In some parts of India, village courts have banned women from using mobile phones in public. This is the context in which LIRNEasia conducted the AfterAccess surveys for India between October and November 2017. When the results were analyzed, we found that women were 46% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. This was the widest gap among all 16 countries surveyed at the time. Even worse was the gender gap in Internet use, which stood at 56% – smaller only than Bangladesh and Rwanda (click here for the full report).
LIRNEasia CEO Helani Galpaya presented the After Access findings at an event organized in collaboration with the Cellular Operators Association of India in Delhi on August 7, 2018. The event was attended by representatives from the operators, civil society organizations and the media. An important participant was Special Secretary of the Department of Telecom (DoT), Shri N. Sivasailam. He spoke positively: “It is possible to act on this data and develop policies. I am pleased that we have a baseline for the first time ever.”
The media lapped up the story. In the course of ten days, the AfterAccess findings were published a total of at least 131 times, 52 in print and 79 online (the full coverage report is here). We had coverage in some of India’s biggest publications including The Economic Times (ET), The Indian Express (IE) and The Telegraph. While ET focused on rural-urban gaps (49% in smartphone ownership and 48% in Internet use), the other two publications headlined the gender gap. The Indian Express did this repeatedly, on August 8, August 9 and August 10.
On August 16, the gender issue headlined IE again, this time demonstrating an immediate direct policy win for LIRNEasia. “Telecom department to officers: Attend seminar on gender gap” the headline read. The body of the story, amplified by other media (as in the case of the gender gap stories), tied the directive of the DoT to its officers, to the LIRNEasia results released less than 10 days before.
The seminar/training in discussion was not a LIRNEasia activity, but one organized by the GSM Association, the world’s largest ICT-sector lobby. Although we are not aware of the content of the training and believe that the problem is deeper and more nuanced than can be solved by a single seminar, we are immensely encouraged by the DoT’s directive. It is not only proof of the importance of what LIRNEasia does, but also a sign that policy-makers can and will make good use of the evidence we offer.