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How Pakistan is promoting women and girls in ICT

In honour of International Women’s Day, ITU News talked with Anusha Rahman, Pakistan’s Minister of State for Information Technology and Telecommunication, to discuss the work being done to change the lives of women and girls with information and communication technologies (ICTs).

How are ICTs being used to empower women in Pakistan?

Being the first women ICT Minister of Pakistan, I have had a strong belief that ICTs could play a transformative role to empower the women and girls of my country. With this realization, “ICTs for Girls” a uniquely designed program had been envisioned and put in place by the Ministry of IT & Telecom, as a direct outcome of our policy objective of promoting inclusiveness and empowerment of girls/ young women to enable them contribute to and benefit from the value chain of ICTs.

This program is designed to provide access to ICT infrastructure and tools, customized ICT education for specific skill development and the job market. As part of this program, tens of thousands of girls and women from disadvantaged segments of society have been provided digital infrastructure with state of art machines in fully broadband supported environments.

Alongside the content part, Microsoft has partnered to design, develop and train teachers on the “4 Cs” for skills education including: coding, computing, coaching and communication. The graduates of this program have been registered at Microsoft’s employability platform to help them find job opportunities at their respective places.

This is hailed as high impact program by providing opportunities of learning and earning for young girls and women from poorest segments of society.

What are the challenges and opportunities for women and girls in ICTs? And what actions have you taken to support women in the field?

ICTs are an emerging sector in Pakistan. With our Ministry’s intense endeavors for digitalization, in the last four years, internet penetration has jumped from less than 2% to over 30% with broadband subscribers around 50 million.

This development presents numerous opportunities for girls and women to tap into this potential of opportunities leveraging the power of ICTs. As like other countries, women here face challenges of glass ceilings, in equitable opportunities for learning and earning. To enable them overcoming these challenges, we have made numerous endeavors to provide equal opportunities to girls and women.

Besides the ICTs for Girls program as mentioned above, we have allocated a special quota of 30% for women entrepreneurs in our chain of National Incubation centers established at Islamabad and four provincial metro areas. These women entrepreneurs are making significant strides in converting their ideas into commercial products. Many of these women-led startups have gained international attention like “Rising Mom” etc.

What has the Country of Pakistan has accomplished for women in ICT?

In a country where a little over 50% of population is women, it is critical to have women shape our country’s future in information and communication technologies. There are working women with backgrounds in engineering in Pakistan but the male-to-female ratio in this field is not at a desired level. It impacts our nation socio-economically to have such a significant portion of our population not contributing to its development.

The government and partners such as “Women Engineering Pakistan” are working to help women in Engineering and encouraging young girls to pursue their dreams of being STEM students.

In addition, “Girls in ICT Day” events have been taking place in many schools and colleges around Pakistan to help girls get involved in careers in ICTs. The ICTs for Girls program’s phase II for 226 schools of Islamabad, which provided state of art Digital Labs and customized 4C-based training by Microsoft, is a major endeavor in mainstreaming young girls in ICTs. I truly hope that our new generation of female ICT professionals will pave the way for Pakistan where women stand shoulder-to-shoulder in ICTs.

What does the future for women look like for women in technology?

I have a strong belief that it is in the interest of companies and governments to help women advance in technology industry because women offer a fresh perspective on product design, ways of working, risk taking and many other aspects of business. The Government of Pakistan has a pivotal focus on this very aspect.

With this in view, numerous endeavors are in place around the whole ecosystem to mainstream the women in technology to harness their true potential for a growing and prosperous Pakistan. That includes scaling up the ICTs for Girls program in schools, allocating 30% quota for young interns in IT Sector, and primed focus for girls and women in One Million Freelancers Digital Skills program. All these endeavors are in place to provide rightful employment and earning opportunities for girls and women through the use of technology.

Anusha Rahman is the Minister of State for Information Technology and Telecommunication, Pakistan.

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