“Only 50 percent of Pakistani women owned a mobile phone as compared to 81 percent of men in the country. This was recorded as the widest mobile ownership gender gap amongst the countries surveyed. Even fewer had access to 3G/4G internet on their mobile phone
Digital Rights Monitor 2019 Study (Mobile gender Gap Report)
We are living in a ‘Digital Age’, yet, there still isn’t enough digital literacy or equal access to digital services in Pakistan for women. With the pandemic, came a greater reliance on digital media and devices that helped us work, communicate, learn, and even play at home. Most essential services are now rendered digitally, and guess which gender isn’t getting its fair share – you guessed it, women! It is no surprise then that the UN decided to focus on Digital Inclusion & Literacy in 2021 on The International Day of The Girl Child.
However, there is hope yet, as these 5 Pakistan women are using their digital platforms to help people overcome this divide and are actually making a difference.
On 11th October 2021, the United Nations along with several UN agencies celebrated the International Day of the Girl Child 2021. Through this year’s theme “Digital Generation. Our Generation”, the UN hopes to ignite a conversation revolving around the importance of “digital inclusion and literacy” for girls. Around 70% of girls in some parts of the world are deprived of internet services, internet literacy, and mobile devices, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). To overcome this divide, the UN wants to ensure equal access to digital devices and the internet for girls worldwide.
Due to the Covid19 pandemic, half of the world had to shift to digital platforms, either to work or study, especially during the lockdown in early 2020. This, in turn, deepened the gap for most girls who cannot afford internet services and digital devices, and also for those who don’t have access to these services altogether. These girls were naturally at a disadvantage because they had little to no access to online education.
In Pakistan, many girls had to suffer at the hands of this divide. There is dire a need to prioritize digital literacy, equal access to internet services and, digital devices, especially in today’s digital age. With that being said, there are many Pakistani women who are excelling in the digital scene, be it via digital media, digital arts, or digital technology. You name it! Here are 5 Pakistani women who we think are truly making a difference in the digital field!
1. Sania Nishtar
Sania Nishtar is currently serving as a Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection. She leads the extremely praiseworthy ‘Ehsaas program’, which mostly focuses on social protection, reducing inequality, and providing economic assistance to people living below the poverty line, among many other things.
As we all know, the pandemic has increased the demand for digital skills in employment opportunities. Keeping this in mind, Sania Nishtar is soon going to be launching the “Ehsaas Digital Hunaar program.” This program will provide 3 to 6 months long online training sessions to thousands of young people. The subjects will include “curriculum design & development; learning management system; affiliation program with academia and private institutions; training program and freelance portal.” (Source: Ehsaas Hunar Program press release).
2. Muniba Mazari
The iron lady of Pakistan, Muniba Mazari is an artist, human rights activist, motivational speaker, UN’s goodwill Ambassador, Pakistan’s first wheelchair-bound model, and the list goes on. Words fall short when talking about her. She met an accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down at just 21 years of age but, she didn’t give up. What kept her going was her love for painting which she discovered lying in her hospital bed. She came out stronger from this experience and we commend her for that!
Muniba started speaking about her experience on several platforms such as TED. Through her platform, she also motivates young girls to not give up no matter how tough life gets. Her passion for women’s rights often reflects in her social work and interviews. She was appointed as Pakistan’s first National Ambassador for UN Women for her efforts. In 2015, her name was added to BBC’s ‘Hundred Most Inspiring Women of 2015 list. It doesn’t end here, she was also on the list of Forbes’ ’30 Under 30′ in 2016.
3. Maria Umer
Maira Umer is an entrepreneur who founded the “Women’s Digital League“, an IT firm that started off by providing online training to women living in the rural areas of Pakistan. It’s also a platform that provides work-from-home employment opportunities to Pakistani women who for one reason or another, cannot step out to work. The opportunities include digital tasks such as writing, graphic design, social media management, etc for clients.
‘Women’s Digital League’ has now branched out wherein the platform provides quality online services to corporate clients. The very well reputed Forbes magazine also did a piece on Maira Umer’s ‘Digital Platform.’
4. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker and activist. Her work is largely appreciated for highlighting violence and inequality against women in Pakistani society. She has made a number of brilliant films, but if we had to choose her most famous work, it would have to be the Academy Award-winning documentary “Saving Face.” She brought home Pakistan’s first Oscar for that documentary.
Earlier this year, she announced the launch of Pakistan’s first digital platform that would solely raise and talk about problems faced by minorities living in Pakistan. The project is called “White in the Flag” which is a brilliant name if you ask us! According to its website, “the project stems from Quaid-e-Azam’s vision of creating a Pakistan that is tolerant, free, and acceptable for all. We hope it grows into a resource used by us and everyone to understand the state of minorities in our country. ” (Source: Express Tribune).
5. Nighat Dad
Nighat Dad is a lawyer who founded an advocacy NGO called the ‘Digital Rights Foundation.’ This platform aims to protect women facing violence online and “support human rights, democratic processes, and digital governance.” Their main focus is to ensure that everyone, especially women, is aware of their digital rights.
An important aspect of democracy is the right and freedom to express and in today’s ‘Digital age’, everyone should be able to exercise that right without any hindrance. Among other things, Nighat Dad, through her NGO, is also raising awareness about digital security, privacy issues, and restrictive censorship policies.
Violence against women in digital spaces is often taken as a nonserious issue, which ultimately normalizes it for the perpetrator on the other end as well as for the woman facing it. We think platforms like this are a step in the right direction, it is high time we realize that violence in digital spaces is just as bad as it is in physical spaces.
Here are 5 women that we think are truly making a difference through digital platforms in Pakistan. Share your thoughts in the comments!