Over the past few years, there has been an increasing emphasis on girls and information and communication technology in the development sector. Large government donors, NGOs and the private sector believe girls could play a big role in resolving poverty and making development gains through ICT which is indeed veracity as well. On International Girls in ICT Day on 27th of April every year stress is given on the phenomenon of encouraging the girls and women around the world to drive global attention to the need for their full and equal access to ICT education. The technology sector is one of the fastest growing industries globally, but experiencing skills gap. The European Commission, for example, has predicted a skills gap of over 800.000 ICT jobs in Europe by 2020. The sector holds enormous opportunities for women with the requisite skills. But stereotypes and discrimination continue to deprive girls of the chance to excel in this field. Globally, there is a 12 per cent gender gap in internet use; in the world’s least developed countries, the gap widens to 31 percent. Enhancing the use of ICTs to empower women is an explicit target of Sustainable Development Goal 5 which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls and calls for enhanced use of enabling technology ICTs in particular to promote the empowerment of women.
The ICT sector has a transversal importance to every sector in an economy. Its impressive growth in recent years and the exponential expansion projected for the future will entail an increasing demand for highly-qualified workers. Women, due to their small presence in ICT, could constitute an important pool of potential candidates to enter this sector. For many girls, access and use of ICT remains a huge challenge. Gender discrimination, lack of confidence, language barrier, low literacy, lack of time and money, restricted mobility due to cultural factors or safety often prevent girls from taking advantage of ICT. Despite increased availability of mobile phones and internet worldwide, access is often characterised in broad economic terms – ‘developing’ v ‘developed’ countries. Analysis rather should include factors like class and wealth status, gender, geographic location, age, disability, literacy, language, and device ownership. Girls living in the same area may have very different levels of access.
In Pakistan where a little over 50% of population is women, it is critical to have women shape our country’s future in information and communication technologies. There are working women with backgrounds in engineering in Pakistan but the male-to-female ratio in this field is not at a desired level. It impacts our nation socio-economically to have such a significant portion of our population not contributing to its development. Numerous endeavors are in place around the whole ecosystem to mainstream the women in technology to harness their true potential for a growing and prosperous Pakistan. That includes scaling up the ICTs for Girls program in schools, allocating 30% quota for young interns in IT Sector, and primed focus for girls and women in One Million Freelancers Digital Skills program. All these endeavors are in place to provide rightful employment and earning opportunities for girls and women through the use of technology. Information Technology Minister, Anushe Rehman, recently shed light on a few women-centric programs conducted at the national level.
“The ICT for Girls Programme, aimed at training young girls with the latest advancement in technologies, is functional”, she said. Young girls from marginalized areas of Pakistan are being trained for coding and computing. Microsoft is assisting the government for this training series. Government is hopeful that the training imparted will help these young girls in economic empowerment and job placements. Besides the ICTs for Girls program as mentioned above, government of Pakistan has allocated a special quota of 30% for women entrepreneurs in chain of National Incubation centers established at Islamabad and four provincial metro areas. These women entrepreneurs are making significant strides in converting their ideas into commercial products. Many of these women-led startups have gained international attention like “Rising Mom” etc. By emulating the contemporary trends of development, women empowerment and women entrepreneurship, Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR), has initiated E-Women project. The project tends to empower women with provision of trainings using ICT tools to further engross the space for their skills (handicrafts, dress designing, pottery work etc.), which will bring an economic enablement for them. Mélange E-Mall is another platform to reach out the far destinations in order to exhibit your creativity and skills. What else could be more encouraging for a woman than sense of economic security, improved living standards and of course a contemporary way of generating livelihood.
Gender discrimination also comes into play, and in places where men and boys dominate women and girls, they also tend to dominate the available ICT. In places where boys are more favoured, their confidence to try new things will tend to be higher. Girls often report that boys monopolise ICT equipment and criticise, scorn and ridicule girls who are using equipment for the first time, making them feel too timid to try again. Getting more girls into school and improving the quality of education could help more girls’ access and learn to use technology. Finding ways to encourage critical thinking and innovation within the education system and ways for girls to join extra-curricular activities to stimulate new ways of thinking could also help them gain skills for jobs in the ICT sector. To make it possible for girls to participate fully in their family and communities and at broader levels requires a shift in thinking: social behaviours and attitudes needs to be changed. Offer specific support and opportunities. ICT offers incredible tools for engaging students in the classroom, making teaching more participatory. It encourages student-led research and builds critical media and digital literacy skills in the process. Special care needs to be taken to ensure that girls have equal access to equipment. Where ICT cannot be integrated into the classroom or where girls are not in school, it can be brought to them through non-formal education and extra-curricular activities.
Writer is the Assistant Editor ‘Melange’, ‘The Asian Telegraph’ & Project Coordinator (COPAIR); a degree holder in communication & media sciences.