Indian Village Bans Unmarried Women And Girls From Using Mobile Phones
from the sexist,-moi? dept
It’s fairly widely accepted that the key digital device in the future will be the mobile phone, not the desktop computer that has had such an impact on Western society for the last few decades. That’s partly a question of cost — if devices are to reach even the poorest in emerging economies, they must be very cheap. But there are also other factors, such as the mobile phone’s small size and portability; its rugged design and ability to cope with intermittent power supplies; and the built-in Net connectivity that more or less comes as standard.
But not everyone is delighted at the prospect of this powerful technology becoming pervasive. Here, for instance, is a depressing tale from India:
A village council in the state of Bihar this week prohibited unmarried women and girls from using mobile phones, saying that they promote extramarital affairs and unsanctioned marriages and erode the moral fabric of society. Married women will be allowed to use them only indoors and in the presence of a relative.
Well, perhaps mobile phones have indeed contributed to affairs, but logic dictates that there was probably a man at the other end of the conversation, and it’s quite likely he was using a mobile phone too: why not ban all unmarried men and boys from using them, and only allow married ones to make calls under supervision of their relatives? The answer, of course, is that this is not about “eroding the moral fabric of society”, but about power, and in particular the erosion of traditional male power in the village:
Many villagers, male and female, attended a village meeting Sunday about the ban, and most favored it, particularly older people, Mr. Alam said. He presided over the meeting. The panchayat [unelected council], which is made up entirely of men, also barred women from bathing outdoors, at water pumps or in ponds or canals.
The village’s top elected official, Shamina Khatoon, a woman, was not invited to the panchayat’s meeting on Sunday.
Which is pretty strange, since she is both the top official in the village and a woman, and so might be expected to offer a useful perspective on the proposal.
Other comments from the New York Times article indicate that Indian officials are investigating the matter, which at least offers some hope that the ban will be rescinded. Whatever happens, this incident confirms that one of the best ways of empowering women and weakening the grip of patriarchal power is to help them acquire them mobiles cheaply. Moore’s Law and mobile companies eager to sell phones and contracts to anyone, whatever their gender, will make sure that happens whether the village elders like it or not.