Centre for Internet & Society

Details of a session proposed for the Internet Researchers' Conference 2022 - #Home.


Internet Researchers' Conference 2022 - #Home - Call for Sessions


Session Type: Demonstration of Research Outputs and Methods

Session Plan

The penetration of the internet, mobile phones, social media and multimedia has ushered in the digital revolution. The Digital society promised to be open, fluid and accessible cutting across the barriers of class, caste, gender and rigidities of social structures. It has tremendous scope and potential to contribute effectively to economic growth, social mobility and political participation, creating the possibilities of a more inclusive society across the globe. However, despite its inclusive potential, the existing gender disparities, discrimination, patriarchial structures and inequalities, faced by women has had a considerable impact on the digital gender divide, leading to the digital exclusion of women. This exclusion had further implications during the lockdowns as families were confined to their homes with access to the internet as their only window outside the home.

Global statistics betray considerable discrimination in women’s access to internet. Internet penetration in the Americas is 77.6% for men and 76.8% for women, while in Africa it is 33.8% for men and 22.6% for women.  The gender gap in developing countries is 22.8 % while it is 2.3 per cent in the developed world. For the world as a whole it is 17%, as per 2020 data. In India only 85% of women have access to the internet and 58% have access to mobile internet. Access however is not the only impediment in exploiting the internet’s equalizing potential. Low levels of literacy, lack of awareness and structures of patriarchy inhibits women’s participation and mobility on the digital platform as well. The internet operates largely within the parameters of a male-dominated society  favouring male access and usage. The digital space at the same time has added to the existing challenges and vulnerabilities of women.  In this context the present panel proposes to deliberate on four critical themes/questions. 

The papers are based on survey findings, field notes, case studies and literature survey from an ongoing Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), New Delhi, sponsored Major Research Project on “Women as ‘Digital Subjects; Participating, Vulnerabilities and Building Empowerment”. The study was conducted in two urban and peri-urban areas of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Kolkata and Howrah. The respondents included 540 women drawn from various socio-economic backgrounds, educational status, age and religious groups. The work status of the demographics in the sample includes- students 41 per cent, salaried workers (formal and informal/ full-time and part-time) 31 per cent, homemakers 20 per cent and businesswomen or entrepreneurs 8 per cent. 46 per cent of these women reported a total family or household income of two to five lakhs per annum. The survey was conducted in the lockdown months of January to May 2021, which gave a new meaning to home- as a workplace and as a social space - through a questionnaire, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with targeted groups especially home-based women entrepreneurs in Kolkata and Mumbai.

 The data analysis from the survey will be posted prior to the session for the audiences. The themes of the panel aim to answer the following questions: 

  1. Who are the women who inhabit the social media driven digital space? Is it possible to speak of ‘women’ on the Net or are there ‘many voices of many women’? How do women perceive the internet and how do they seek to employ it? This question becomes critical in view of the unequal access to internet and internet enabled devices, not only on account of lack of digital literacy but also on account of existing social structures that deny women the agency. Moreover, lockdowns restricted people to their homes, leaving the digital spaces as the only means for social as well as economic interactions. In this situation, how did the digital spaces play out for providing opportunities to women?
  2. What is the process and modalities of identity construction? What are the frames of reference for women in the process of new identity construction? Are these identities different from that of the ones in the real world? Are women re imagining their identities on the internet or constructing new ones?  How are women creating new opportunities for themselves through the use of social media and the internet, given the flexibility of ‘working from home’ or ‘home-based’ ventures? Are these opportunities or are they compromises? In the process how are they using the internet to negotiate with the existing social structures that restrict their mobility and confine them to their homes? 
  3. What is the nature of women’s identities and expression in the virtual world? Can marginalized women use digital spaces to voice dissent? The flexibility of the digital media helps the marginalized create a space and alternative languages of dissent. How does this medium help Dalit women’s voices be transmitted in various forms? 
  4. Are women’s vulnerabilities in the digital world different from that of the real world? How do women negotiate these vulnerabilities? What does women’s vulnerability mean in the context of the internet? Do these vulnerabilities limit women’s access and participation?


The panel includes four papers relating to the four themes: 

I. Urban Woman and the Digital Media: Access, Preferences and Challenges

This paper will present the main findings about Indian urban women’s access, participation and the purpose of their usage of the digital media. It is based on a survey that was conducted under the ICSSR’s major research project “Women as ‘Digital Subjects; Participating, Vulnerabilities and Building Empowerment” at the Department of Political Science, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai. The survey was conducted among 540 women respondents from Mumbai and Kolkata and their peri-urban areas.

The survey data will showcase their demographic profiling and socio-economic status in the form of age groups, education levels, social groupings such as caste and religion, occupations and household level incomes, asset ownership and living spaces. 

The access to devices, internet costs and preferences in usage of social media platforms and apps will also be shown. Women’s perceived advantages and limitations to uses of digital media in their personal and/or professional lives will be revealed.

Further, the data will show their perceptions about their digital identities, realisation of gendered vulnerabilities in digital spaces and assessment of potential economic opportunities in world outside their physical world -the digital world.

The paper will conclude by pointing out the gendered nature of digital media-driven opportunities, with a focus on home-based entrepreneurship, and the need for intervention at the social level and policy frameworks to enhance the negotiating power of these aspiring women in three broad sections.   


II. Women, Identity and the Digital Media: Re-imagination or Re- negotiation?

The impact of the internet has been exponential. On a very fundamental level, the internet has changed the way society interacts and connects with each other. This became more apparent and conspicuous during the pandemic as the social world moved to the internet and offline communities were formed by families, neighbourhoods, communities and societies. One of the particularly engaging aspects of this new modality of communication through the internet is its ability to support user-generated content in an interactive and ubiquitous manner. Within the digital world, this leads to the creation of new contacts which lead to assertion of 'new identities’. 

Based on a survey of 540 women in Mumbai and Kolkata and in-depth interviews of the lived experiences of home-based entrepreneurs on the use of social media for Entrepreneurship, this sub-theme will throw light on the access to the internet and online platforms and the opportunities that it has created for entrepreneurship among homemakers during the pandemic.

In the light of these, the paper seeks to examine the women’s perception about the gendered nature of the internet, its potential in reconfiguring their identities, the possibilities of multiple identities on the internet and the intersectionality and divergence of such identities. The paper explores the dynamics of the process of identity creation by women in the digital space through the use of social media platforms namely Facebook and Whatsapp by examining and situating the life experiences of women. The paper argues that the digital spaces are geared towards reconfiguring existing identities vis-a-vis the digital platforms that women use or are part of. 


III. Gendering the Digital Dalit Dissent: Reading Thenmozhi Soundararajan’s Transmedia Art

The digital medium with its unique forms of engagement and the possibility of inhabiting several mediational spaces allows the marginalized Dalit women to voice the dissent in multiple tongues.  This paper argues that the language of dissent of Dalit women in the digital medium can be distinguished distinctly from their peers in the textual medium. These voices are marked by not only an insistence of dismantling the hierarchies of textual production and its complementary codes of participation but inventing multiplicities of form of expression that traverses various languages and forms. In doing so it invents a language of dissent that critically engages with but significantly departs from a range of Dalit feminist discourses that has essentially framed an alternative Dalit ‘canon’.The paper further argues that the digital Dalit feminist discourse changes the optics of engagement by re-inventing the understanding of ‘difference’ as an essentially polymorphous category.  Thus is further accentuated in terms of how the Dalit Diaspora re-inscribes 'home' as a site of negotiations of caste invisibility. 

The paper will particularly focus on the transmedia art of Thenmozhi Soundararajan as an incentive to place this understanding of dissent firmly within the overlapping categories of ‘engaged art’ and ‘engaged activism’.   


IV. Gendered Vulnerabilities in the Digital Spaces: Some Insights

Vulnerability is a concept that is often used in the literature on victimization. Vulnerability can be seen as the intersection between two axes: risk and harm and any given individual may be plotted in respect of his or her level of risk of being victimized and the amount of harm the victimization experience may cause.

The dimensions of vulnerabilities that women are subject to in digital spaces include go beyond inequity of access to the internet or devices, lack of digital literacy, cyber bullying / harassment, cyber crime and financial frauds. Based on survey findings of 540 women respondents in Mumbai and Kolkata, and their peri-urban areas, this paper argues that the internet is innately male-oriented, elitist and to a large extent undemocratic. These create inbuilt obstacles for women digital users and therefore require their tremendous effort. The greater problem however lies in normalizing such vulnerabilities creating the possibilities of transforming the digital space into mirror images.  

 Keywords: Internet, Digital Media, Women on Digital Media, Women
Session Team 
Manisha Madhava PhD (Jadavpur University) is an Associate Professor and Head of, Department of Political Science, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai. Her areas of research interest include Parliamentary Democracy in India with special reference to Lok Sabha, state parties in India, and social media and politics. She is the author of State Parties in India: Parliamentary Presence & Performance (Gyan, 2020) and co-editor of Indian Democracy: Problems and Prospects (Anthem, 2009). She is currently working on an ICSSR Sponsored Major Research Project on Women as ‘Subjects’ in Digital Media; Participating, Vulnerabilities and Empowerment.
Dhrupadi Chattopadhyay is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai. She has been trained in literary studies at Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and Ruprecht Karls Universitat, Heidelberg. Post-colonial studies, culture studies, Digital humanities and emerging literatures are her areas of interest.
Aparna Bose is an independent researcher and visiting faculty at the Department of Political Science, SNDT Women’s University with an interest in International Politics, Foreign Policy Analysis, Area studies (mainly Africa), and Human Rights. Based in Mumbai, India, she has taught Political Science and International Relations courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels at different institutions in Mumbai. She holds a PhD in African Studies from Mumbai University. 
Saumya Tewari (PhD in Development Studies, TISS, Mumbai) is an independent researcher with an interest in comparative politics, reforms, transparency & accountability and gender. Currently based in Lucknow, India, she has taught  undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Public Policy and Political Science at different institutions in Mumbai and at Kumaun University in Nainital. She has worked as a policy writer with IndiaSpend, tracking public policy concerns in health, education, governance, election data and gender. She also holds a PG Diploma in Public Policy from ISS, The Hague and is an honorary fellow at the Centre for Multilevel Federalism, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.
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