October 2006

Digital Divide in Gender and Religion, India

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This paper presents a gendered view of hindrances restricting the economic impact of computer education among Muslim youth in Mumbai and discusses policy recommendations to optimise this impact.

Over the past decade, the proliferation of ICTs has presented both opportunities and challenges for young people. Being at the forefront of the technology revolution, they serve as indicators of what will occur within their communities. However, the level at which the youth are placed depends upon their access to quality education, and decent work. In the Indian society, besides gender, one of the overlooked operant of the digital divide is religion. ICT use appears to be more closely associated with income and educational factors. The available data makes a case for low development index and marginalisation of Muslims in India. This paper presents a gendered view of hindrances restricting the economic impact of computer education among Muslim youth in Mumbai and discusses policy recommendations to optimise this impact.

The study was conducted at three computer-training centres in Mumbai. To gauge the impact of computer education, two months after completion of the course, twenty-five boys and twenty-seven girls; alumni of a subsidised one-year diploma course in ‘Computer Applications and Multilingual Desk-Top Publishing’ were interviewed. During the course of the interview, the trainees mentioned hindrances that obstructed the impact. The objectives of this paper are to list and discuss these obstacles to impact, highlight gender differences if any, and suggest policies to rectify the situation.

Hindrances to impact of computer education
96.3 percent females and 72 percent males report hindrances to the impact of computer education. Limited access to computer/Internet emerges as the most important constraint for both the sexes (50 percent males and 46.15 percent females). The reason may be that 94 percent trainees are financially dependent on their parents and majority of them belonged to low (less than Rs.5,000/- per month) or low middle-income group (Rs. 5,000/- to 10,000/- per month). Without access to computer, the trainees cannot practice the technical skills and are likely to forget what they learned. Besides, computers are dynamic technology with newer versions of software coming to foray; without up-gradation, their skills will become obsolete. The reasons for low Internet use are high connectivity cost, non-availability of subsidised public access points and language. While home access to Internet is not common, the cost of surfing Internet at cyber cafes restricts its usage. Besides access, women are also disadvantaged further by socio-cultural considerations. Fueled by reports in the community newspapers on pornography and online chatting, families impose sanctions on young women’s visit to cyber cafes. Besides, females themselves are uncomfortable visiting a place that is frequented by boys. This is brought out by comments of Noorjahan, “I cannot go to cyber caf

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