Building agency: women vendors and gendered technology in informal markets in Assam
Demonetisation of the Indian economy in 2016 facilitated significant changes in the lifestyle of people, particularly in adoption of digital transactions in everyday life. While there have been studies on mobile phones and the digital divide even prior to demonetisation, the growing gender disparity in the use of new technologies for secure payment via UPI (Unified Payment Interface) methods remains largely unexplored. Therefore, this paper explores the impact of new payment methods through digital means on street vendors in local markets through an ethnographic study based on narratives, unstructured interviews, and general observation. The study focuses on Assam while bringing out the larger socioeconomic context of the digital discrimination within the country. It locates how the government’s drive for digital economy post-demonetisation exacerbated the gender gap in access to technology in informal markets. The article observes how men use mobile phones and technology to sell their commodities while women vendors lag behind in ownership, usage, or access to such technology due to social norms and expectations. Subsequently, the study brings about the narratives on how women negotiate through such constraints to build their social ‘agency’ and identity in the market at both individual and collective level.
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