New Delhi, Oct. 10, 2021: Asha (name changed) stays with her extended family in the slums of Noida, a planned city in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Ever since she was born, she had been facing constant abuse.
For a family of 12, where seven are girls and one boy, Asha has always been abused for being manhoos (a bad omen). Her twin brother, who could have given her parents much-sought for the pleasure of having a son, did not survive and was born dead.
Throughout her life, her parents and grandparents held her responsible for the death of their first son and the financial misery the family went through. Unlike her name, she had no Asha (hope) left in her life. Her day passed off in taking care of her siblings and ailing grandparents while her parents went off for work in the nearby factories.
She was never sent to school until a non-government organization (NGO) counseled the parents to send her to school. After around 13 years, Asha finally stepped out of her house.
She had no clue what a school looked like. She had always seen children wearing same-colored uniforms, walking together, chit-chatting, moving in one direction in the morning. Her eyes had several emotions as she saw them going together. “Will I ever go to school,” she thought? But she could not express her desires to anyone.
The initial days of her schooling were rather difficult. She could become restless as others of her age were way beyond her in academics while she could not even write an alphabet, forget a sentence. The teachers from the NGO helped her by giving her extra classes, without extending the school hours. Asha had finally started catching up after two years of constant hard work. But then things were not to be in her favor.
The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic played a spoiler. She lost access to the school and her teachers. The parents, who had somehow allowed her to study, no longer allowed her to attend the virtual classes. The only phone the family had was meant for the son. The parents were ready to borrow money to buy a new phone for the son to meet his requirements but not for Asha and her sisters!
The story is the same for the majority of the girls, be it in urban slums or rural areas. A survey conducted by a Delhi-based NGO, Deepalaya, during January this year in five villages of Sonepat showed that a large majority of the girls were not given access to mobile phones during the pandemic. Those who had mobile devices had no internet access. The family members think that girls may get used to such equipment. Around 23 per cent of the girls were married off at an early age as the parents were worried that they may indulge in galat kaam (premature love affair).
A similar survey—‘Bridging the digital divide for girls in India’—conducted in 10 different states of the country proves that ownership of mobile phones was a challenge for a large majority of the girls. The study was conducted by Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) and Center for Catalysing Change (CCC). It reveals that only 41 percent of the girls had access to a mobile device that too for less than an hour in a day. The story is no different from states with highly skewed sex ratio like Haryana or in Maharashtra or Assam.
The states in the south India fared better. Telangana had the lowest difference of 12 percent when it comes to access of mobile devices to boys and girls. Nearly 25 percent of the girls expressed that their parents did not allow them to access phones for various reasons like “wastage of time”, anticipated “misuse of devices,” immediate “harm to the eyes,” and thereby creating difficulties in getting a suitable match for them and so on.
The bias is so deeply entrenched in their minds that the father is the only person, who accessed the phone most of the time, irrespective of his (il)literacy status. In other words, it is easier for boys/male members of the family to use mobile phones while girls are generally questioned on their integrity.
The federal government has taken several initiatives including the BharatNet project, Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan, to bridge the urban-rural divide in terms of internet access and digital literacy, but the gender divide has not garnered much attention.
Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also highlights this concern. Nothing much has been done for “digital inclusion” and empowerment neither of adolescent girls and women nor to bridge this gender-based digital divides.
As far as the International Day of the Girl Child (October 11) is concerned, it will pass just like any other day. The only difference will be the kind of content that will float across various media channels. Perhaps, this is the kind of solidarity we wish to have towards girls. We love to write various slogans, share hair-raising data with catchy hashtags but we forget them throughout the year.
No doubt, a day dedicated to the girl child with international backing has created a lot of awareness on the kind of discrimination girls face, from eating to wearing clothes to studying, to having internet access, to playing and so on. It will not be of much use unless it is supplemented by policy formulation and effective implementation.
The recently released “Goalkeepers’ report” published by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also highlights the fact that “in high and low-income countries alike, women suffered more than men during the pandemic. But the data also shows that the effects were less severe in countries that had gender-intentional policies in place before the outbreak of COVID-19.
More governments are now starting to see that economic recovery policies need to have women at their center”. We have to give more space to our daughters if we wish to progress at a faster rate.
(The writer, a company secretary, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The article is originally published on MattersIndia.com with the title "Digital Divide Girls Versus Boys" link is given below: