ICT for Girls Programme in Pakistan: Unlocking the potential of women and girls through ICT skills
Pakistan Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT)
Central and Southern Asia
Access, Coding, Digital literacy, Disadvantaged socio-economic contexts, Teachers, Private sector, Skills development
Career counselling and professional development, Formal education and school contexts, Non-formal education and extracurricular contexts, Teacher training
Pakistan has one of the highest gender gaps in both mobile phone ownership (37% gap in 2017) and internet use (43% gap in 2017) according to the World Economic Forum. As a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the country is committed to delivering on SDG 5, aimed at achieving “gender equality and empowering all women and girls”, including target 5.b which promotes the empowerment of women through technology.
Over the last five years, Pakistan has taken significant strides to develop initiatives that will address the gender gap in the use of digital technologies. These have often been elaborated in partnerships between the government, international companies and civil society organisations. This agenda was particularly championed by the Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) from 2013-2018, Anusha Rahman Khan, who personally supported a series of initiatives designed to give girls the skills to be able to participate in an increasingly digital economy.
In 2015, the MoITT initiated the first major ICT for Girls Programme through the country’s Universal Service Company (USF Co). The programme included the provision of hardware and training on the four Cs (Communication, Creativity, Collaboration and Critical Thinking) in 120 Women’s Empowerment Centres (WECs) maintained by the Pakistan Bait ul Mal (PBM).
It aimed to train 10,000 girls from underprivileged backgrounds every year on the four Cs, basic ICTs and coding skills to help them pursue livelihoods and help support their families through digital pathways. Each WECs was to be equipped with a lab of 20 computers and ancillary equipment, with course content and training for teachers being provided by Microsoft through their operating system and the use of MS Office applications. The first phase was initiated as a partnership between PBM, the USF Co and Microsoft, and began in 50 WECs spread across the country.
A second programme has been introduced more recently in Islamabad in partnership with the Federal Directorate of Education, through which 226 schools have been provided with ICT Model Labs. In addition to the equipment, 202 teachers have also been placed at these institutions, trained by Microsoft under the Train the Trainer program on 21st Century Super Skills. This initiative aims to enable over 110,000 girls studying in Islamabad to be computer literate to a standard equivalent to that available elsewhere in the world.
Partners of the ICT for Girls programmes have been the Federal Directorate of Education, PBM, the USF Co and Microsoft. More recent global corporate partners involved in these initiatives have been Facebook and Huawei. Facebook, for example, has trained master trainers through their landmark training programme “She Means Business,” a course designed around empowering women. Similarly, UN Women has also contributed with a training programme for master trainers designed to enable women to discover their inner potential and put it to use in their everyday lives.
The initial importance of this initiative was recognised by ITU and UN Women who awarded in 2015 then Minister Anusha Rahman Khan a GEM-Tech Global Achievers award for her work in enhancing the role of women in the sector and enabling women in general to benefit from ICT.
An initial impact analysis of the initiative in the WECs was undertaken in 2018-2019 to provide evidence upon which to consider rolling out the programme more widely. The analysis was based on responses from 2,664 girls and young women and 73 teachers. It showed that 73% of girls and young women benefitted “immensely” from their training.
The programme had also introduced centres in many different parts of the country, with 50 in Punjab, 29 in Sind, 24 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 16 in Baluchistan and 1 in the Federal Capital. Interestingly, the majority (87%) of girls and young women were first time users, with 60% having a personal computer or smartphone at home, although 73% did not have internet access at home.
Girls felt that the training made particular impact to their access to information, confidence and education. Areas in which they learned the most were basic (28%) and advanced (25%) IT skills, followed by operating systems (19%) and programming languages (17%). They considered that the training was key to performing jobs (37%) and teaching (32%).
Many lessons have been learned from these programmes, including the:
Importance of having an engaging champion for such initiatives
Value of partnerships whereby the private sector can share expertise and contribute resources
Need for ensured infrastructure, especially internet connectivity and reliable electricity
Desirability of having certification from an accredited institution so that girls can have proof of their new skills
Need for specialised assistive technologies for girls with disabilities or particular learning needs
Desirability of having additional peripheral technologies such as projectors or interactive whiteboards to enable teachers to explain
Value of incentives, such as giving the best student a laptop upon completing the course
Importance of governments’ will to committing resources for the development of girls’ and women’s digital skills.
EQUALS Global Partnership. 2019. I’d blush if I could: Closing gender divides in digital skills through education. Paris: UNESCO.
International Telecommunications Union (ITU). 2015. Pakistan’s ICTs for Girls programme to help train 5000 girls. ITU Digital Inclusion Newslog: 9 December 2015.
ITU. 2018. Universal service fund empowers Pakistani girls in ICT to strive in the digital economy. ITU Digital Inclusion Newslog: 12 March 2018.