Empowering Women in Pakistan The Role of Digital Literacy
Author: Seyyda Taskeen Abbas Naqvi (Research Associate)
International Women’s Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the progress that has been made towards gender equality, as well as the challenges that still remain. While many countries around the world have made strides in recent years, Pakistan continues to face significant challenges in achieving gender parity. Maternal mortality figures are also alarming, with one out of every 89 Pakistani women dying of maternal causes. Complications of childbirth still account for one fifth of deaths among women of childbearing age. The recent floods of 2022 have had a devastating impact, particularly on women and girls, who continue to be at risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse. The floods 2022 have affected around 33 million Pakistanis, including an estimated 8.2 million women of reproductive age. Furthermore, according to the UNFPA, about 650,000 pregnant women in the flood-affected areas lack access to maternal health services due to infrastructural damage.
According to the Global Gender Gap 2022 report, Pakistan ranks as the second-worst country in terms of gender parity, with a ranking of 145 out of 146 countries. The situation is particularly evident when it comes to economic participation and opportunity, where Pakistan ranks at 145 out of 146, with only 21.4% of women participating in the labor force compared to 67.9% of men. Similarly, Pakistan ranks at 135 in terms of educational attainment, while India and Bangladesh are ranked at 107 and 123 respectively. In terms of health and survival, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh rank at 143, 146, and 129, while in political empowerment, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh are ranked at 95, 48, and 9 respectively.
The gender inclusion gap in Balochistan and KP is cause for concern, with alarmingly low rates of economic and social inclusion for women. The Women Peace and Security (WPS) Index (2021-22) shows that in Balochistan, only 8% of women are employed, and just 13% have financial inclusion. Women’s participation in decision making is also low, at only 10%. Similarly, in KP, only 12% of women are employed, and just 17% have financial inclusion. Participation in domestic decision making is slightly higher at 19%, but still concerning. Additionally, the education gap is also pronounced, with only 5% of girls in KP and 4% in Balochistan completing secondary education. These statistics make it clear that there is still a long way to go to close the gender inclusion gap in Pakistan.
With a view to promoting gender equality, Pakistan is placing increasing emphasis on the implementation of social protection initiatives targeted specifically at women. The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) is one of the most comprehensive programs in this regard, offering a range of measures such as unconditional cash transfers, as well as other initiatives including Waseela-e-Haq, Waseela-e-Rozgar, Waseela-e-Sehat, and Waseela-e-Taleem, all of which are designed to enhance the economic and social status of women.
Moreover, in the current era, digital literacy has become an essential requirement for women, enabling them to access education, employment opportunities, and equitable resources. As an increasing number of sectors transition to online platforms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, women who lack access to digital devices and training will be at a disadvantage. According to The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022, Pakistan’s gender gap in mobile ownership stands at 33%, while the gender gap in mobile internet usage is 38%. The primary factors contributing to these disparities include the lack of family approval (35%) and low levels of literacy and digital skills (23%). Notably at Provincial level, in Balochistan, only 16% of females are mobile phone users, while in KP, this percentage rises to 37%. Without urgent action to address this digital divide, Pakistan will lag behind in economic development.
Fortunately, there are some steps being taken to address this issue. The Digital Pakistan Policy 2018 was a step towards bridging the digital divide, and initiatives like The Digital Literacy Program and “The ICT for Girls” program are working to provide access to digital education and technology for women and girls in Pakistan. Additionally, The Jazz Smart Schools program is helping to break down cultural and social barriers to education and technology, empowering women from rural areas to pursue careers in the digital field.
However, much more needs to be done particularly women’s access to digital technologies (particularly in rural or tribal areas). The Ministry of Education must collaborate with educational institutes along with non-governmental and civic organizations to form a strategy to incorporate digital training for both male and female students. These strategies should be aimed at equipping upcoming generations with adequate knowledge and skills to keep up with the rapidly-evolving technological landscape.
In conclusion, International Women’s Day is a reminder that we still have a long way to go when it comes to gender equity, and that we must all work together to create a more inclusive world. By addressing the challenges faced by women in Pakistan, including lack of access to digital technologies and the ongoing gender gap, we can help to ensure that all women have the support and resources they need to thrive.