Re-wiring India's Digitalising Economy for Women's Rights and Well-being

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, called 'Re-wiring India's Digitalising Economy for Women's Rights and Well-being: An Action-oriented Knowledge Intervention'. 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.

Think Pieces

The Gendered Creep of Neo-classical Economics through Digitisation

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December 2022: This think piece was written by Laura Mann analysing the gendered division of labour in the tech sector.

This think piece moves away from the visible containers of ‘tech’ and ‘gender’ to think more broadly about how technology firms have helped gender the division of labour. It argues that they have helped align the global economy with neo-classical models, facilitating a feminisation of labour to occur and bringing about limited economic gains for women workers in low- and middle-income countries. Yet such gains are precarious as they have been secured through women’s subordinate positions within society. Furthermore, as digitisation and automation proceed, there are reasons to believe that these opportunities may dwindle further as that alignment grows tighter.

Centring Women in Digitalising Post-Covid Economies: Egypt and India as Examples

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December, 2022: This think piece was written by Nagla Rizk, exploring the challenges and opportunities that women face in a post-pandemic digitizing world, with Egypt and India as examples.

Across the globe, the Covid-19 pandemic has had multiple grave repercussions on people’s lives. Most notable among these has been the intensified need for, and pervasive use of, digital technologies, available only to those who had prior access. This was witnessed globally between and within countries. This widening of the digital divide has typically fed into a persistent development divide and caused further exclusion of the disadvantaged, women included. Indeed, women bore the brunt of the pandemic as they had to juggle their roles as workers, caretakers, and home schoolers. With extra pressures placed on them at work and at home, women were the first to exit the labor market, and in some cases, were the subject of domestic abuse. As digital, gender, and other socio-economic inequalities were exacerbated, new forms of work emerged, specifically using digital technologies locally and globally. While these technologies embody the potential of further exclusion of women, conscious awareness of the inherent challenges can lead to mitigating the risks and using the same technologies for inclusion and ensuring a feminist future of work in a highly automated world. This paper explores the challenges and opportunities that women face in a post-pandemic digitizing world, with Egypt and India as examples.

Intelligent but Gendered: Lessons from Welfare Automation in the Global South

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December, 2022: This think piece was written by Shehla Rashid analyzing cases of welfare automation in the Global South.

This paper brings aboard examples of automation at welfare interfaces to draw certain theoretical takeaways, especially surrounding the gendered experience of digitality. Examples from various countries are discussed and three case studies from the Global South, purposively selected, are elaborated upon to illustrate specific points. It argues that while artificial intelligence (AI) holds the promise of improving human lives in its emphasis on ‘augmenting’ human capabilities, this does not seem to be the priority of welfare automation systems which are deployed by private entities at the behest of governments with an overt emphasis on cost-saving. AI as an approach, today includes ML (both supervised and unsupervised), deep learning and neural networks, etc. (different from an earlier generation of rule-based AI systems). Owing to the inductive nature of reasoning in ML models, there is inductive bias both in their output as well as in the process of framing questions or ‘tasks’ because of ‘what’s possible’. Further, large and very large datasets necessitate huge computational capabilities, upskilling of personnel, cybersecurity measures, and constant upgradation of equipment. Hence, the costs of AI-based means-testing might offset much of the purported cost savings of targeted welfare delivery using AI. While digitisation can be rule-based, automated models tend to introduce arbitrariness which is the opposite of justice. Digitisation is a requirement today, but automation is a Big Data-enabled affordance, implying that algorithms need data more than welfare needs algorithms. This explains the current push for ‘smart’ governance across the Global South which offers huge real-life datasets and often, a regulatory vacuum. This paper highlights the risks of diversion of resources from welfare toward digitisation and automation; of private capture of public data; and of the use of public data and public infrastructure to build private capabilities without any improvement in welfare. It argues that while consent is an important issue, it is internal to the logic of datafication and is often vitiated in digital welfare initiatives.

How Digitally Restructured Value Chains Are Reshaping Labor Futures for Women in the Global South

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December, 2021: This think piece was written by Karishma Banga and Becky Faith of the Digital and Technology Cluster, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton on how digital value chains shape the labor future of women in the Global South. 

The digitalization of production and digital restructuring of global value chains (GVCs), compounded with development effects of proposed global digital trade rules, are going to have important implications for economic and social futures of women in the Global South. The gendered digital adoption divide is roughly 6 percent in high-income countries but as high as 82.5 percent in low-income countries. Moreover, internet penetration is associated with higher productivity gains for female workers in upper-middle and high-income countries as compared to low- and lower-middle-income countries. Case-studies of the BPO and apparel manufacturing sector reveal how digital technologies are affecting women workers through both national and international pathways. National pathways include automation of tasks, including automation of low-end routine intensive tasks, which have traditionally been performed by female workers. New jobs are being created but women workers in the Global South are not the ones gaining, in part due to lack of key skills, but also due to national factors such as high labor mobility costs and labor market frictions which restrict labor shifts. International pathways include a) digitalization of the lead firms in GVCs, which can in turn lead to automation along the value-chain, reshoring or limited offshoring, as well as b) labor market impacts of proposed global digital trade rules through their effects on tech transfer and digital trade between lead and supplier firms. E-commerce and gig work have emerged as important opportunities, but women workers in the Global South are less likely to make meaningful contributions via digital platforms due to lower digital connectivity and lack of ownership of digital devices. Overall, persistent gaps in digital access and models of use affect women in the Global South differently; retaining policy space to navigate issues on e-commerce can therefore be an important way of safeguarding futures for labor futures of workers in the Global South.

Research Outputs

Centering Workers in the Platform Economy

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December 2023: This baseline report, conducted as part of IT for Change’s partnership with LabourNet, aims to provide data-backed, specific recommendations for the development of the SAHI Serve app, recognizing the ecosystem in which it is situated and the specific challenges faced by urban informal women workers. From March 2023 to July 2023, a quantitative survey was undertaken with 291 urban informal women workers who had recently joined LabourNet’s training program. These women were based in four Indian states: Karnataka, Maharashtra, Haryana, and New Delhi. The survey addressed the following themes: the nature of women's participation in the informal economy, respondents’ challenges with care work, their professional and employment-related preferences, their perceptions of the SAHI Serve/app-based gig work, as well as the role of the state in facilitating decent work.

Know more here.

Creating Sustainable Data Cooperatives in the Global South: Frameworks for Institutional Support

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December 2023: Data cooperatives offer an alternative to the enclosure of data in digitalized agricultural supply chains by large agri-tech platforms. Despite their potential, experiments in data cooperativism face challenges in a rapidly privatizing technopolitical ecosystem. In India, platforms addressing this issue often focus on producer organizations, such as Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs).
Collaborating with the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) Federation, we developed a techno-institutional model for a data cooperative, emphasizing the digitalization process from the ground up. Our qualitative data collection involved interviews with frontline workers, SEWA staff, and technical advisors, focusing on a women's agricultural cooperative in South Gujarat. Our research reveals the limits of digitalization and the importance of safeguarding data creators.

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Conundrums of Capturing Informality: The Realities and Aspirations of Women Gig Workers in India

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April 2023: As part of a knowledge partnership exercise with LabourNet Services, IT for Change conducted a baseline survey of 210 urban informal women workers who are enrolled in LabourNet's skills development program for platform workers. The baseline survey sought to measure various sociological and economic factors that affect women's access to decent work across two cities, Bangalore and Mumbai. Additionally, parameters regarding access to digital and financial technologies were also measured, informing the ongoing LabourNet-ITfC partnership involving the refinement of LabourNet's gig platform, SAHI along the principles of access to decent, sustainable work through a gender-responsive redesign.

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SEWA Cooperative Federation Baseline Survey Report

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December 2022: As part of a knowledge partnership exercise between SEWA Cooperative Federation and IT for Change, we conducted a baseline survey of 130 women farmers who are members of Megha Mandli, an agricultural cooperative under the SEWA Cooperative Federation. The baseline survey sought to measure various agricultural and economic parameters of women farmers from the districts of Kheda and Tapi in the state of Gujarat, who largely practice subsistence farming. Additionally, parameters regarding access to digital and financial technologies were also measured, informing the ongoing SEWA-ITfC project of institutionalizing a data cooperative for the SEWA Cooperative Federation.

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“We have to work in order to recharge our phones”: Gender, Technology, and Agriculture Value Chains in South India

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December 2022: As part of the knowledge partnership exercise between Vrutti Livelihood Impact Partners and IT for Change under the ‘Re-wiring India's Digitalising Economy for Women's Rights and Well-being’ project, IT for Change conducted a baseline survey of 230 women farmers part of the Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) associated with Vrutti, measuring various parameters including income data, employment status, and the nature of access to digital technologies and financial services. The survey also assessed the 3-Fold Vrutti model in two intervention sites – Pudukkottai in the state of Tamil Nadu and Kanakapura in the state of Karnataka.

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Gender Perspectives on the Digital Economy--Synopses Compendium

Read the synopses compendium here.

November 2022: As part of our ongoing projects on gender and the digital economy, IT for Change invited proposals and pitches under two National Gender Fellowship tracks. We released this research compendium along with the complete papers during the course of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence in order to shed light on economic inequality as an under-recognized facet of structural gender-based violence. The ten chosen projects investigate a variety of structural challenges women face in the context of platformization and digitalization, particularly by women in the Global South who encounter pre-existing wage disparities and poor work conditions driven by global asymmetries. 

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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).

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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

Unlocking the Platform Dividend for the Indian Economy - A Policy Roundtable on NITI Aayog’s Roadmap for an Inclusive Future of Work

August 25, 2022:

In June 2022, the NITI Aayog published a research report Titled " India's Booming Gig and Platform Economy - Perspectives and Recommendations on the Future of Work", mapping the opportunities and challenges in India’s platformising economy, and coming up with recommendations for a future of work agenda.

In order to engage with this report and deepen the debate on leveraging the platform dividend for an inclusive future of work in the Indian economy, IT for Change is hosting a round table consultation on August 25, 2022 at the Indian International Centre, New Delhi.

Read more about the roundtable here.

The Digital Ecosystem Opportunity for Indian Agriculture: Making the Right Choices

IT for Change is co-organizing a workshop on The Digital Ecosystem Opportunity for Indian Agriculture: Making the Right Choices, with Vrutti, and Sewa Cooperative Federation on August 24, 2022, at the India International Centre, Delhi. The workshop seeks to explore answers to the following three questions-

(1) What are the new opportunities that platform, data, and AI technologies offer for strengthening
agricultural livelihoods and bringing economic empowerment to marginal and small farmers in the Indian context?
(2) What kind of public policy scaffolding in terms of traditional agricultural policy areas and new digital public infrastructure creation is needed for farmer-centric digitalization of agricultural value chains?
(3) What kind of institutional processes and mechanisms can strengthen the current tech policy discourse? For instance, how can the Open Network on Digital Commerce and central/state government agricultural data exchanges, and online agricultural marketplaces ensure better livelihood outcomes for marginal/small farmers?

Read more about the event here.

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