Even as India has taken the lead to become the fastest growing internet user market in the world, India’s cyberspace is still dominated by male users. The digital gender divide is even wider in rural India where digital literacy amongst women continues to be a challenge; this combined with socio-economic challenges are the major barriers that prevent women from using the internet.
Internet behemoth Google has been working hard to change this with its ‘Internet Saathi’ programme. Launched with a pilot in Rajasthan in July 2015, Google announced its plans to cover 300,000 villages across India in December 2015. Last week, it said the Internet Saathi programme, in partnership with Tata Trusts, is live in over 100,000 villages across 10 states. Around 25,000 Internet Saathis—women trained in using the internet—are working across these villages to help women and children learn about the Internet. In total, over 10 million women have gained from the programme so far and have become familiar with the benefits of using the internet in their daily lives. It has also announced the expansion of the programme in Haryana and Bihar.
Sapna Chadha, director marketing, South East Asia and India, Google said, “From being afraid to touch a smartphone, worried that they will spoil it, to now demanding services that can help them get more from the internet—women in rural India have come a long way. Internet Saathis are now increasingly seen as change agents in their villages and continue to find more support from the communities and village heads for their work.”
Google also released the findings of a research conducted by market research company IPSOS to understand the impact of programme amongst women in rural India.
Key findings of the research reveal:
– Almost 90% of women who have attended the trainings have a better understanding of the internet
– On an average, 25% of women who have learned to use the internet continue to use it
– At 35%, Gujarat has the highest percentage of women continuing to use the internet after attending the programme
– At 17%, Rajasthan ranks the lowest in continuing usage of the internet
– Cost of smartphones is the biggest barrier for usage after training. Over half of the women trained cannot afford to buy a phone.