Rebecca Kamm

Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: Women banned from cellphones

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A village council in Indian says cellphones facilitate elopement and affairs.Photo / Thinkstock
A village council in Indian says cellphones facilitate elopement and affairs.Photo / Thinkstock

As mobile technology becomes more and more interwoven with the machinations of everyday life, it's worth observing how this manifests in countries with poor women's rights records.

I wrote recently about the new Saudi Arabian immigration procedure whereby male guardians are alerted via text message if 'their' woman leaves the country. Now, just weeks later, it's been reported that a village in the Indian state of Bihar has banned its female population from using mobile phones.

According to Reuters, the village council announced cellphones were "debasing the social atmosphere" by facilitating elopement and affairs. Manuwar Alam, the head of a new committee established to enforce the ban, said the past few months had seen a rise in disobedient female behaviour, with at least six women and girls running away from home:

"It always gives us a lot of embarrassment when someone [from another village] asks who has eloped this time," he explained. "Even married women were deserting their husbands to elope with lovers. That was shameful for us. So we decided to tackle it firmly."

2012 saw a slew of oppressive reforms put in place by self-appointed village councils in India, know as panchayati. In July, a village in the Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh forbid girls from using mobile phones on the streets, and women younger than 40 were banned from shopping - because, oddly, it "increased crime". Love marriages were also banned, with a member of the village quoted as saying:

"Love marriages are a shame for the society. It is very painful for the parents, especially the girl's family, as such marriages dent their respectability."

Just two months later in August, a village in the Jhunjhunu district banned girls under 18 from using cellphones, claiming that their overuse was making young women "spoiled". Boys under 18 could still use their cellphones as long as they didn't use them to play music.

Cutting women off from mobiles seems particularly harsh in a country where cellular technology is starting to help affect social change. Mobiles are used to deliver health information to women in rural areas, for instance, and to assist urban sex workers.

Of course, cellphones are also paramount when it comes to the Indian women's movement, providing as they do the self-sufficiency needed for study, work and travel. Which terrifies conservative village elders. Says The Guardian's Kavitha Rao:

"... this is why they are desperately blaming foreign food, women staying unmarried after 16, foreign TV shows, anything to conceal the fact that their women no longer want to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen."

In a survey released in May this year, 370 gender specialists around the world voted India the worst place of all the G20 countries to be a woman. Saudi Arabia was second worst.

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