Digitization A Tool of Economic Empowerment

Pakistan has witnessed a significant improvement in promoting gender equality in recent years in all spheres of life. Because of the few seen and many unseen efforts of volunteers, policy makers and government, Pakistani women are enjoying a far better status in labor force — in both private and public sector — and have better access to health and education than their predecessors. Fortunately, women will not have to wait for another generation before they begin to close the gaps as they are evolving and learning the skills needed in today’s market besides becoming aware about the future market needs. However, their representation is still alarmingly low in one field — STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The stereotype of women not being good at Tech and Numbers is still haunting the concept of gender equality in this field. 
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have brought a massive change in the way we communicate, socialize, do business and operate in our daily routines. This sector has created a large number of jobs along with introducing many careers one could not think of even a decade ago. The center of success in ICTs is intellect and not physical strength, thus this industry should ideally be non-discriminatory, in terms of creating equal opportunities for men, women, minorities or differently-abled people. In particular, this field could be used to enhance gender equality and women empowerment by providing women with more opportunities and decreasing the gender gap in the jobs involving physical challenges. This field may increase women’s share in economy by giving them access to health assistance, education, financial institutions and have their voices heard. 
Today, about 4 billion people in Pakistan lack access to broadband, majority of which are women. In the rural areas of some developing countries including Pakistan, only one woman in every ten has ever touched a computer. Hence, although some are benefitting from the interconnected world, many women are still lagging behind. Resolving the issue of this gender gap in access to technology is important to ensure real social, economic and political empowerment of our women and girls. This gender gap in access to internet, is known as ‘Gender Divide’, and with the growing internet opportunities and broadband services, this digital gender divide has widened surprisingly from 19% in 2013 to 26% in 2018. This means women are 26% less likely to have access to internet (through mobile or computer) than men, globally. This gap is of course larger in least developed countries where the figure goes to as high as 36%. This lack of access to technology prevents many women from reaping benefits from digital opportunities.  
Access to internet and digital devices must go hand-in-hand without gender biasedness, otherwise we will be at a higher risk of creating a new class of poor — The Digital Poor — where girls and women will be classified as the most disadvantaged ones. 

Why is Digital Literacy Important?
Digital Literacy is important for women because the world is transforming into a digitized global village. When entrepreneurship is still difficult for women — as the world only sees them as a supporting family member — digitization is helping them in creating an ecosystem and is assisting them to share their stories and reach out to others, be an inspiration for others. Those who are already doing good get motivation and others find inspiration from them. 
Pakistan is no different from other developing countries, where digital skills still begin with an elementary understanding of computer literacy. Therefore, there is a need to develop comfort and familiarity among young girls about computers and introduce them to word processing, software, antivirus programs and important internet norms. This approach will help to demystify computers from the minds of women and will encourage them to learn more technical skills. This familiarity will be helpful for them in exploring profitable careers, online jobs and ways to develop themselves, earn from what skills they already have, do business sitting at home and trade and market the products they produce, even if they are from cottage industries. 
In short, digital technologies can contribute in protecting women’s rights and empower them socially, politically and economically as it is a low cost, information rich and easy to access source of connectivity, particularly for women who are time constrained when it comes to their careers, due to care responsibilities and because of restrictions on their mobility because of social or cultural barriers. Some of the positive changes which might be expected from equipping women with digital technologies include:
•    Small-hold farmers may make informed decisions using information on weather, crops and market prices. 
•    Females who are contributing to the economy through cottage industry may explore better, efficient and modern ways of doing the same task, and check market trends to update their products accordingly. 
•    Online learning programs give equal opportunities for attaining knowledge. 
•    Mobile banking, online methods of money transfer may assist the households to make/receive payments and access loans safely. 

Understanding how economies have benefitted from technology in different contexts is very important and a country like ours, which is lacking behind in technological advancements, is in need to prioritize digital awareness among both men and women. The culture needs to change and it will only change by equipping women with better skills. Women must be aware, should be consulted, and be involved in the development process of Pakistan, not only as users and consumers, but also as developers and researchers. HH

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