ict women pakistan

Written by Sarah Faraz 12:44 pm Pakistan, Published Content, Research Papers

The Role of ICT in Shaping the Future of Women and Achieving SDGs in Pakistan

Information and Communication Technology has revolutionized the globe with its far-reaching implications in every sector. It can provide a unique opportunity to strategically address the sustainability goals and ensure a sustainable, healthy and equitable future. Sarah Faraz foresees the utility of ICT in not only achieving the SDGs but also raising the standards of living for women in Pakistan. She also discusses the benefits that will be secured by the application of ICT in solving water, sanitation and energy problems, and using the digital space for telemedicine and remote education.
About the Author(s)
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Ms Sarah Faraz is a Political Science graduate from Kinnaird College for Women.

Introduction

Information and communication technologies are a set of tools that are employed for the transmission, storage, creation and sharing of information. These tools have revolutionized telecommunication methods and techniques via using modern computers, cell phones and internet software etc.

The industrial revolution that started in Great Britain in the late 1700s evolved through the centuries. Development of transport infrastructure, use of science and mass production were the results of its earlier waves (Trailhead, n.d.). However, the industrial revolution has stepped into its fourth wave of digitization in the 21st century and like the earlier waves, it is likely to stay and move beyond digitization into digitalization.

Digitization can be understood as a genuine analogue to the digital conversion of information that previously had a physical form i.e., book or file. This information now has a digital footprint and is not only easily transferable but accessible too. Beyond digitization comes digitalization that practically uses digital data to generate revenue via digital technology to collect data, establish trends and make better business decisions.

This also helps to spread the business beyond borders and increase its customer/market reach (Truqcapp, n.d.). ICT is sometimes closely and sometimes vaguely related to the SDGs. They are a set of 17 priority areas for the sustainable development of states, with sub-indicators and a mechanism for achieving goals by 2030.

The goals for sustainable development are the successor to the millennium development goals (MDGs); however, unlike the MDGs, this agenda of 2030 presents a much wider scope for peaceful and inclusive societies. SDGs target human security issues such as poverty, inequality and climate change etc. These goals specifically target women and emphasize their role in a sustainable future.

Women are directly or indirectly referred to in all 17 goals as shown in research by UN Women regarding women and sustainable development goals. These researches showcase how women are affected by each 17 proposed areas and are key to achieving each of these goals.

Literature Review

Al Jayyousi (2017) explains the benefits of technology as a means of enhancing efficiency, connectivity and access to resources and services. Going a step ahead, OECD (2012) refers to information technology as a full range of electronic techniques that are used to manage information and knowledge for one’s own benefit.

ICT, however, is categorized as new and old by the United Nations ICT taskforce (2003) which regards radio, television and telephone as old ICT and computers, mobile phones and satellites as new ICT. Adamali and Safdar (2006) while understanding the link between SDGs and ICT note that the latter can help build synergy among the former goals not only to realize multiple possible benefits but also to collectively avoid barriers in achieving the SDGs.

Bello (2014) argues that ICT has significantly contributed to the nation’s gross domestic product of developing states since it helps to address the prevalent digital divide, reduce poverty levels, and enhance the country’s economic growth. This view is also shared by Crede and Mansell (1998) who regard technology as a crucial factor for sustainable development.

Similarly, Afta and Ismail (2015) believe that ICT creates more jobs and opportunities to increase access to finance, and improve health and agricultural performance. ICT and SDGs report (2015) emphasize that ICT has immense potential to speed up and scale or increase the rate of diffusion of a very wide range of cutting-edge technologies, applications and platforms across the economy, helping low-income countries to leapfrog to achieve key development milestones while contributing to a growth economy.

Significantly, it can also dramatically reduce the costs of service delivery. The report further points out that ICT will be key in accelerating the achievement of sustainable development goals in Africa in the following five ways;

  1. Accelerated upscaling of critical services in health, education, financial services, smart agriculture, and low-carbon energy systems.
  2. Reduced deployment costs addressing urban and rural realities.
  3. Enhanced public awareness and engagement.
  4. Innovation, connectivity, productivity and efficiency across many sectors.
  5. Faster upgrading in the quality of services and jobs
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Creating Synergy between Women, SDGs and ICT

The SDGs are both isolated and co-related goals of development that share a unique relationship with each other. The connection forged between them is that of co-benefit (University of Michigan, 2020). Take, for example, goal 5, which is more famously known as a stand-alone goal but is intricately associated with a relationship of co-benefit with other goals.

Achieving gender equality would ensure the provision and access to both education and health on equal footing. Adjusting women and ICT in this paradigm would again forge a similar relationship of co-benefit.

As previously mentioned, SDGs are a group of 17 goals targeting different key areas and a larger target audience including men, women and children of all ages throughout the world. With regard to the use of ICT to meet sustainability goals, the following specific goals are identified that would be of most eminent concern for women.

Goal 1. No Poverty
1.4By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance.    
Goal 2. No Hunger
2.4By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and progressively improve land and soil quality.
Goal 3. Health and Well-being
3.8    

3.9b
Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential healthcare services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.

Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries.
Goal 4. Quality Education
4.3  

4.4
By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.

By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.
Goal 5. Gender Equality
5.2

5.6a  


5.6b
Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres.

Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership.

Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women.
Goal 6. Clean water and Sanitation
6.2By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
Goal 8. Economic Growth
8.10Strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions to encourage and expand access to banking, insurance and financial services for all.
Goal 16. Peace and Justice
16.10Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.

ICT to Help Achieve SDGs and Improve the Status of Women in Pakistan

ICT is referred to as a catalytic driver to enable the achievement of SDGs. It does so by contributing to the creation of an environment that is conducive to entertaining innovation. These advances in technology will foster strategic partnerships and thus become a key driver for the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development (Bogdan-Martin, 2017).

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Following is an analysis of how ICT can be employed to attain the SDGs outlined above, and how will it contribute to the development of Pakistani women.

Goal 1: No poverty

Poverty is defined by UNO as a living condition when a person is earning less than $1.90 per day. With regard to women, sub-goal 1.4 talks about ensuring equal access to resources, opportunities and services to all. In 2018, 12.9% of women compared to 10.6% of men faced poverty (Robin Bleiweis, 2020). Women being dependent on their male family members to earn and feed them, remain poor because of no opportunities to earn for themselves.

As per an estimate by UNDP, the poverty gender gap increased from 2.7 to 9.1 in the year 2021 (UNDP, 2020). Poverty in Pakistan comes with the risk of gender discrimination and gender-based violence. As found in the report by UN Women, poor families tend to marry off their young girls sooner coupled with a complete halt on their education.

ICT can be the driver to uplift the economic well-being of a family. It can do so by providing new means of income via the digital space, helping in the easy and quick access to services such as health, food and education, opening new opportunities for employment as well as enabling business space.

Goal 2: No Hunger

SDG goal 2 is about sustainable food production and the implementation of resilient agricultural practices in sub-goal 2.4 that would increase crop yield and end the menace of hunger. Furthermore, sub-goal 2.5 (a) also talks about the implementation of technology and research in agricultural methods.

Although farming is considered a male-dominated field, UN Women finds that 20% of the world’s farms are owned by women. Furthermore, 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries is also women. Additionally, ending hunger does not restrict to increasing the supply of food but also increasing the supply of nutrients consumed in the food.

In the 2021 Global Hunger Index, Pakistan ranked 92nd out of the 116 countries that highly impact its women population, both working on farms and those staying at home (Global Hunger Index, 2021). ICT can help to reduce hunger and increase food security by giving farmers direct access to market information, weather forecasts, planting, harvesting and targeted irrigation advice, logistics and storage supply chain support.

Goal 3: Good Health

Sub-goal 3.8 talks about the provision of universal health coverage coupled with quality essential health services, affordable medicines etcetera. Apart from universal coverage, women especially those from rural areas are denied basic health care, primarily because of the taboo around their mobility, the absence of rural health care centers and female nursing staff.

According to statistics, maternal mortality in Pakistan is among the worst in the region with 276 deaths per 100000 live births (UNFPA, 2020). The statistics are even worse when it comes to female infant mortality in Pakistan. This is best explained in the maternal nutrition cycles given in Pakistan’s Maternal Nutrition strategy 2022.

ICT can help achieve universal health care by remotely connecting patients with the health care staff, telemedicine and online information for the public to ensure early diagnoses of disease. In this regard, digital media played a commendable job in Pakistan to spread the message of breast cancer campaigns run by Pink Ribbon which substantially increased the no. of early detection cases of the disease.

Goal 4: Quality Education

SDG 4 talks not only about access to education for all but also about skill-based education leading to employment. It specifically refers to the provision of equal opportunities for education for all including women. Sub-goal 4.3 talks about the provision of technical education while goal 4.4 talks about technical skills. This goal also shares a relationship of co-benefit with goals 5 and 8.

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According to the World Bank Statistics, Pakistan is performing poorly in the female-only literacy indicators when compared with other South Asian countries. ICT can not only improve the indicators but also empower women in the country by ensuring their access to learning.

Goal 5: Gender Equality

As previously mentioned, Goal 5 is known as a stand-alone goal since it single-handedly works to achieve all other women-related SDG goals. As per UN Women, out of 195 countries, 143 have formally made gender-based equality part of their constitutions, while only a minority of 52 states have taken no such steps.

Gender equality is a far-reaching goal which includes under its ambit equality of life, education, health, employment etcetera. Pakistan is among the worst-performing countries in gender-based indicators. According to the 2022 Gender Gap Index, Pakistan ranked 145 out of 146, the second worst in South Asia.

It stands at 135 in economic participation and opportunities, 95 in health and survival and 145 in political empowerment (World Economic Forum, 2022). ICT can enhance gender equality and gender empowerment, allowing women and girls to access information of importance with expanding their reach to markets, businesses, education, health and much more.

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Goal 6.2 is access to clean water and sanitation with a special focus on girls and women. Inadequate sanitation and hygiene put women’s health and survival at risk during pregnancy and childbirth. Girls may drop out of school or suffer psychological stress because of the lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities in their communities.

Globally, they spend an estimated 200 million hours collecting water every day. In addition to placing them at risk of violence and harassment, spending time on water collection can prevent girls from attending school and limit women’s ability to engage in other productive activities (Relief Web, 2020).

ICT would assist in water management, water infrastructure, famine/flood forecasting, maintenance and optimized operationalization of water sanitation projects. It would also assist in registering complaints regarding water availability. Women would greatly benefit since it would save their time and save their life from waterborne diseases.

Goal 8: Economic Growth

SDG goal 8 talks about fostering economic growth. Achieving this goal would mean ensuring decent work opportunities for all, equitable wages depending upon the work and not the gender, safety at the workplace, protection against discrimination and prospects for future economic growth. This goal is immensely important to raise the stature of women in Pakistan because economic independence is the key to women’s empowerment.

In Pakistan, however, the status of women in the economy is grim. The Gender Gap Index places Pakistan at 135 out of 146 in terms of economic participation. Women are majorly unemployed, and those who are employed work in low-paying jobs or as unpaid employees. Having hovered around 10 percent for over 20 years, female labor force participation (FLFP) in urban Pakistan is among the lowest in the world.

ICT can be an impetus to enhance the women labor force in Pakistan. This is because digitization has changed the way businesses were run. Furthermore, ICT skills have generated more jobs for women in various sectors and have eased the way of business ownership and employment opportunities.

Goal 16: Peace and Justice

Achieving the goal of peaceful and inclusive societies and justice for all would require the implementation of the rule of law, protection of rights and end of discrimination. With respect to women, it would additionally mean the end of all forms of violence and discriminatory practices against women.

Sub-goal 16.10 refers to ensuring public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements. Unfortunately, women in Pakistan are seldom in decision-making positions.

In the political domain, women remain considerably dependent on male parliamentarians to translate women-related bills into law. ICT can achieve goal 16.10 by making information regarding fundamental human rights accessible to all.

Conclusion

From the analysis made in this research paper, a number of conclusions can be made. Firstly, ICT offers a number of opportunities to achieve sustainability goals in their true essence. It does so by offering digital space, digital technology, AI software and digital tools. Secondly, SDGs enjoy a strong relationship of co-benefit among themselves and also forge a robust relationship with ICT. Women being intrinsic beneficiaries of SDGs are also directly or indirectly affected by this relationship.

References


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