By Quratulain Fatima
ISLABAMAD, Dec 20 2019 (IPS) - It will take around 100 years for the world to reach gander parity according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 just published by World Economic Forum.
Evidence indicates that climate change and inequality are directly related. This link manifests itself in increased poverty and food insecurity through rising number of droughts and water related problems.
Water and ICT’s seemed like world apart from in 2017 when I discovered first hand how technology can be used to facilitate water disputes in Pakistan. The community I work with had long standing water disputes.
Facilitators for dispute resolution at most times had no data on what worked and did not work in resolving conflicts in the area. Tech helped us to bring women and men to the table and learn from their stories to act as better dispute resolution facilitators.
That intervention led to the establishment of Women4PeaceTech, a platform that aims to decrease gender inequality and empower women through technology based trainings for economic empowerment while contributing towards sustainable peace.
While I was researching models for a women and tech platform, I came across very few such organizations or platforms available to women – especially in developing countries. This situation reflects the existing absence of women in the tech field.
According to the ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), ICT Facts and Figures 2017 , the proportion of women using the Internet is 12% lower than the proportion of men using the Internet worldwide. In least developed countries this drops to only 5% women compared to 7% of men.
Statistics show that the number of tech based jobs has increased but the number of women in tech has decreased since 1980. All over the world the number of women in tech is low, so much so women ratio is only one in five of global startup founders. Women lag behind in jobs in almost all ICT industries all over the world.
In developing countries like Pakistan where gender inequality is already pronounced, women in tech remain a very small percentage. Although the Pakistan government has put in place programs like ICT for Girls and women entrepreneurs their reach and access is still very limited to urban areas only.
Yet the potential impact of women in tech is great: Evidence from the International Peace Institute suggests that economically empowered women lead to more peaceful societies. In developing countries, where women mobility is somewhat restricted due to gender inequality issues, working in tech and online platforms can provide women a source of income from the safety of their homes.
Research conducted in 31 countries by Accenture found that when men and women have the same level of digital fluency — defined as the extent to which they embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected, and effective — women are better at using those digital skills to gain more education and to find work. Findings also suggest that digital fluency help women find and stay in their jobs, it also improves their chances to excel at education.
When women get the opportunities to change their perspectives and access to avenues through ICTs, their economic empowerment impact a whole set of factors even in informal settings. For example, in Rwanda, some 3,500 women farmers are now connected through mobile technology to information, markets and finance.
In India women are creating businesses with impact from their homes using digital platforms. Movements against harassment and violence have started from the internet and have empowered women to speak their truth impacting societal change.
However, to improve gender equality in tech and entrepreneurship, we need to plan and design for it. Men still continue to use digital technologies more frequently than women and are more proactive in learning new digital skills.
This can be partly attributed to how our education systems are designed that discourage women from STEM as well as to access to opportunities to learn digital skills for women. Women must be encouraged to improve their digital skill set. Training and online courses can be a very good avenue for learning new digital skills.
Programmes that are designed to attract startups must specifically target women's inclusion in them. Tech initiatives should aim at creating more and more spaces for women where they can develop digital skills especially for economic empowerment, identify their own potential to lead and learn about available opportunities.
Especially in developing countries, governments should take lead in creating digital training platforms for women that not only reach urban women but also empower rural women. This should be complemented by gender inclusive ICT policies at the government level that ensure women and girls affordable access to digital technologies.
Women startups should be encouraged and financed for success on priority. Women mentors in digital world must be made visible and accessible to women learning digital skills.
Local initiatives can play a very important role in digital training of women. Local campaigns to create awareness and interest of available digital literacy opportunities can go a long way in empowering women.
Despite its promise of vast opportunities , the tech world remains a male arena. If we want to create a peaceful and equal world for all then we need to open the arena to all.
Flight Lieutenant Quratulain Fatima is Cofounder Women4PeaceTech and a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow.
Follow her on Twitter, @moodee_q.