Menu Close
11 Oct, 2023

Digital Access Empowering Adolescent Girls: Challenging Gender Norms

Author: Sushmita Mukherjee, Director – Gender and Adolescent Girls, PCI India

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, access to technology and the internet has become a fundamental right, transforming the way we live, learn, work, and communicate. However, despite the progress made in expanding digital access, adolescent girls around the world still face significant barriers and gender norms that restrict their ability to harness the full potential of the digital age.

This blog on the International Day of Girl Child – 11th October 2023, explores the importance of digital access for adolescent girls and how it can challenge and reshape traditional gender norms.

The Digital Divide: A Gender Disparity

The digital divide is a multifaceted issue that encompasses disparities in access to technology, digital literacy, and the opportunities that the internet provides. When we look at this divide through a gender lens, it becomes apparent that adolescent girls are often at a disadvantage. According to ‘The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023’ women are 7% less likely than men to own a phone and 19% less likely to use mobile internet. According to a report by UNICEF, globally, 12% fewer girls than boys use the internet. This gap is more pronounced in regions with conservative gender norms, where girls are expected to conform to traditional roles and responsibilities.

As per a study conducted by PCI in Jharkhand in India, COVID-19 triggered a deeper mobile penetration in rural India, but the gender disparity remained. Girls only had access to their father’s or brothers’ phones and here too, their turn came last, with the phone and data charge nearly drained. Additionally, their usage was highly monitored and controlled.

This disparity, a reflection of the prevalent social norms, deprives them of opportunities of growth and development and significantly limits their agency.

Why is digital access important for adolescent girls?

Digital access serves as a means for exposure to different worldviews and can counter hermeneutic injustice. For adolescent girls, this could be the means to bring a shift in power dynamics and claim their rightful opportunities of growth.

Challenging Gender Norms

Digital access can be a powerful tool for challenging and dismantling traditional gender norms:

Promoting Gender Equality: The internet can serve as a platform for raising awareness about gender equality and advocating for women’s rights. Social media campaigns, online petitions, and blogs can all contribute to changing societal attitudes.

Showcasing Role Models: The digital world allows girls to access stories and profiles of successful women from diverse fields, inspiring them to aspire to careers and roles traditionally dominated by men.

Fostering Critical Thinking: Engaging with diverse online content and information can encourage girls to question stereotypes and think critically about gender norms and expectations.

Encouraging Mentorship: Online mentorship programs and networks can connect girls with female mentors who can provide guidance and support in pursuing their goals and ambitions.

Empowering Adolescent Girls

Digital access holds the key to empowering adolescent girls in crucial ways:

Education: Access to e-resources can significantly improve the quality of education for girls. Online courses, tutorials, and educational websites enable girls to access materials that may not be accessible locally.

Economic Opportunities: The digital economy offers numerous opportunities for remote work, freelance jobs, and entrepreneurship. By gaining digital skills and access to online marketplaces, adolescent girls can become financially independent and break free from traditional gender norms that limit their economic participation.

Voice and Expression: The internet provides a platform for girls to express themselves, share their experiences, and engage in social and political discussions. Digital spaces allow them to challenge stereotypes and advocate for gender equality.

Healthcare Information: Access to accurate and reliable healthcare information is crucial for adolescent girls. The internet can serve as a valuable resource for learning about reproductive health, mental health, and other vital topics.

Support Networks: Online communities and support groups can offer girls a sense of belonging and the opportunity to connect with peers who share their interests and experiences.

How to improve digital access among adolescent girls through norm shifting?

 Social norms are formed through complex interactions between “what we do, what we believe others do, and what we believe others approve of and expect us to do”.

Shifting the social norms thus requires communication with members of the reference groups about a change in what behaviour is considered acceptable – in the current example, improved quality of access & increased autonomy over digital presence. For this, it’s essential to study the pathways of the normative transmissions across generations and the perceptions of the reference group members.

Moreover, norm shifting interventions, should be based on the socio-ecological model, which means that both social and systemic systems need to converge to shift norms from being regressive to progressive. At the household level, the role of parenting, family bonding and progressive outlook are the critical factors to accelerate norm shifting journeys.

Development of individual and collective agency is also essential to bring about personal and social awareness about the ’why’ and the ‘how’ of normative shifts. Collective agency needs to be mobilised as the banner carrier for progressive change, not restrictive norms.


Access to digital technology and the internet is not just about connectivity; it’s about empowerment. Adolescent girls who have access to digital resources can challenge and redefine gender norms that have constrained them for generations.

By providing educational opportunities, economic independence, a platform for expression, and the ability to connect with like-minded individuals, digital access can be a catalyst for change. It’s imperative that we continue to work towards bridging the digital gender divide, at all levels, ensuring that every adolescent girl has the tools and opportunities she needs to thrive in the digital age and challenge traditional gender norms.

Empowered girls can become the leaders, innovators, and advocates who shape a more inclusive and equitable future for all.

[Featured Image Credits: Julianne Birch from Getty Images Signature]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Centre for Social and Behaviour Change (CSBC), Ashoka University

The Centre for Social and Behaviour Change is a leading Indian institution that drives behavioural change measures for people and communities in need.

Project Concern International (PCI), India

Project Concern International, India has been working since 1998 to co-create and scale sustainable solutions to complex development problems rooted in community realities .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *