In 2013, Google India revealed India was home to 60 million female Internet users. Of these, 24 million accessed the Internet on a daily basis. Though Internet penetration in India is only around 16-20% (depending on which reports you’re looking at), by 2015, India is expected to cross the 300 million mark. This would move it ahead of the United States and place it second after China, which has ~640 million users.
A large part of this increase has been due to the surge in mobile broadband in India. As an emerging market for smartphones, prices in India have been steadily falling. With the entry of indigenous smartphone makers, we’re expected to see an increase in affordability as price ranges stretch to accommodate the lower-to-middle class consumers.
In 2010, the World Bank estimated that for every 10 per cent rise in broadband access, economic growth increases by 1.38% in low- and middle-income countries. A similar study by McKinsey & Company cited in the report states that “a 10 percent increase in broadband household penetration delivers a boost to a country’s GDP that ranges from 0.1 per cent to 1.4 per cent.” It’s already been noted before: access to mobile phones increases women’s empowerment, welfare and social inclusion. This is especially good news for companies who’ve considered the gender gap in mobile phone access a source for lucrative market. From a purely economic perspective, it’s an untapped resource. An Intel-commissioned study ‘Women and the Web’ noted that in the developing world 23 per cent fewer women than men have access to the Internet and its services.
In India, a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) claims urban Indian women are leading the charge in growth of Internet users with a 30 per cent increase. Male users, however, grew at a rate of 25 per cent. The report titled ‘Internet in India’ was released in collaboration with IMRB International.
A closer look at the statistics reveals interesting data. Internet use among college-going girls and school-going girls increased by 62 and 34 per cent, respectively. Use among non-working women and working women, on the other hand, increased by 18 and 8 per cent.
The figures generally indicate Internet use is largely driven by students and non-working women. As the Internet becomes crucial for young Indians to excel in education and socialise, it’s not surprising to see an increase in this category of users. Moreover, the influx of several e-commerce portals have attracted throngs of women across ages to the Internet. Sites like Flipkart, Amazon, Myntra, Zivame, Pepperfry, FabFurnish, Urban Ladder, SnapDeal & etc. have been big trend setters.
Earlier this year, venture capitalist firm Accept Partners projected that women will influence 35% of e-commerce gross merchandise volume by 2016. A large part of this increase is due to the boom in the online jewellery, fashion, furniture and mother care retail.
Interestingly, rural India accesses the Internet for mostly entertainment. For Indian companies (and the government), rural India a goldmine market waiting to be explored and exploited.
The figures show promising trends. To be fair, the fast-growing online retail itself counts for a relatively smaller percentage of Indian retail industry. It’s a natural consequence of poverty, low Internet penetration and illiteracy in India. However, as falling smartphone prices create more consumers, large swathes of the population will have access to mobile broadband. This means we get to see interesting statistics that highlight the equalising role of the Internet. It’s the only platform that has shown immense potential for greater socio-economic inclusion for women. However, in 2013, penetration in rural population stood at a paltry 6.7%. By October 2014, Internet users increased 39 per cent in rural India – about 101 million. These are still poor numbers for a population that comprises nearly half the country. Regrettably, the growth of Internet has been relatively slow in rural India. This makes it even more crucial for rural India to have better access to the Internet. It would allow women ease of access to various public and health services, education, information, entertainment and e-commerce portals. There’s potential for the Internet to address the everyday needs of rural women. If so, we’re likely going to see a corresponding social shift in gender disparities online and offline.
For now, India seems to be heading in the right direction.