Digital technology & women's labour.

ONLY 52 per cent of adult Pakistani women own a mobile phone and Pakistan has one of the widest mobile gender gaps in the region. Women are 49pc less likely than men to use mobile internet, and according to some studies, nearly six in 10 women face some sort of restrictions in using the internet. Clearly, there is a large gender digital divide, and it has been receiving increasing attention in the past few years. But why is this so? Why is it necessary to bridge the digital divide and what can we achieve on the back of greater digital inclusion of women?

The attention to gender gap in digital inclusion owes to the pervasiveness of digital technologies across a multitude of sectors: education, health, labour and financial markets to name just a few - a trend that has only accelerated post-Covid. Gaps in digital access, then, create new inequalities, while also amplifying existing ones. Lacking access to the digital space means reduced opportunities to network and connect, to learn new skills and hone existing ones, to branch out and realise new avenues of increased earnings; to obtain credit, save, and attract customers, domestic and abroad. In fact, the UN in 2016 recognised the internet and access to it as a catalyst for the enjoyment of human rights, including but not limited to the right to freedom of expression which is a fundamental right on its own but also an enabler of other rights like economic, social and educational rights. Indeed, when leveraged correctly, technology has great potential for economic and social empowerment.

When it comes to the labour market, we know that women fare significantly worse than men in terms of economic participation and opportunity: a fact underscored almost yearly through the WEF Global Gender Gap Report which consistently ranks Pakistan amongst the lowest on this sub-index. There are several factors at the institutional, societal and individual household levels that lead to Pakistan's underperformance vis-a-vis women's formal labour force participation levels. A main contributor is the high reproductive burden combined with mobility restrictions. So is the lack of safe transport and a hostile public space and workspace that links back to women's defined roles as caretakers belonging in the household and not at work. In our cumulative two decades of gendered research in Pakistan, women from all manner of backgrounds have repeatedly highlighted both the close monitoring they face in terms of their...

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