Issues and Challenges

Is Digital Literacy the Key

Women can empower themselves in the 21st century utilizing digital platforms to uplift themselves and their communities.

The dawn of the 21st century has emerged with  tremendous advancement in the digital world including science and technology. In the modern world, the term literate has different connotations than it used to have in the past; it is no longer confined to reading and writing. In the broader spectrum of the modern world, digital advancement interlacing with 5G technology, accessibility gadgets, technological skills, and information-related internet has resulted in advanced critical evaluation, creativity, problem-solving approach, and strength of social relationships globally. 
In developing countries like Pakistan, being a woman is embedded with numerous obstacles including social, economic, and domestic hurdles. Therefore, in the world of digital advancement, women are also lagging behind. There is dire need to eradicate stereotypes associated with women, such as: women are less intelligent and tech-savvy than men, they are gadgets-phobic, or that they are heedless of on-going advancements. No doubt, the modern digital world has altered lifestyles. Women of the modern world are more independent as compared to women of the past. The literacy rate of both genders has improved but there is still a massive gender gap in terms of digital literacy. Unfortunately, despite its evident importance there is little change in the attitude about women’s digital literacy.
In the discourse of access, women have less access to digital gadgets as compared to men. In terms of internet and mobile access, the gap in Pakistan between males and females stands at 65% for internet access, and 51% for mobile phone access. Contextually, in line with the GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020, 37% of Pakistani men have access to mobile internet against 19% women, which is hair-raising. The growing connectivity as result of digitization could potentially eliminate gender inequality in the economy in terms of providing women an access to market places from within their homes so that they could empower themselves utilizing digital platforms for sharing and connecting through these platforms. Through the chains of digital platforms, they can share their creativity and innovation and discuss ideas to make their skills more sophisticated and polished.
Digitization has brought about a drastic change in terms of professional development and it is obvious that making use of digital platforms as well as the access to digital markets could flourish their entrepreneurship, particularly for women in countries like Pakistan where there are many impediments for them to go outside their homes and establish a business. Moreover, numerous women in developing countries are either underemployed or unemployed. They are most likely to have unpaid jobs or work at a low stipend. To tackle the issue of women's economic challenges, digital literacy can help shape economic opportunities for women by making them independent by providing opportunities of digital entrepreneurship, market awareness, novel marketing strategies and free platforms for advertisement, all of which can help women uplift themselves and their communities. 
In the digital era, numerous advancements provide women new avenues to address and interpret their health and wellness issues. A plethora of e-health programs have been launched across the country with the perspective of improving women's health issues with low-cost treatment. Sehat Kahani program with the facility of 35 e-health clinics and 5000 online female doctors “aims to democratize healthcare by building an all female (sic) health provider network to deliver quality healthcare solutions using tele-health,” making access to healthcare from best doctors in Pakistan affordable and convenient. However, awareness and possession of digital skills have to be engendered for women to make maximum use of this facility.
Digital platforms like social media encourage women to mobilize voices against prevailing social issues and to highlight their issues with numerous active audiences by exchanging their thoughts, opinions, and communicating about gender equality. However, with the good there always comes some bad; one of the biggest challenges for women in the modern world is that of cyber security. Cybercrime in the digital world is an advanced form of violence against women, not physical but mental and emotional. Women are emotionally panicked about being tried and ragged on social media. But the good news is that such issues have simple solutions that women can apply themselves; to tackle such problems in the digital world, women must be digitally literate and aware of these types of issues as well as how to employ privacy features to protect themselves and others.
Successful digital literacy programs have numerous impacts including confidence building in women, learning skills, and development in numerous domains including socio-cultural, economic and political. With the implementation of such skills, women can feel empowered, achieve self-reliance, and be productive members of society. Unfortunately, in  countries like Pakistan, women express inconvenience and find it strenuous to indulge themselves in training programs because of being burdened with household, parental and social responsibilities. To afford the cost of digital literacy programs is another challenge for women. Moreover, active integration of women’s digital programs is required not based only on theoretical framework or cramming but as a practical approach with reference. Inclusion of protection techniques that could help women when they venture into the digital world is also necessary. There is also a need for scholarship programs so less affluent women can make use of the opportunities provided by the new digital realm. The introduction of programs for digital literacy need to be done at intra- and inter-governmental levels. The Digital Learning Program (DLP) was a step taken towards women’s digital empowerment during the pandemic. Such programs should be encouraged and more introduced to spread digital literacy. 
Development in the 21st century is entwined with positive and effective use of technology. Providing women with basic facilities is fine but bringing them abreast with technological advancements and digital skills can uplift them and help develop our country. Therefore, more focus in this regard is imperative. HH

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