Gender Inequalities in Digital India: A survey on digital literacy, access, and use

Islam, A. and Manchanda, P. (2023), Digit Working Paper No. 5

This paper reports the main findings from a survey on gender inequalities in digital literacy, use, and access among youth (18-25 years) in three parts of India – Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. In addition to gender, the survey was attentive to other inequalities too in its enquiry about the location (urban/rural), caste, household income, and education level of the respondents. This paper largely presents inequalities of gender as they intersect with urban/rural location since other variables, while important, yielded smaller numbers that need further careful analysis.

The survey was informed by various contemporary developments – global growth in the use of digital technology for education, employment, and everyday lives; Covid-19 pandemic that has accelerated this growth; and the Digital India programme that aims to empower citizens through digital skilling. The survey, then, set out to explore the nature and implications of social inequalities in a society moving towards digital empowerment.

The survey findings reveal overwhelming dependence among young people on smartphones for internet access and that entertainment and social media are the top uses of the internet. The survey also finds that women, particularly in rural areas, are less likely than men to exclusively own smartphones. That is, the smartphones that women have access to tend to be ‘household phones’, shared with other members of the family. This has consequences for the time and purposes that women are able to use smartphones and internet for.

Based on these findings, the paper proposes avenues for further research on intersectional inequalities in digital literacy, access, and use. It also suggests policy interventions to maximise the potential of digital technology for education and employment, with specific attention to gender inequalities.

Key points

  1. There is high level of dependence on smartphones for digital access, with low levels of computer/laptop literacy and use of broadband/wi-fi access.
  2. Women are disproportionately sharers, rather than exclusive owners of smartphones, this is particularly the case in rural areas.
  3. Since women tend to use ‘household phones’, they use them for fewer hours per day than men.
  4. While connectivity and cost are hurdles for internet use for both men and women, more women than men report lack of time and family restrictions as additional impediments.
  5. Entertainment and social media are the most common uses of internet, few report using the internet for education and employment related activities despite the survey taking place in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Suggested citation

Islam, A, Manchanda, P (2022) Gender Inequalities in Digital India: A survey on digital literacy, use, and access, Digit Working Papers No. 5, University of Sussex, Sussex. Available at:

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