Technology is a double-edged sword. On one edge, it acts as a platform for advocacy and mobilising active voices; on the other, it perpetuates existing inequalities with access and control to technology being acutely gendered.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram bolster the feminist movement by unifying voices and democratising the movement across boundaries and classes. Social media played a crucial role in spreading awareness, providing a platform for expressing anger and outrage, demanding justice and organising rallies following the brutal murder and rape of the 23-year old in Delhi during December 2012. Change.org, an online petition platform, was key in pursuing the then Chief Justice of India to set up a high-level committee, whose recommendations were implemented as amendments expanding the definition of rape, strengthening the penalty, redefining molestation and consent under Indian criminal statutes.
While digital technology is recognised as a potential tool for empowering women and promoting gender equality, a glaring digital gender divide exists. Women in rural areas have restricted access to essential technologies like the internet or mobile phones due to inherent socio-cultural biases. In rural India, around 12 per cent of women do not use the internet because of ‘negative social perception’. In comparison, 8 per cent do not use the internet due to lack of acceptance by family members. Overall, 29 per cent of women do not have access to the internet, and only 28 per cent have access to a mobile phone.
The first-ever study on transgender people conducted by the National Human Rights Commission revealed that 96 per cent of them were denied participation in any form of economic activity. Data surrounding the involvement of non-binary individuals in the digital technology sector is scarce.
These statistics accumulate into a gaping digital gender divide that is economically devastating and further breeds marginalisation of women, trans and non-binary individuals. Unless the digital gender divide is specifically addressed, there is a potential threat that technology may cause more harm than good to the vulnerable communities.
Technology, Jobs and Gender
The global Information Technology (IT) sector is experiencing exponential growth, with India possessing a 55 per cent market share of the worldwide market. India’s IT industry contributed around 7.7 per cent to the country’s GDP and is expected to contribute 10 per cent to the national economy and grow to US$ 350 billion by 2025 from US$ 235 billion today, providing more significant employment opportunities in the future. The participation of women in the workforce is 30 percent – one of the highest among non-agricultural sectors. (NASSCOM, 2013). Women’s greater participation can be attributed to comparatively higher salaries, easy international mobility, gender-neutral policies based on knowledge-centric skills, flexible work routines and physically less demanding work processes in a comfortable indoor work environment (Kumar 2001; Shanker 2008; Upadhya 2006). Other factors that have led to this trend include transportation, parental leave, anti-harassment, healthcare and an emphasis on recognising and supporting women’s needs. (especially mothers; Raghuram et al., 2017).
However, a deeper analysis of the sector reveals the presence of a glass ceiling – an invisible barrier that prohibits women’s employment beyond the middle management level. Discrimination is evidenced by unequal pay, biases while hiring, and cishet men holding most, if not all, decision-making positions at the workplace. According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), women only have 9 per cent of mid-to upper-level IT-related jobs in engineering and makeup, 28.5 per cent of computer programmers and 26.9 per cent of systems analysts mostly in lower-skilled, low-value-add positions. In 2012, only 22 per cent of the companies had more than 20 per cent women at the senior level; by 2015, the number of such firms had increased to 33 per cent (Raghuram et al., 2017). Furthermore, the industry reflects a clear gender pay gap of 26 per cent in favour of men.
While IT sector companies’ diversity and inclusion policy have improved women participation, transgender and non-binary individuals continue to struggle for visibility, employment, and acceptance. There is little to no statistics available on the representation of transgender and non-binary individuals in the IT industry. Before we address their struggles or lack of jobs in the IT sector, we must collect data and consider them as separate categories while conducting these surveys.
Using Technology To Build a Safe Space For Marginalized Genders
Digital technology could play a vital role in providing women, transgender and non-binary individuals a platform to be more assertive and engage within their community without judgment or apprehension. However, reports show that women, transgender and non-binary people are subjected to critical harassment, persecution and online abuse, which results in exclusionary practices, missed opportunities and lack of access to essential information.
Grindr, the popular dating app made for queer people, was used by the Egyptian authorities to track, target and harass people belonging to the LGBTQIIA+ community. Several incidents were reported where police officials made fake profiles on Grindr and other dating apps like Hornet and Growler to lure and hound the LGBTQIIA+ community. The most considerable criticism received by these dating apps at the time was that the app developers could have built several safety features into the app before making it available to people living in countries where belonging to the LGBTQIIA+ community is taboo or a crime.
The process of developing these apps becomes integral to its overall success, especially when merely using a dating app can become a death sentence for a historically marginalised community. The socio-cultural differences between the app developers and users worldwide could manifest in dangerous ways, as witnessed in Egypt. More people belonging to marginalised communities need to be actively involved in the decision-making process, which will result in greater economic opportunities and foster overall development.
The Way Forward
The Constitution of India grants all citizens, irrespective of gender, equality before the law. The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976; the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, was passed to increase participation of women in the labour force and prevent any discrimination at the workplace based on gender. Despite such policies, low involvement of women, gender pay gap, glass ceiling and sexism at the workplace continue to prevail. Elizabeth Kelan (Harvard Business Review) states that there is recognition of gender inequality at a societal level along with a denial at an individual level in one’s immediate work environment. The gender gap is a result of numerous incidents of sexism and then gaslighting when such incidents are brought to light. In combating patriarchy, policies are necessary but not sufficient. It is essential that the privileged gender consciously acknowledges their engagement in exclusionary practices and resists justifying it.
There is a need for gender sensitisation workshops at an organisational level where recognition of privilege is rewarded rather than an opportunity to assign blame. The onus to change the culture at the workplace lies with the leaders of an organisation. If there is diversity at higher management levels, they will be proactive about modifying their daily routines and habits and the rest of the organisation will then follow.
While constructing policies, gender mainstreaming must be the norm. The insights of those with lived experiences will result in greater efficacy during the execution of these policies.
This article is co-authored by Sindhu A and Srishti Pal as a part of an Article series in collaboration with Rethinking Economics.
Sindhu is a final year law student at Christ (Deemed to be) University and a Contributing Editor at r-TLP- a platform for marginalised genders in the tech law and policy field. She has previously authored articles on privacy, digital rights, blockchain among others and holds a keen interest in technology laws.
Indian and Political economics exposed Srishti to the multiple cross-sectional layers of inequalities in the Indian economy. At the same time, her dialogues with students from sociology, literature, and philosophy revealed the intricate relationships between inequality and socio-economic hierarchies. After earning her bachelor’s degree in economics from Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University, she joined Rethinking Economics India Network to learn the pluralist approaches to economics. She aspires to pursue a master’s in Gender Studies and further research using gender as an analytical lens.