In search of Gender inclusive ICTs in Pakistan: But Where?

Women account for almost fifty percent of the world’s population, performing two thirds of the world's work; yet, they earn just one tenth of the world's income and continue to be deprived of their basic right to receive equal access to education, health, work, and decision-making as opposed to the male gender. Different genders have been classified as performing three distinct roles by sociologists that is, productive, reproductive and community roles. While women are performing all three, and men are only involved in productive and community roles. Though there may be different conditions and situations for gender residing in the rural regions as compared to the urban regions but these roles can be applied in both regions.


During some instances, the productive and community roles also diminish where men do not contribute to the family’s material needs due to illness, disabilities or on purpose, and women are burdened with further responsibility of being solely responsible for generating income, caring for, managing and feeding everyone in the family. This is evident in various countries of South Asia, where women have been continuously facing hardships in the quest for the realisation and their recognition as an equal part of humanity.


For widowed and orphaned survivor women, the situation tends to be worsened in an evidently male dominated society. Within urban regions of Pakistan, the situation may be better than the rural regions where women, after receiving access to adequate education, may benefit from possible equal employment opportunities within established academia, public and private sectors of society. Nonetheless, they still face discrimination in issues related to equal treatment, rights, gender sensitive human resource recruitment policies, and sometimes sexual harassment.


Even after embracing information technology for more than over a decade, Pakistan lacks a baseline research about the extent of the gender digital divide; including a deep understanding of gender gap issues with respect to access to information and communications technologies (ICTs), as well as identification and formulation of measures to bridge this divide effectively. A number of reasons may be attributed to this lack in recognising the status of women as an equal and balanced member of the Pakistani society. A major attribute to this situation may be the lack of capacity within the country’s governance infrastructure, with policy makers and legislators requiring adequate research and support to address gender gaps and mainstreaming planning and development activities.


Possibly as a result of this issue, the Pakistan Government’s Ministry of Planning and Development, with the support of United Nations Development Programme UNDP, has incepted a three-year “Gender Mainstreaming in Planning and Development Project”. The stated goal of this project is to build government officials’ capacity to mainstream gender in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of government policies, plans, programmes and projects in all areas of development.


The Gender Mainstreaming project aims to pursue gender sensitisation of senior and mid-level Planning and Development (P&D) officials at the federal, provincial and district levels, develop capacity for gender analysis, planning and monitoring and evaluation, establish gender disaggregated database using information and communication technology (ICT) skills and competencies, and develop institutional mechanisms and procedures for systematic gender mainstreaming and accountability in government. It is yet to be determined what the extent of improvement within the overall governance structure towards mainstreaming gender issues and policy making will be - as has been with other tall claims of success in the past.


Dr. Ambreen Waheed, Founder and Executive Director of the Responsible Business Initiative (RBI), an organisation enabling corporate citizenship in Pakistan, identifies lack of gender sensitive social corporate responsibility and mainstreaming within both public and corporate sectors, thus emphasising the need for capacity development on such issues. “I have not come across any policy sensitizing and mainstreaming gender rights,” showing great concern for the lack of Gender ICTs sensitive policies within the country. “Women and gender gaps are widely discussed, but there is little action as a result of these discussions,” says Ambreen. “A lot has to be done and the corporate sector can play an important socially responsible role in responding to such issues”.


Ambreen is launching a Women ICT Institute initiative that will cater to gender ICT needs, and will prove to be a milestone in promoting gender sensitive issues within the country. Through her initiative, she will be bringing multi-stakeholder partnerships on a single platform to reduce the concerns in gender empowerment through ICT’s within Pakistan’s local setting. Despite of the basic infrastructure available, equitable and affordable access to ICTs is still an issue. There is a need for development of legal framework, infrastructure and capacity building to foster widespread adoption of ICTs. Due to changing trends in global and local opportunities, there is a need for skilled human resource.


Moreover there is a need to develop human and institutional capacity to rapidly adapt and absorb the new policy frameworks related to these issues and to make use of the ICT to enhance democratic governance and citizen participation in development process. Ambreen emphasised that Pakistan needs to support gender sensitive policies to adopt and promote the culture of using ICTs. It would exacerbate the diminishing ability of developing countries like Pakistan to participate in the global economy  if they do not consider gender issues or empower women in particular, or take action too slowly in response.


Gender-sensitive policies can help define the position of women, with regards to what they think as well as what is their place in their society. However, this should not be regarded as a single-sided view and women should be an effective component of the overall gender sensitive policy participation, identification and research formulation activities. RBI plans to conduct different workshops, trainings and seminars in different regions of Pakistan for the awareness of information and communication technologies. Along with this, RBI has developed courses for the university students on the awareness of ICT and sustainable development through ICT.


Fouad Riaz Bajwa (bajwa AT fossfp.org)

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