Centering Women in India's Digitalizing Economy

IT for Change and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), with support from the European Commission, are undertaking a five-year (2020-2024) project on Gender and the Digital Economy, with 3 distinct tracks of exploration and activity. 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 has three main components:

  • A participatory action research, undertaken in association with two social enterprises, Vrutti and LabourNet, and cooperative federation, Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA), to pilot, test and refine digital platform business models, in order to enhance livelihood opportunities and access to support services for marginal women farmers and women workers in the informal economy;
  • The development of a national policy community on Gender and the Digital Economy, through the creation of National Gender Fellowships for early career women researchers and ongoing inputs from a feminist perspective into digital economy and data policy debates;
  • The creation of an EU-Asia-Africa-India knowledge network, through commissioning 12 international think pieces to provide cutting-edge analysis at the intersections of gender and the digital economy and organizing an international policy dialogue. 

Research Outputs

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

Read the full research report here

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.

Media Pieces

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

Presentation on Women and the Platform Economy

View it here

December, 2020: Khawla Zainab gave 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.


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Centering Women in India's Digitalizing Economy