DigitAll: Innovation And Technology For Gender Equality

DigitAll: Innovation And Technology For Gender Equality
“Cogito, ergo sum,” (Latin: “I think, therefore I am") is a dictum coined by the French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes in his Discourse on Method (1637) as a first step in demonstrating the attainability of certain knowledge. Therefore, in simple understanding, we exist when we think we do, and when we stop believing, we are alive no more!

This year, the UN's theme and agenda for International Women’s Day was about promoting innovation and technology for gender equality. Like every other human being, self-emancipation and its proclamation is of utmost importance for us women. Recognising yourself, self-assertion and working towards achieving set goals are few steps prior to success.

اپنے من میں ڈوب کر پا جا سراغ زندگی
تو اگر میرا نہیں بنتا نہ بن اپنا تو بن

These lines always guided me to a certain ‘myself’ when in deep waters.

Unfortunately, the vendetta against the weaker, fairer sex has a long history with gruesome evidences.

Emily Dickinson writes about women in the refugee camp, the aftermath of World War 2:
[…] Something not sayable
spurting from the morning silence,
secret as a thrush.
The other man, the officer, who brought onions
and wine and sacks of flour,
the major with the swollen knee,
wanted intelligent conversation afterward.
Having no choice, she provided that, too.
When the first one was through he pried her mouth open[…]

(Potsdamer Platz, May 1945)

The pain is excruciating, but at the same time, resilience plays at a higher note. That is the survival of the fittest!

Gender equality is a human right.
ساڈا حق اتھے رکھ !!!
(Give me my rights!)

The slogan, however, fails to entice me – even more now. Instead, it brings to my mind questions like: Who can give me my rights? Are the ones I am asking to give me my privilege, eligible to grant too? Do they have any rights themselves? I rationalised that it is always me who can give and take away my rights. I need to vocalise, sensitise and fight if required – so as to spread my wings and make room in the skies to soar high.

Women in Asia face significant structural disadvantages in the job market, which is becoming increasingly technical and innovative. In underdeveloped or developing countries, women often lack access to even basic technology such as phones, let alone smartphones, laptops, and internet facilities. With rapid technological transformation underway, digitalisation and automation are now core elements of economic development and the future of work. However, the digital divide and skills gap present significant barriers for women to gain the new skills necessary to succeed in the jobs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Meaningful access and participation in the digital economy are crucial for women and men alike to fully participate in economic progress. Gender equity is a sustainable development goal, and socially just and gender-equal responses are needed to address these challenges.

Research and analysis are necessary from a women's perspective to promote gender equality in the world of work, with emphasis on enhancing women's participation. Equipping women and girls with knowledge and skills in STEM fields is essential to enable them to adapt and shift towards more productive and better-paid work. Ensuring women benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution will mean greater female labor force participation and a positive impact on society as a whole.

Both the ILO and the United Nations Sustainable Development encourage gender inclusivity and equality. However, women's employment and economic development are frequently overlooked, particularly in teaching or caregiving professions, which are most vulnerable to automation. The digital transformation, driven by technologies such as AI, cloud computing, robotics, blockchain, big data analytics, and the Internet of things, raises the question of whether women are equipped for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The divide

Women face numerous barriers to being skilled, mobile, and tech-savvy, making it challenging to manage the digital gap in Pakistan, which is currently at 71%, the world's largest recorded discrimination. Artificial intelligence, robotisation, high-speed mobile networks, and cloud computing are among the technological advancements that government officials and business managers worldwide are grappling with. To bridge the digital divide, we must address the skill and physical access gaps between men and women in using information technology (IT). Despite being a fundamental disparity, the divide is deepening with the digital transformation. Our fight in the Democratic Republic of Pakistan is especially challenging due to socio-cultural and religious barriers. Globally, only 22% of AI workers are women, and 44.2% of 133 AI systems across global industries demonstrate gender biases. In addition, 73% of women journalists from 125 countries surveyed experienced online violence. The prevalence of violence against women is still alarming, with 26% of women aged 15 and older subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by their partner at least once in their lifetime. Shockingly, 20% of girls globally, and 28% in South Asia, are married before the age of 18. Only 27% of managerial positions worldwide are held by women. Moreover, only 15 out of 52 reporting countries have included sufficient provisions in their legal frameworks to protect women's land rights, making it even more discriminating. However, credit goes to Islam for clearly stating the law of inheritance in the Quran chapter of Nisa/4 verses no. 11-12 and 176, which set up the basic foundations of Islamic inheritance law.

Focusing on the DigitAll theme, the statistics reveal that Pakistan has the largest gender gap in mobile ownership and usage worldwide, but the situation is gradually improving. Women are 38% less likely than men to own a mobile phone, 49% less likely to use mobile internet, and 94% less likely to have a mobile account. While it may seem amusing that they are spared from unwanted messages, this discrimination has underlying causes. These include (a) income or affordability, as women may not have sufficient funds to invest in digital technology or pay for internet access, (b) education or lack thereof, as women may not be well-versed in ICT, (c) technical illiteracy, as women may lack the skills to use ICT tools, and (d) social-cultural norms that prevent women from accessing public facilities with ICT resources.

Moreover, technology is often considered unsafe for women due to the risk of harassment, intimidation, surveillance, illegal data retention, or cybercrime. Sexual and other forms of exploitation discourage women from using the internet, and this further widens the gender digital divide. To overcome these challenges and keep pace with modern needs, women need to embrace digitalisation.

Innovation is a critical aspect of digital technology, as companies strive to create more efficient, user-friendly, and effective products and services. Innovative digital technologies include 3D printing, quantum computing, and biometrics. Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Patreon assist startups and entrepreneurs in financing and launching their innovative ideas.



COVID-19 is a recent case study showcasing the productivity of e-commerce. Digital technologies have the potential to contribute an annual economic value of Rs.9.7 trillion (USD 59.7 billion) to Pakistan's economy by 2030. Research plays a crucial role in advancing our understanding of the field and identifying new areas of development.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used in various applications, including virtual assistants like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, chatbots like Google's Duplex, and self-driving cars from companies such as Tesla and Waymo. Chat GPT, co-founded by women like Jessica Livingston, is another example of AI.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has many applications, such as smart homes (e.g., Nest), wearables (e.g., Fitbit), and industrial machinery (e.g., General Electric's Predix platform). Popular IoT platforms include AWS IoT, Microsoft Azure IoT, and IBM Watson IoT. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are rapidly growing fields and include gaming, with the gaming industry in Pakistan reaching USD 208.7 million in 2022. Popular AR and VR platforms include Oculus and Magi.

As cybersecurity threats become more sophisticated, cybersecurity measures are being implemented across industries to protect against cyber-attacks. Popular cybersecurity platforms include Norton, McAfee, and Kaspersky. The Punjab Police Women Safety App is an example of a successful cybersecurity initiative. Cloud computing and Machine Learning (ML) are being used across industries, such as finance (e.g., fraud detection), healthcare (e.g., medical diagnosis), and marketing (e.g., targeted advertising). The aim of the green economy, among other aspects, is to provide gender equality and conserve the environment.

To formulate policies addressing the root causes of the digital gender divide, we need to identify, discuss and analyse a range of factors. Countries must implement policies that support the equitable participation of women in the digital economy, such as the Digital Pakistan Policy 2018, Vision 2025 document, National Cybersecurity Policy 2021 (Ministry of IT), and E-Commerce Policy Framework (2019). Empowering women for civic engagement ensures their voices are heard and reflected in policies. Development initiatives involving ICT must address gender and class-based barriers to women's access.

Whether e-government empowers women in practice depends on how activities and tools are designed and implemented, and most importantly, whether women can actively use them. Programs need to evaluate whether digital ICTs can increase women's insecurity and/or risk of cyber and physical crimes. Laws and policies governing internet use must be gender-aware and protect users from violence and harassment.

To improve the quality of research on women's use of digital ICTs, sex-disaggregated data based on standardised indicators that relate to policy goals is needed.

The book Power of Crisis by American social scientist Ian Bremmer caught my attention. Women have shown remarkable resilience, much like the Phoenix rising from the ashes. Power of Crisis shows that we can come back stronger in the face of adversity. As women, we face numerous challenges every day of our lives. We are caregivers as mothers, partners in every decision as wives, vulnerable to bitterness, bearers of social and economic burdens, victims of harassment, intimidation, and violence. These challenges can take a toll on us emotionally, mentally, physically, and even spiritually. Not to mention the economic and financial insecurities that come with discrimination in the workplace, such as unequal pay rights.

The crisis is now! When it becomes claustrophobic, one must beat the odds and claim their human rights in life itself!