Women's mobile phone access and use: A snapshot of six states in India

Lina Sonne


This paper provides a snapshot of the way digitisation through mobile phones plays out among women in India. It is based on a review of literature, semi-structured interviews with 15 key stakeholders and 60 interviews with low-income women end-users across urban and rural locations in six states. The paper offers a snapshot of what women's access to, and use of phones looks like today in India. The interviews point to increased access to mobile phones with advanced features, with even women reporting to use basic phones being able to use applications such as WhatsApp. Our findings suggest that nearly all women have smartphones, have their own phone (rather than shared) and have a new phone (as opposed to a hand-me-down). Nevertheless, women remain constrained in the location and the type of use. Women primarily use the phone at home to avoid raising suspicion or gossip. A majority of respondents reported calling and receiving calls on a daily or weekly basis. When it came to messaging services, WhatsApp had overtaken conventional SMS. Women additionally use the phone for entertainment, for seeking out information, and for mobile payments. Very few women said their phones were monitored. Some respondents noted that they have serious concerns about the risk of harassment online, primarily through random calls. While women are able to operate their phones for every-day purposes, they struggle with adequate digital literacy when it comes to advanced features. There was little difference in the way women use their phones across rural-urban locations and across the six states.

Keywords: Gender and technology, Inclusive digitisation, Mobile phone access, Digital economy, Digital society

JEL Classification: O33, O35, O17

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