More Women in Tech Means a More Peaceful World
Quratulain Fatima, Co-Founder Women4PeaceTech
Pakistan ranks 148 out of 149 countries on the gender inequality index (WEF). It will take another 500 years for Pakistan to reach gender equality in this scenario (UNWomen). Women empowerment is essential to gain generational equality. Technology has emerged as a tool that can help people gain access to better economic opportunities. Unfortunately in developing countries like Pakistan, women are restricted from accessing economic opportunities due to patriarchal structures of resource allocation that manifest themselves in exclusion of women from economic opportunities. The same stands true for the gender digital divide (OECD) .
Still, the government of Pakistan, International organizations like UNWomen, and private organizations like CodeforPakistan, Womenintech, and Codegirls Karachi have been working in the tech field for women. Their focus is on workshops, hackathons etc. However, they are reaching mostly urban women, and with only 25% of women in Pakistan’s labour force (ILO), we need more hands working on every woman’s empowerment through tech.
While working as a BuildPeace Fellow on a Project involving GIS based water dispute management in arid areas of Punjab, Pakistan, I came across a surprising revelation that women were very interested in the technology and its benefits, but had little to zero access to skills to use it effectively for their own economic empowerment.
This led to the founding of Women4PeaceTech, a non profit organization where we aim to empower women to earn livelihoods through tech training. We mainly focus on rural women in Punjab, and our aim is to bring tech training to them. With this training, they can earn livelihoods from their homes, even if they face difficult mobility conditions. They can also be part of larger processes going on around them, including local peace processes. One component of our success is the fact that we go to where these women live and train them there, rather than asking them to come to urban centers (which is difficult due to cultural constraints for rural women), which is what many of the aforementioned organizations do.
The expected outcome of our work is developing digitally literate, rural women in Pakistan, who can access more income generation opportunities. This will lead to financially stable households where women can get more education, have freedom to make choices about their own reproductive and sexual health, have more financial decision making power, and become part of the movement to reduce gender inequality in Pakistan.
We aim to train 100 women on a monthly basis. We are also working to ensure that at least half of the trained women find employment and stable incomes in tech-related fields. This could lead to at least a 10 – 20% increase in total household income. We do follow-up sessions with trainees, and also help them get employment when we can.
The journey has not been easy. Due to the patriarchal, conservative nature of Pakistan’s society, it was difficult for us to convince male members of the families to let the women use mobile phones, or even computers, to access the internet. Some view the internet as evil and misleading for women, and feared that it would somehow make their women characterless. It has taken a year of program work, and many previous years of building rapport (I had already worked in the area for 10 years.), to loosen the resistance to this proposed change in their lives. But once we got a few willing families, we have been able to quickly build up the momentum, and we now have a regular stream of trainees.
One of the many worthwhile lessons that I have learnt through my journey is that change is like parenting; it is difficult, painful, and frustrating at times, but the outcome is rewarding. It has also reinforced the notion that community and stakeholder involvement is essential to succeed, especially in tech ventures, which are still new for many rural people around the world.