With the current mission of the government of India to make 240 million people digitally literate, the primary stakeholder who would benefit most from the orientation and exposure they would get, would be the women. Although the Digital India Mission is aimed at bridging the digital divide across all sections of the society, the digital literacy programmes led by Nasscom Foundation and supported by various organisations such as CapGemini, HP, MotherCare and many others have been attracting women in significant numbers from all segments of the society. Whether they have had to curtail their education plans or could not pursue careers or got relegated in their families, when it came to access to digital devices because of the traditional hierarchy of priority status accorded to various members of the family, digital literacy mission is providing them with an avenue to come out of the shadows and establish equal status in the digital space.
A recent GSMA report on accelerating digital literacy mentions that although mobile phones are user friendly devices which users are able to handle on their own once the agents help them understand the basic features, women in particular do not know how to use all the available features that would help them become truly empowered as they are afraid they would lose money through experimentation or are hesitant to ask their family members to teach them.
Therefore through the specially designed digital literacy programmes, the joy of discovering the multitude of opportunities on the digital platform, the possibilities for making them independent in many ways and the potential to rethink their identities, the potential to bring about a powerful transformation in women is emerging. Many things we have now begun to take as given and have accepted the new normal ways of functioning in the context of digitally connected world—for example booking tickets online, finding buyers and sellers for homes or sending birthday greetings to the loved ones—are new discoveries for the neo digital literates and are examples of simple everyday tasks where most often women have had to lean upon someone to get these tasks accomplished. Hence women find the new found independence, flexibility and the decision making process truly exhilarating.
While women are being encouraged to become a part of the Digital India Mission and as the first step, become digitally literate, the key questions to be asked include—what needs to be done to help them take advantage of their digital literacy status, what are the expectations we are creating and how are we meeting their expectations? The feasibility to communicate freely and rethink the boundaries of their world is the starting point for the women netizens who have traditionally been made to believe that their worlds begin and end where they physically reside. Women are naturally endowed with interest in communicating and the availability of tools for access of information required and for interactions with the help of inexpensive ‘always on’ devices would sustain their interest and engagement with the digital platform.
Beyond the several innumerable opportunities for enabling women to align themselves as equals in the digital space for access and consumption of information and services, the tremendous benefit could be realised through financial inclusion. Financial exclusion of women is a global problem with more than 1.3 billion women in the world operating outside the formal financial system. It is interesting to note that in the sub Saharan Africa, financial inclusion is facilitated greatly by mobile money accounts.
There is a high rate of women in the labour force with a large number of them being involved in construction industry, agriculture and food production activity feeding their families and the country. However, when it comes to accessing finance or credit, due to lack of collaterals and in many cases the inability to produce proofs of identity, have not been able to partake in the financial transactions. This situation is rapidly changing with the introduction of Aadhaar card and opening of the bank accounts through the Jan Dhan Yojana and encouraging women to form Self Help Groups (SHGs) so that lending and financial access could be made possible. Women’s SHGs in particular which have started taking deep roots in many states across India providing an impetus to micro finance, should be actively supported with digital literacy programmes in a systematic manner.
Digital literacy and awareness of how to go beyond the known limited circle of customers and access a wider market would enable women to excel in micro local e-commerceand hyper personalisation which are being made possible with the proliferation of smartphones and analytics. Thus digital literacy has the potential for unleashing the potential of the entrepreneurial spirit of women in rural and semi urban areas which have been hitherto untapped. As Hillary Clinton has stated ‘Equal rights for girls and women is the unfinished business of the 21st century’, digital literacy is one of the powerful avenues available to get to this goal quickly.
The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company