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Here’s Why Most Women in Pakistan Are Far Behind in Using Technology

While urban areas in Pakistan have seen a noticeable uptick in women embracing technology, rural regions lag due to concerns over online security, affordability, and cultural impediments.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) annual report noted that despite nearing 100 percent mobile penetration, there remains a significant disparity in the female uptake of mobile phones and internet usage, with existing gaps only widening.

According to official data as of September 2023, the country boasts an impressive 130 million broadband subscribers, reflecting a remarkable 110 percent growth over the last five years, and has achieved a penetration rate of 54.5 percent, compared to 29 percent recorded in 2018, indicating a huge growth potential.

Furthermore, Pakistan now has 192 million telecom subscribers, signifying a 23 percent growth over the same five-year period.

According to a 2020 ITU study, a 10 percent increase in mobile broadband penetration can lead to an impressive 2.4 percent uptick in GDP for middle and low-income countries in the Asia Pacific region, including Pakistan, surpassing the global average impact of 1.5 percent on GDP.

The digital gender gap remains a significant challenge in Pakistan. Access to mobile subscriptions, mobile ownership, and Internet usage has long been skewed in favor of men, leaving women on the fringes of the digital revolution. While the country’s digital landscape has made significant strides in recent years, with increased Internet penetration and mobile connectivity, these advancements have not been equally distributed among genders.

This divide extends to social media usage, where women continue to face barriers that hinder their participation in the online world.

Of the 123 million mobile broadband subscribers in Pakistan, only 30 million are females, making up just 24 percent of the total. The rest of the 76 percent of broadband SIMs are owned by males.

The gender gap in mobile broadband ownership narrowed down in 2022, compared to 2023, as more women registered SIMs in their names due to the introduction of MBVS for enhanced security. However, despite the current slowdown, the uptake of secure SIMs is expected to gradually increase. CMOs have committed to increasing female SIM ownership to at least 30% of their subscriber base in the near future.

Financial Inclusion

Improving women’s access to financial services is crucial for promoting digital gender inclusion. The government, notably SBP, has actively pursued financial inclusion as outlined in the National Financial Inclusion Strategy and the Gender Financial Inclusion Programme. Pakistan currently has about 106.9 million branchless banking accounts.

However, a substantial gender gap of 56% in banking account ownership persists, albeit gradually decreasing. The financial sector and allied industries are stepping up efforts to further reduce this disparity, proposing policies aimed at enhancing gender access to financial services.

A holistic strategy needs to be adopted to overcome the barriers that women encounter in accessing digital technology. The strategy should synergize national efforts to enhance digital literacy, improve affordability, increase the availability of local content, and ensure online safety while gradually changing societal norms.

Special attention must also be accorded to marginalized communities and economically disadvantaged individuals including women and persons with disabilities.

PTA requires coordinated support from a host of public and private stakeholders to effectively tackle the digital gender divide. A way forward to achieving this objective lies in holistically addressing the issue, with the government taking the lead in establishing and coordinating a mechanism that allows all stakeholders to work together cohesively and collaboratively for greater impact.

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