Mobile Phones Empower Indian Rural Women

IAWRT FOKUS Scholarship Supported research

Dr. Mausumi Bhattacharyya says she has been encouraged to expand her research about mobile phone usage and its empowerment potential for rural Indian women, into a larger geographical area.

She has already presented her work in several forums, including to the Colombo at the Department of Information, Ministry of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media, Sri Lanka Pictured left, on 10 June 2016.

She was supported by the IAWRT FOKUS scholarship program to complete her post-doctoral research Mobile Phone: A new tool to empower rural women in India with special reference to Bolpur-Santiniketan.

The study, under the mentorship of Dr. May H Gao, the Professor of Communication & Asian Studies at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, USA, surveyed about 300 women in an east Indian rural area. They were mainly small entrepreneurs and agricultural workers who used mobile phone technologies in the Sriniketan–Bolpur belt in the district of Birbhum in West Bengal state.

The aim was to document the experiences of the women in accessing information to improve their livelihoods and to evaluate the main features of changes that the use of mobile phones brought about in their lives.Pic right: Interview of respondents at Sattore (Bolpur, Sriniketan Block, Birbhum) - February, 2016

She told the IAWRT board “It was a wonderful experience in terms of meeting people - especially women of the remote countryside in eastern India, talking to them and sharing my field experience with the opinion leaders and administration through focus group discussions and personal interviews.”

Pic left: Focus Group Interview with Block Development Officer of Bolpur and his team.

Dr Bhattacharyya says her research has been appreciated in many national and international forums in India, Sri Lanka and the USA. “I have been encouraged to take it further by including a bigger geographical area for my next research project.”

The research found that mobile phones were used mostly to gather information related to the women's means of living and as a consequence, the entrepreneurial skills of the women in the underdeveloped area, had grown in leaps and bounds.

The paper theorises that the use of even basic mobile phone technologies lead to women achieving some independent financial status and hence a certain level of empowerment, or liberation. This was through gaining a sense of ‘individual identity’ and becoming a part of the decision-making process in their familial setting - which was previously the sole domain of a man.

Despite constraints of a traditional, patriarchal society like India, and government policies which often marginalize and by-pass rural women. Dr Bhattacharyya the project indicates that the women achieved some socio-economic and psychological empowerment through the use of mobile phone communications. Pic right: Interaction with respondents of Raipur (Bolpur, Sriniketan Block, Birbhum) March, 2016.

Click here for Executive summary For more information about the research, contact Dr. Mausumi Bhattacharyya, Associate Professor, Centre for Journalism & Mass Communication Visva-Bharati University. mausumi.bhattacharyya@visva-bharati.ac.in