation in the nature of paid and unpaid work, as well as looking at the impact women can have on technology and technology on women.

Factors restricting choices of women

Relocation Preference

The demands of high responsibility may play a role in keeping women from accepting jobs. The willingness to relocate is a major factor that drives the growth of working professionals. It is one of the areas where men outscore women. The other reasons that deter women from climbing up the carrier ladder include the mounting pressure at work place, work timings, time flexibility and travel.

Family And Marriage Commitments

Marriage is understood to be one of the important factors restricting choices of women. It is because childcare and housework remain women’s responsibilities, irrespective of her income, educational level or employment. This places a great burden on women and restricts women’s choices in terms of better job opportunities. Only a few women rule in the workplace as well as into marriage. Married women outnumber men in low-experience categories.

Urban And Rural Divide

Access to jobs is more or less restricted to the urban based upper class youth. It reduces the hard choices that women have to make. The strategy to draw more women lies in improving the manner in which work is conducted without jeopardizing the quality of workers lives.

Organizational Perspective Needs To Be Changed

It is clear that untimely exits, either due to circumstances or personal choice, are the biggest reason why the number of women declines so sharply with a rise in experience in various industrial sectors. The government should develop a definite strategy to curb those exits. The biggest challenge for organizations is to be sensitive to family and social pressures under which women have to work. Organizations should be sensitive to the needs of their women employees. They are wives, mothers and homemakers amongst other significant roles that they play. Various organizational policies must be drafted with these points in mind. Finally, it is the individual’s own home support system, ambitions and career aspirations that determine whether a woman is able to participate in the political process for advancement.

onclusion

In India, hiring policies have no gender bias. Most official norms and procedures are not overtly discriminatory. The discrimination is far more subtle and indirect. So the action plan in the Indian case has to be different. Some of the corrective measures suggested in the Western World are already in place in India. It is clear that there could be tremendous potential in scientific advances and technological change for gender equality and empowerment of women. However, this potential can only be realized if efforts are made to clearly identify and address relevant gender perspectives in this area. Without these efforts, the existing inequalities between women and men will negate the potential of the digital revolution and women will miss out on critical opportunities.


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