Women Empowerment through Open ICT4D in Pakistan

Full title: The Prospects and Challenges for Women Empowerment through Open ICT4D in Pakistan

The proliferation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as telephones, radio, television, computer applications and the Internet to economic development has lead to their increased use and importance. Open ICT is a very powerful tool for development and has assisted tremendously in achieving efficiency in key areas such as health, education, and women empowerment.

In Pakistan, communication sector has become one of major sectors attracting foreign direct investment, during the past five years. Despite the increased number of mobile phone users and computer applications, the rural areas remain underserved. Furthermore, access and usage of ICTs demand affordability, accessibility, and literacy and these factors are usually gender insensitive, the very definition of gender digital divide. The ‘digital divide’ refers to the uneven distribution of benefits of ICTs and drastic differences in levels of ICT access between different population groups. This divide is especially pronounced for rural and marginalized women and girls.

However, on the other hand the potential of Open ICTs for women’s empowerment has also been shown. Access to employment and income is one aspect thereof. Open ICT applications have translated into an improved access to financial information for female users. Besides, the employment creation and business promotion, ICTs have provided innovative ways for women and girls to obtain access to education and skills and facilitate women and girls’ access to health-related information and facilities. Distance learning, as another example, gives flexibility of access and study times. This may be of special importance for females in rural areas or those facing social barriers that limit their access to schools. Health educators have used radio to communicate information related to women’s sexual and reproductive health. Besides, information tools like CD, databases and mobile ICT devices can enhance public health delivery.

The specific objectives of this paper are to identify gender-specific utilization of ICTs, and to draw lessons for appropriate technology and governance conducive for improved access of women and girls to ICTs. The paper will also look at the determinants of the openness with special reference to socio-cultural norms and the policy context. Additionally, another focus will be on measuring the extent of gender digital divide in terms of access and use of ICTs (both access and use are preconditions for openness of ICTs and in order to determine the degree of openness given Pakistan’s strong socio-cultural barriers). The paper is based on a study conducted in four disadvantaged districts of rural Pakistan during 2008. Data is generated through focus group discussions and questionnaires. Moreover, in order to reflect the impact of openness in terms of women empowerment, some success stories will also be documented by interviewing the key informants.

Author: Nazima Shaheen

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