International Women's Day: Building an inclusive future - Hindustan Times
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International Women's Day: Building an inclusive future in the digital arena

ByAngeline Gautami Fernando, New Delhi
Mar 07, 2024 09:52 AM IST

Building women's participation through digital literacy among them will increase employment, enhance entrepreneurship and foster economic growth.

India shines bright in today’s world. Home to one of the world’s youngest populations, the potential to become an economic superpower is no longer a pipe dream. However, this can be achieved only if women are included in this progressive vision.

Women entrepreneurs comprise around 30% of the Indian startup ecosystem and probably fewer of them are women founders. (Representative photo)
Women entrepreneurs comprise around 30% of the Indian startup ecosystem and probably fewer of them are women founders. (Representative photo)

Building women's participation through digital literacy among them will increase employment, enhance entrepreneurship and foster economic growth. It is evident that digital literacy and skilling strengthen women's financial identity, equip them to participate in the formal economy and ultimately lead to their empowerment.

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Digital Literacy ushers in Financial Empowerment among women

A vibrant economy needs equal participation from women. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Indian women are part of the formal workforce.

A sizeable segment are part of the informal sector or engages in agriculture / small-medium enterprises. To ensure equity, women must be made aware of their financial identity, especially in rural regions where they lack access to the Internet or smartphones. The government and other institutions have steadily worked towards this for the past few years.

The PMGDisha (Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan) program aims to build digital literacy to bridge the digital divide. More than 50% of the PMGDisha programme beneficiaries are women. The program has trained several rural women in using the Internet and phone to broaden their horizons.

Mann Deshi Mahila Shakti, the foundation run by Chetna Gala Sinha, recipient of Nari Shakti Puraskar, has set up a bank for rural women run by women. The training on using digital tools for financial transactions has empowered women subsequently encouraging entrepreneurship. The foundation leverages “Digital Didis” -local women trained to impart digital literacy skills.

“Internet Sathi” is another similar collaborative effort from Google and Tata Trust that has opened up a whole new world for rural women entrepreneurs. “Sathis” or friends are trained women who teach other women digital skills in several states. Digital Literacy has helped these women reach a broader market to sell their products and has empowered them to reach their financial goals.

Reducing Gender Stereotyping to Improve Women's Participation

The government’s vision of digital India aims to bridge the digital divide, which can only be achieved by crossing the chasm of the digital gender divide.

Statistics show that only one-third of Indian Internet users are women and they are less likely to own or use mobile Internet services when compared to men. The prevalent socio-cultural norms are another barrier that prevents women from equipping themselves with digital skills.

This is pronounced in rural regions where women may be conditioned to believe that smartphone and Internet access are restricted to the head of the family. This phenomenon is not restricted to rural India alone.

Women's skills in STEM (science, technology , engineering, and mathematics) and digital literacy are also limited. A report by the World Bank shows that while 43% of the total graduates in STEM in India are women, only 14% are part of the workplace. STEM subjects are typically viewed as “masculine”, and fewer women are encouraged to take up such subjects. This leads them to be underrepresented in the workplace.

Women researchers and teachers are under-represented in Indian academia too. Including more women in academia and research in STEM can also encourage more women to equip themselves by emulating such role models. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has scholarships for women and several corporates encourage diversity.

However, be it the rural hinterlands or the pristine hallways of elitist institutions, changing the patriarchal mindset cannot be done overnight. The change starts at home and sensitising both genders early might build opportunities for equitable employment. Education should be gender-neutral, and young girls and women should be empowered to use digital devices and build careers in STEM.

Digital Reskilling and Upskilling in the Corporate world

Reskilling and upskilling women with new-age skills can work wonders for their careers. This includes women who have taken a hiatus due to family obligations, women who want to switch roles or female leaders who seek to break through the proverbial glass ceiling.

Today’s corporate world faces disruption because of constant technological innovation. Organisations need to plan and provide opportunities to mentor women on technology changes like artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics or digital marketing. Bridging this technology gap can create a digital workplace where ideas flourish due to a diverse workforce.

In conclusion, achieving gender parity in the digital arena is necessary to build a genuinely inclusive society. Digital literacy and skilling can help women gain financial independence and ensure equitable education and participation in the economy.

The government, private sector, and civil society must join hands to create a conducive environment where women are encouraged to equip themselves with digital skills and pursue careers in STEM. The efforts to reskill and upskill women in the corporate world must also be intensified to create a truly inclusive workforce that leverages the potential of all individuals. We can build a better future for all by working towards this vision.

(Authored by Prof Angeline Gautami Fernando, Associate Professor - Business Analytics and Digital & Social Media Marketing at Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai. Views are personal)

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