Closing the Indian social media gender gap

November 22, 2016 | Connected Women | South Asia | India | Claire Lynch

The current situation

More Indians are coming online, yet recent figures from We are Social show social media use in the country remains low, especially among women. Findings show women account for just 24 per cent of the country’s Facebook users (We Are Social, 2016). Researchers believe this depressed figure can be attributed to low levels of social media access across the country and that they reflect an on-going digital connectivity gender imbalance.

These findings confirm the results of our ‘Bridging the gender gap’ study, which showed that among smartphone and feature phone owners in Kenya, only 26 per cent of women surveyed versus 50 per cent of men had reported trying Facebook. 81 per cent of the Indian women surveyed who owned a phone had never used the internet on their mobile. Gender disparities in India play a big role across the country. Not only is there a gender gap in phone ownership, but our study found that women own less expensive and more basic phones than men. This means that fewer women than men are able to use their phones in order to access the internet.

“Men have the latest touch screen phone whereas women only have basic mobile phones.”
– Rural female user, India

However our study findings also suggest that when women are aware of mobile internet and social media, they have a strong desire to use them and social media is particularly appealing.

Realising the opportunity

Overcoming the ownership and usage barriers means addressing many factors, including cost, technical literacy and social norms. It is important, for instance, that women have affordable access to the handsets that will enable them to use the internet. Strategies for reducing the technical literacy barriers and that address the social norms which may limit or control women’s access to social media should also be examined. As part of this the role of men must also be taken into account as they often influence women’s mobile access and purchasing decisions. It is also important to consider that 68 per cent of India’s population lives in rural areas.

One example of an approach to tackling this is Project Sampark which was launched by Telenor India in 2014 – an initiative designed to bridge the mobile gender gap in rural areas.

Telenor piloted the Bandhan SIM Plan — a pack of two paired SIMs, one of which was to be used by a woman and the other by a male household member. This product was designed to overcome the cultural barriers keeping women from owning a mobile and encourage men to see the value of female ownership. Telenor also identified and trained local women as promoters to market and sell the product, helping to spread the message around why women should own and use mobile phones as well as supporting women in the community to use their phones. Through the project, the company has not only sought to reduce the mobile gender gap but has also created a number of local employment opportunities for women.

Looking at South Asia more broadly

While the main focus of this piece has been on the Indian market, it is worth considering the scale of the issue across the South Asia region. We Are Social figures also showed low female Facebook use in Bangladesh where levels stood at 23 per cent and Pakistan where levels stood at 22 per cent. (We Are Social, 2016)

Closing the gender gap in mobile phone ownership and usage in South Asia presents a real opportunity for commercial growth. GSMA 2015 research showed closing the gap is an estimated cumulative $23 billion revenue opportunity for the mobile industry over the period of 2015-2020. Addressing the gender gap in mobile phone use and ownership presents not only a huge market opportunity, but will also enable women to participate in a digital society and improve their life chances. When women thrive, societies, businesses and economies thrive.

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