Munich Personal RePEc Archive

From silence to voice: Examining the empowerment potential of mobile phones to women in Sri Lanka The case of dependent housewives

Handapangoda, Wasana Sampath and Sisira Kumara, Ajanth (2012): From silence to voice: Examining the empowerment potential of mobile phones to women in Sri Lanka The case of dependent housewives.

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Over the past few decades, at an unprecedented rate, mobile phone has penetrated Sri Lanka, triggering much hype and investment as well as multiple socioeconomic implications. Yet, examining the developmental impact of mobile phones has, however, drawn surprisingly little attention in Sri Lanka with no studies focusing primarily on the impact of mobile phones on the empowerment of women. Therefore, this paper, applying primarily qualitative methodology, attempts an investigation of the empowering effect of mobile phones to dependent housewives in poor households in Sri Lanka. The study found that access to mobile phones was certainly empowering for the women: mobile phones unequivocally strengthened and expanded their social circle and support networks as an instrument of sociability; it led them domesticate technology, thus challenging negative societal attitudes towards women as technophobic luddites; it reduced their information poverty, enabling and facilitating access to information; and, opened them up a “newer”, non-traditional space of fun, something which demonstrated a clear manifestation of choice and power. However, the study unveiled that the women’s use of mobile phones was largely controlled within the household, mainly because they did not have their own income to maintain their phones, but to rely on the spouse, the conventional family provider, thus calling for the need for women’s financial autonomy. Those women who legally owned their mobile phones had control over them relative to those who lacked legal ownership. In conclusion, mobile phones can play a significant role in empowering women and thus, recommends considering it as a tool in the policy agenda for women’s empowerment in Sri Lanka.

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