Gender Equality in Broadband Access in Pakistan

The recent global report on “Broadband and Gender” by expert members of the working group on Broadband and Gender reveals a significant technology gap in access to Information communication technologies. This report examines the central question of how access to Internet and ICTs can help redress the inequalities women and girls face in their everyday lives and whether access to these technologies are reinforcing the social attitudes towards women. ITU (2013) estimates that some 200 million fewer women are online compared to men. The picture is far bleaker in Global South.

ICT policy development in most of Global South including Pakistan is merely seen as a technical issue with little relationship to development areas. Unfortunately, most governmental organization and NGO’s working on gender development and women empowerment in Pakistan do not take in to consideration the role ICTs policies especially broadband Internet can play as a key enabler for women development. As a result ICT polices have no direct link with other national socio-economic development policies. There seems to be a speculation that ICTs are gender neutral and will automatically promote gender equality without any need for national strategies focusing on gender equality and ICTs. Gender related concerns are mostly absent from Pakistan National ICT Policy and similarly ICTs are absent from gender policies.

Women’s welfare and economic empowerment is a vital issue for women’s in Pakistan. Women are central to economic and social development in any community and make a major contribution to the socio-economic growth. Majority of the population of women in Pakistan are in rural areas which are traditionally poorer and have less access to social support services and infrastructure. Similarly, women potential to exploit ICT as a tool for empowerment and development is constrained in different ways. Factors such as connection cost, accessibility, literacy, age, economic condition and culture among others have disadvantaged women to improve their socio-economic conditions. The uneven distribution in access and consumption of ICT technologies have also contributed to the widening digital gender gap in Pakistan. Women in Pakistan are at risk of becoming increasingly marginalized in the knowledge society, where much more than access to and use of information technology is at stake. One of the recent studies that investigated the issue of gender gap in access to ICTs in Pakistan highlighted the lack of access to ICTs technologies particularly Internet at work for women. In addition to gaps in access to and use of ICTs, gender gap extends to the frequency of use and consumption of online content. Women in Pakistan also fall short of men in the amount of time spent online in accessing the internet.

Pakistan needs to take drastic policy measures to introduce gender perspective to National ICT policies otherwise gender digital divide in broadband Internet access will keep widening up and women in Pakistan will remain disconnected from the knowledge based economy. Similarly gender policies needs to take in to consideration the role of ICTs in facilitating women empowerment. It is imperative to understand from a national policy perspective that if Pakistani women are not active participants and contributors to the shaping of knowledge society they risk exclusion from the opportunities it presents and further, they may be in danger of losing the gains made in last twenty years.

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