Let's Harness Technology To Improve Gender Equality

Let's Harness Technology To Improve Gender Equality
International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8 of each year to acknowledge and honor women's social, economic, and cultural accomplishments.

"Gender equality is both a fundamental human right, and a solution to some of our greatest global challenges. But half of humanity is held back by the most widespread human rights abuse of our time,” said United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres on the occasion of outlining priorities for 2023 to the General Assembly. He also rightly said "gender equality is a question of power. The patriarchy, with millennia of power behind it, is reasserting itself. The United Nations is fighting back and standing up for the rights of women and girls everywhere."

The theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2023 is, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.” This theme is aligned with the priority theme for the upcoming 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the UN’s largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment, will take place this year from 6 – 17 March under the theme “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”

We are living in the age of rapid technological change. It has revolutionized the way people communicate; it has created numerous global opportunities for exchange of ideas, knowledge sharing, and employment opportunities through the comfort of one click. There are various countries where women are making strides and taking huge benefits from technology and digital platforms for their studies, research, social networking, home-based job opportunities, promotion of their business and start-ups.

Globally, less than 20 percent of women hold tech jobs at some of the biggest Internet companies. These numbers reflect a global gender divide.  Women are more than half of the Pakistan’s population, but women’s participation in the formal professional sector is disproportionally low.  Growing inequalities are becoming increasingly evident in the context of digital knowledge and skills, and limited access to technology.  Therefore, women are way behind as the result of this digital gender divide. This also indicates that technology and digital world is not gender inclusive. Thus, women’s participation in digitalization is low and they have access to far fewer opportunities on digital platforms such as social media platforms. There are some small-scale initiatives and innovations on technology and digital forum for women, but they are very insignificant in terms of promotion of gender equality.

One of the other big challenges is the exclusion of a large population of women from the digital revolution, particularly rural women, who are mainly employed in agricultural labor, home-based work, textile industry and low-paid job informal sector. A mix of poverty, low literacy rates, unavailability of the internet and computing tools plays a part in this exclusion. Unfortunately, the digital revolution also presents a risk of perpetuating existing patterns of gender inequality; consequently, women and young girls are deprived of reaping benefits from digital opportunities.

Beside other gaps that exist for women in accessing digital spaces, knowledge and skills, women are vulnerable to online violence and harassment. The technological and digital sector has been made discriminatory against women without any cyber protection regulation or security protocols for women and girls. Mostly online spaces are used for harassment and violence against women.

There is the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 but thousands of urban women are reported to have experienced cyber harassment in one form or the other on a day-to-day basis. Despite experiencing online harassment, almost 70 % of female social media users do not know about cyber harassment laws in Pakistan and a majority of them do not come forward to file complaints under the existing laws due to family and societal pressure.

Countries in our region, particularly India and Sri Lanka, with the help of information and digital technology are making innovations in women empowerment in the economy, and the education and health sectors.  Some initiatives include increasing digital literacy among women, increasing girls’ participation in emerging Internet technology careers, online women-led start-ups, women health helpline services, online banking and so on. We can also learn from them and introduce such initiatives in our country.

Our government, policy makers and other stakeholders must realize that advancements in digital technology offer immense opportunities for the promotion of gender equality and addressing gender gaps for sustainable development. They should formulate policies and programs which strategically improve women’s economic, social and political status.

Federal and provincial governments with multi-stakeholder partnerships should devise a gender-responsive policy and program for technology and digital education, and should also seek to provide required services in rural areas. Female students should be encouraged to participate in rapidly emerging Internet technology and digital careers. Opportunities should be created in partnership with the private sector for young students to follow an ICT career by professional training program.

Digital platforms and technology should be used for access to information on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Generally, women and young girls don't have access to information on their healthcare rights. Information and counselling can be provided to women to allow them to make informed decisions regarding their reproductive health matters.  This information should be provided in local languages for wider outreach to women.

Through this technology, awareness can be raised on pro-women laws such as domestic violence prevention and protection, protection against harassment of women at work places, and the prohibition of early child marriage. Stronger links with government and private helpline services can be developed for women for free legal aid and counselling.