Issues and Challenges

Digital Literacy for Women in Today’s World

We all run to our tech savvy brother or male colleagues asking them to download or help us understand a software, make an assignment that requires digital know-how of handling big data, or fix our phone or laptop. Even if you are among those few who are unable to relate to this, I am certain that at least once in your lifetime were told that men are far better at digital and tech related stuff than women, or seen with amazement at the fact that you’re tech savvy. While absolutely denying this difference would be an overstatement, it is also true that most girls generally tend to understate their ability to employ digital skills, let alone learn them. This perception has been disseminated by the society so much that many women are attuned to believe that they cannot learn, perform or otherwise be good at tasks requiring digital skills. However, a part of this perception is certainly self-constructed where most women consider digital literacy to be an exclusive domain for men. For a minute, think of all those times when you deliberately hesitated from performing a task that required a certain digital skill to use a software to handle big data.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that digital illiteracy among women is not only a product of self-imposed gendered perceptions but is also perpetuated and amplified by the persistent gender gap in internet and mobile phone access. According to a recent estimate published by GSM Association, the gap in access to mobile phones between men and women is 51%, and 65% in access to the internet in Pakistan. A new study published by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD), titled Women Disconnected: Feminist Case Studies on the Gender Digital Divide Amidst COVID-19, reveals that six out of ten women among the research participants are restricted from the use of internet. These figures are certainly daunting. 
The above-mentioned factors have altogether created an unpleasant loop by repelling women from acquiring digital skills, depriving them of the many opportunities available in the labour market, increasing the gender wage gap, lengthening the time required to perform certain tasks and reinforcing their dependence on men. It comes as no surprise that men today dominate high-paying tech positions that require sophisticated skills while women have been confined to comparatively low-paying positions. As a matter of fact, many Pakistani women lack the very basic or foundational digital skills such as being able to search for specific information on the internet or as simple as writing an email. Nonetheless, it would be absurd to consider the existing digital gender divide and high levels of digital illiteracy among women is an unchanging state of affairs; it can and must be altered. 
Today, if the ‘new normal’ has made us realize one thing more than ever, it is that the ever-augmenting technological nature of jobs has made the acquisition of digital skills mandatory for individuals to thrive at work. Every occupation has experienced technological growth and the growing automation is likely to further digitize work.  A burgeoning amount of evidence suggests that more than 80% of jobs require candidates to know digital skills. Women can benefit from countless opportunities to generate income online as well; many women can work from home as freelancers. Not only this, digital literacy also allows individuals to significantly reduce their workload. This indicates that building digital capacities is the need of the hour for women in Pakistan. 
If you are among the lucky ones with internet access and having read this piece has stimulated you to build your digital capacities, here are a few ways that can help you earn an income even from the comfort of your home. However, you must not forget that nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Do not give up even if you initially find learning these skills tough and demanding. 
DigiSkills Training Program
DigiSkills is an online platform launched by the Ministry of Information Technology, in 2018, that provides free and certified training in freelancing, e-commerce management, digital marketing, digital literacy (training in Microsoft Officer, Internet and Email applications), AutoCAD, graphic design, search engine optimization, word press, creative writing and QuickBooks. The program aims to develop key specialized skills by imparting knowledge about various freelancing and employment opportunities available internationally and locally.
Female Empowerment through Digital Skills
This initiative taken by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board (KPITB) board aims to uplift women with digital skills in KPK or those possessing the province’s domicile. They offer both on-ground and online training in graphic design, social media marketing, blogging, content writing, WordPress design and development, and digital productivity tools. The program aims to teach digital skills to women so that they can get better jobs and build a better future for themselves. 
Opportunities Circle
Opportunities Circle is an online platform, which provides latest information about online courses (both free-of-cost and paid) that are being offered by national and foreign organizations. It focuses on helping the youth by teaching them to take advantage of opportunities like jobs, scholarships, internships, etc.  
Skills Academy 
Skills Academy is online platform that focuses on teaching skills for free. It aims to provide digital knowledge that will help learners in achieving their goals. It offers a broad range of courses and enables students to study anytime, anywhere.
Easy access and availability of digital platforms has uplifted many individuals in Pakistan but the reality remains that a large chunk of women have yet to learn digital skills. This chunk cannot benefit from the available opportunities due to lack of internet access, computer and smart phones. To fill this gap, there is a dire need for intervention on part of the government to ensure ‘internet for all’ by investing in the telecom sector. Moreover, focus needs to be laid on the impartation of expert, advanced and foundational digital skills. While this may seem a farfetched reality, it is by no means unachievable.
Moreover, all degrees, including social sciences, arts and humanities, need to include credit-hour courses that equip students with digital skills. Moreover, skills training beyond the standard computer classes should be available at primary and secondary levels to ensure that they are equitably possessed by both genders. 
Conclusively, it would not be an overstatement to contend that if women are armed with digital skills by shunning gendered perceptions or by being facilitated through the provision of required means, they would not only be able to benefit from the whole spectrum of opportunities but their influence in the 21st century’s digital economy would also know no bounds. HH

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