Centering Women in India's Digitalizing Economy

IT for Change and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), with support from the European Commission (EU), are undertaking a five-year (2020-2024) project on Gender and the Digital Economy. This project is supported by a grant from the EU under an EU-India cooperation titled "Civil Society Organisations: Enhancing CSOs' Contribution to Governance and Development Processes".

The project aims to ensure that the benefits of a data-driven and digitalized economy accrue to women. Guided by a vision of gender equity in policies, the project explores inclusive models of platform economies through research focused on FPOs, cooperatives, and women informal sector workers.

Research Outputs

The Macro Frames of Microwork: A Study of Indian Women Workers on AMT in the Post-Pandemic Moment

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June, 2021: IT for Change's Anita Gurumurthy, Khawla Zainab, and Sadhana Sanjay conducted a study of Indian women workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) in the post-pandemic moment, and this research report extensively lays out its rationale, process, and findings. Through a qualitative study based on interviews with AMT workers, the report shows how an intertwining of economic necessity and familial validation makes microwork on digital platforms an optimal choice for small-town Indian women from upwardly mobile households in a global digital economy. As a workplace, AMT demands an exacting adherence to the rules of the platform, but enjoys absolute impunity. The study, thus, reflects how digital labor platforms, like AMT, engage in global labor arbitrage, exploiting gendered and racial faultlines in the digital economy. Pointing to the urgent need to address gender and redistributive justice, the authors propose policy recommendations for the government, multilateral institutions, and digital labor platforms as well as advocacy strategies for trade unions and civil society organizations. Findings from this study were first published as a research paper for the Review of Women’s Studies 2021 issue on Gender and Covid-19 of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW).

Recommendations made by IT for Change to NITI Aayog on Covid-19: Impact on Women and Girls

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July, 2020: IT for Change contributed an input on gender and digital technology in the post-Covid moment to a report for the NITI Aayog, titled 'Covid-19: Impact on Women and Girls'. This report was prepared by a group of organizations working for gender equality and women's empowerment. The input is based on IT for Change's research for this project. Read more about the recommendations here.

Policy Recommendations for Inclusive Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Social Business, Government of Kerala

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February 12, 2021: The Centering Women in India's Digitalizing Economy project team at IT for Change made policy recommendations for inclusive entrepreneurship and sustainable social business as part of Gender Park, an undertaking of the Department of Women and Child Development, Government of Kerala. The recommendations focused on how policy support can deliver the benefits of digital technologies to women’s enterprises in digitalizing agri-value chains and manufacturing MSMEs, as well as towards addressing women's care work burdens and unequal and impaired access to digital economy.


Media Pieces

Contextualizing 'Wages for Housework' for Indian Society and Digitalizing Economy

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August, 2021: IT for Change's Khawla Zainab wrote a paper for the Law and Society Column of The Economic and Political Weekly. It analyzes the conceptual challenges in imagining the feminist demand of Wages for Housework (WFH) for India's digitalizing society. Recent political manifestos and rhetoric have alluded to the long-standing feminist demand of recognizing women's reproductive labor, which has renewed the conversation on framing women's economic rights. However, the theoretical underpinning which upholds the WFH demand – the binary of productive and reproductive labor – is belied by the ubiquitous and datafied nature of women's labor in today's gig economy. This is further complicated by the historicity of social hierarchies circumscribing labor allocation even today. The Labour Codes, 2020 and recent cash transfers made to women are also reflected upon to critically asses the legislative and policy environment required to materialize transformative feminist agendas.

The Macro Frames of Microwork: Indian Women Workers on AMT in the Post-Pandemic Moment (Economic and Political Weekly)

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April, 2021: This paper is the initial release of a larger research study of Indian women workers on the digital labor platform Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) in the post-pandemic moment, for the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW). The paper explores the gendered modus operandi of global platform capitalism based on a qualitative study of Indian women microworkers on AMT. 

Beauty and the Platform Economy (Bot Populi)

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August, 2020: IT for Change's Khawla Zainab wrote an article titled Beauty and the Platform Economy for Bot Populi, exploring the precarity and invisibalization of young, single migrant women workers, particularly in the Covid-19 context. Platforms like Urban Company have not given them PPE kits, their gigs do not pay as much as the company claims, and they continue to pay high commission fees. Many women have been forced to drop out of the labor force and return home to unpaid domestic work. This article undertakes a feminist analysis to expose the exploitation of women workers by platforms like Urban Company, and hold them accountable.

Covid-19 Lockdown Exposes Gaping Holes in E-commerce and Farm Food Supply Chains (Hindu BusinessLine)

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April, 2020: In light of the Covid crisis and the subsequent nationwide lockdown, the food supply chain across the country faced many disruptions, pointing to the limitations of a policy response that divorces the digital economy from its actual bare bones – human labor, physical infrastructure and institutions. The project team explored this in a piece published in the Hindu BusinessLine in April 2020.

We will continue to document the impact of the pandemic on our women constituencies and intermediary organizations so that a concerted effort can be made towards influencing digital policy in the interest of women workers.

Events and Engagements

The Gender and Development Forum of the UNCTAD 15

August 17, 2021: Anita Gurumurthy participated in a panel on ‘The Future of Work: Precarity, Gig Economy, Erosion of Unionisation, E-commerce, Artificial Intelligence’ with a particular focus on e-commerce and women’s livelihood. The recording of the discussion will be broadcast in the run-up to the UNCTAD15 Forum in September 2021, with panelists engaging in a conversation with Isabelle Durant, Acting Secretary-General of UNCTAD.

Precarious Futures for Gender Equality in the Post-Covid Tourism World

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June 17, 2021: Khawla Zainab presented insights from IT for Change’s research with women workers in on-demand beauty services, drawing parallels between the trends in precarity faced by women workers in the tourism sector and workers in the tech-mediated platform economy. The seminar, organized by the Transforming Tourism Initiative, included speakers from Spain, Indonesia and the UK which allowed for a multi-regional discussion on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on women’s deteriorating economic conditions.

Addressing Gender Bias in New Technologies, United Nations South Asia Forum on Business and Human Rights

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March 17, 2021: Anita Gurumurthy moderated the panel on Addressing Gender Bias in New Technologies at the 2nd United Nations South Asia Forum on Business and Human Rights, 2021. Drawing attention to the in-built biases of algorithms due to its dependence on humans, the panel addressed regulatory gaps in governance of AI, the role of businesses in averting gender-discrimination of new technologies, and the policy steps taken by governments to mitigate algorithmic bias.

Women and the Platform Economy, Azim Premji University

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December, 2020: Khawla Zainab made a presentation on Women in the Platform Economy at the Department of Development Studies, Azim Premji University. The presentation was made for students of a post-graduate course on Planning and Monitoring Development Actions for Gender Equality, and drew on our research on beauty workers on platforms like Urban Company and women workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Towards a Gender-Equal World: The EU Gender Action Plan and the EU’s contribution to Beijing +25

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November 25, 2020: Nandini Chami participated in a panel discussion on 'Promoting Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment through Digitalization' at a high-level event organized by the European Commission, in association with the European External Action Service and the German Presidency of the European Union. The event marked the launch of the new EU Gender Action Plan – An ambitious agenda for gender equality and women’s empowerment in EU external action (GAP III).

Feminist Internet: An Alternative

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September 22, 2020: Anita Gurumurthy participated in the session held as part of a 2-day series about 'Making Technology Gender Inclusive', co-organized by Breakthrough and Arthan. The session explored how technology can be made gender-friendly and more accessible for women and girls. Developing on the feminist principles of the internet – right to access, right to organize, economic rights – Anita argued for democratization of the internet by thinking of the feminist project as a project of democracy. Further, the she highlighted the inequality of the era of digital capitalism by tracing the history of the internet. Finally, she called for an anti-patriarchal and anti-capitalist solidarity.

Strategy Discussion on the Gig Economy

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August 2020: Sadhana Sanjay participated in a virtual roundtable on the gig economy co-organized by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL). The roundtable tackled issues of unstable work, the absence of social protection, and workplace precarity in the digital economy in South and South-East Asia. IT for Change offered perspectives on what the platformization of work means for women's work in particular, and the role of data rights in improving working conditions in the digital economy. The roundtable then synthesized participant responses into an agenda for policy action in this domain.


Focus Areas
Resource Type
Centering Women in India's Digitalizing Economy