Issues and Challenges

Digital Skills for Rural Women in Pakistan: A Roadmap to Economic Empowerment

October 15th  was declared the International Day of Rural Women in 2007, by the UN General Assembly to emphasize upon the significance and role of rural women everywhere. In Pakistan, majority of the population lives in rural areas where women’s empowerment and gender equality remains in a sad state. However, proactive role of rural women is a necessity in bringing about fundamental societal, economic, and political changes for the fulfillment of sustainable development goals. Empowering women is crucial for the welfare of individuals, families, rural communities and economic development. This day is celebrated to highlight women’s tenacity and achievements in the progress of rural communities despite facing difficulties and prejudicial attitudes.
Despite women making up 48.76% of the total population of Pakistan, women constitute only a small share of the labor force. Pakistan has the lowest rate of female entrepreneurship in the world, with only 1% of female entrepreneurs compared to 21% of male entrepreneurs. Pakistan’s female labor force participation percentage is also much lower than that of other nations with comparable economic levels. However, one trouble with this is that rural women who work at all levels of the rural economy are not documented, or paid. Women are less likely than males to use mobile internet in Pakistan, making it one of the countries with glaring gender disparities in the mobile usage. Less technological awareness, deficient literacy abilities and a lack of perceived relevance are some of the hurdles in empowering women. Harnessing the untapped potential of women is essential for the revival of Pakistan’s stagnant economy. 
Challenges for Rural Women
Women’s movement outside the house is limited by several interrelated variables, including social, cultural, and religious values. Housework and childcare responsibilities frequently prevent women from working outdoors. Marriage is a normative barrier in rural areas and there seems to be a growing correlation between female labor force participation (FLFP) levels and marital status.
Public Initiatives towards Digitization of Rural Women
The Digital Literacy Program was designed during the pandemic with the support of UN Women, in 2021. Under the L’Oréal Fund for Women x CIRCLE Digital Literacy Program, launched in March 2022, 1,680 women in 30 cities across Pakistan have been trained to date with more to come, as it is an ongoing mission to reach the target of training 5,000 women all over Pakistan by the end of 2022.
Through Khushaal Aangan IVR service for rural women and the platform’s incorporation of the GSMA’s Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT), Telenor Pakistan has also been attempting to empower women in the digitalization skills. Pakistan Vision of 2025 by the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform encapsulates the need to focus on the rural areas, especially targeting the female population. It also seeks a just and equitable society in Pakistan, where vulnerable and marginalized segments of the society would be mainstreamed. The Pakistani government is dedicated to the cause of women’s equality. Pakistan Vision 2025 is in line with UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework Results Framework for Pakistan (UNSDCF), which is the framework for sustainable development cooperation.
However, more needs to be done to increase women’s access to digital technology, especially in rural or tribal regions, and it has to be done on a larger scale. The Ministry of Education must work with educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, and community-based groups to develop a plan about digital training for both male and female students.
The Three Tiers of Digital Skills for Rural Women
For effective implementation of a strategy for knowledge expansion, an awareness drive must be applied at all levels and the categorization is listed below:
Individual Level
• They should be self-efficient to opt for the technological advantage
• Self-awareness among women can eventually transform their living experience
• Women should acquire education as it is the key component to reach the required digital skillset
• Rural men must acknowledge and realize the necessity of women empowerment 
• Digital skills nurture confidence and self-empowerment among women of rural areas
National Level
• Pakistan’s government must introduce and implement gender-based policies for enhancing digital skills of rural women
• Regular series of trainings and sessions should be arranged for the rural women in order to educate them about the utility of digital technologies and economic independence. 
• Access to internet availability is the main hurdle for rural women. There should be free distribution of digital devices after completion of trainings in order to support and change their quality of living.
• Through free internet, women can flourish through e-commerce to sell their indigenous products online.
• More investment must be made in rural areas where investors are attracted and eventually give equal participation chances for women in workforce.
• Guiding in their regional language to eliminate the language barrier issue and engage local educated young girls to help women prosper.
International Level
• Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and other social media digital platforms should indigenize their services into regional languages
• Cyber security knowledge must be circulated through international channels of NGOs, social media drive, video content with sessions on it by UN, World Bank Group and other women empowerment organizations across the globe
• Monitoring and call center system must be installed by digital platforms to assist rural women globally
• To ensure accountability, international organizations must exercise their plan of action and implement their women funded initiatives, which will eventually increase interest, confidence, and new discourses for them
Nowadays, social and business sectors have either gone entirely online or partially shifted to digital forms of operataionalization. Pakistan must integrate women in the domains of information technology to compete on a global scale. Pakistan’s economic progress will lag if the  women are not immediately provided access to digital technology and training. To better prepare future generations with the necessary information and skills, digitalization should be introduced into the curricula. Many female graduates from Pakistan struggle to obtain work since their education and training is outdated. Many people lack access to digital gadgets, internet or are ignorant of freelance opportunities. HH

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