The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’. It has been adopted in line with the focus of the forthcoming session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The theme seems ambitious considering not just the inequality between the sexes but also the great digital divide at two levels – economic and gender. The situation is particularly challenging for the least developed countries (LDCs) as well as the developing ones.
In Pakistan, the only area where some efforts in promoting digital technology for women are seen – both in the public and private sectors – is financial. Financial inclusion of women is being actively encouraged by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and most banks and financial institutions are complying through the introduction of digital wallets and other online facilities. In a country such as Pakistan where women’s mobility is severely restricted, the widespread use of digital technology acquires an immediacy when it comes to women’s financial empowerment. Several social sector programmes, particularly those that are using the database of the Benazir Income Support Programme to assist women financially, are doing so digitally.
But how widespread is digital literacy among women? In Pakistan, female literacy, at less than 47% (just the ability to read and write simple words), is among the lowest in the world. The country also has an alarming rate of girls dropping out of school. In a society where inequity is widespread and the digital divide (particularly when it comes to gender) is like a large chasm, the ideals of DigitALL present many challenges. Currently, many women are dependent on male members of their families to access payments made to them digitally.
DigitALL, however, should not be seen as a pipe dream by governments. It should become an integral part of policies to empower women and achieve gender equality. In fact, by embracing and utilising the potential of the digital world, the goal of equality can be reached somewhat sooner. Above all, the digital world opens up a world of knowledge and discovery that many women are being denied today. In the journey to achieve the goals of DigitALL, small steps, as well as large leaps, will have to be taken by all governments. The digital world will not wait for people to catch up. It is progressing at a galloping speed and there is a danger that women will be the ones to be left behind.
Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum VMLY&R.