Breaking down the Gender Digital Divide: Overcoming Inequalities in Accessing and Using ICT

The current trend towards the digital divide in the globalization era is regarded widely as Glass Ceiling. This digital divide comes to us as the result of existing power relations in society, and it determines: who is the beneficiary, who shapes the content, who develops and who uses information and communication technology (ICT).

Kofi Annan, the late United Nations secretary general, illustrated the digital divide as several gaps in one frame. The first gap is a technological divide, which determines the gaps in infrastructure. The second gap is a content divide, referring to web-based information that is most likely not relevant to people’s needs (like the fact that 59 percent of the world’s websites are in English). Last and foremost is the gender divide: the fact that women and girls access less through information technology than men and boys because of different needs and controls between the sexes. 

Here we specifically discuss the digital gender divide as the main point to note. In 2021, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported that “the global internet user gender gap found the difference between the Internet user penetration rates for males and females relative to the Internet user penetration rate for males was 16 percent”. In Asia, Internet penetration rates are 45 percent for women and 52 percent for men. In Pakistan, According to Data Reportal Reports (2023) that the Internet penetration rate for women was 28 percent and for men it was 72 percent. These statistics indicate that there is still less awareness among women about engaging in ICT compared to men. Hence, closing the digital gender gap is crucial, as it is not only a moral imperative, but also a significant opportunity for growth in today’s digital economy. 

Regarding the digital gender divide, the World Bank reported that women’s and men’s access and use of technology is rooted in behavioral, cultural and religious traditions. Such traditions result in a gap in participation, control over resources, access to education and access to the public arena. In terms of participation, cultural and social attitudes are often unfavorable to women’s participation in the fields of science and technology, which limits their opportunities in ICT. Moreover, women are often financially dependent on men and do not have control over economic resources, which makes accessing ICT services more difficult. Access and the allocation of resources for education and training often favor boys and men, creating structural inequalities in literacy and education.

In addition, secluding women from the public arena makes access to the tech community difficult. These factors contribute to gender inequality and gender digital gap. The lack of women accessing ICT is shaped by their social or financial situation. 

The success of any leadership performance cannot be negated by the existence of so called leadership development practices to adjust and to accelerate followers learning. Anna Marie Valerio, the American author of “Developing Women Leaders: A Guide for Men and Women in Organizations”, proposes three leadership development practices: coaching, mentoring and a challenging job assignment. Interestingly, WomenInTechPK warmly welcomes Pakistani women from every corner of the world belonging to the technology sector. Their community not only aims to foster a bond of trust, but also offers advisory support to anyone joining them. This is a platform to share your stories, problems, exchange ideas and views, network, share and access opportunities and forge meaningful and empowering alliances, which create positive professional and social impact.

Male domination within Pakistan society is openly acknowledged by Ali, T.S., Ali, S.S., Nadeem, S. et al. (2022). The report argues that this is happening in Pakistan because science, technology, engineering and mathematics are considered “men’s domain”. They also mentioned that Gender discrimination is deeply rooted in the Pakistani society. To prevent gender discrimination, the entire society, especially women should be educated and gendered sensitized to improve the status of women in Pakistan. 

we should realize that it most probably correlates to leadership impacts on empowerment. Empowerment closely aligns with leadership elements delegation, in which leaders give tasks to followers to delegate. In essence, leadership is more task based, while empowerment is more authority and decision based. 

One framework to examine empowerment was introduced by Sara Hlupekile Longwe, a gender and development expert in Zambia. Her framework aims to reveal women empowerment and equality in practice, and to critically assess to what extent development intervention is supporting this empowerment. In this regard, Longwe’s framework can be used to examine the success of Women in Technology in Pakistan in enhancing Women equality in terms of control, participation, conscientiousness, access and welfare collated to ICT use. Hence, there should be a focus on education that promotes girl’s engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Furthermore, government of Pakistan and enterprises also need to be more proactive in supporting the participation of women in the ICT work force. However, the activities of “Women in Technology” in Pakistan are confined around some specific areas, and thus its activities are focused on few major cities. Since it employs digital technology to empower and engage more women, its program should expand to other cities such as the capital city of Balochistan, Quetta.

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