Class, geography determine internet access for Pakistani women
Families of half the respondents of a survey in Pakistan consider it bad or have concerns about women using the internet, a report by a Pakistani digital rights NGO has said.
“Women Disconnected: Feminist Case Studies on the Gender Digital Divide Amidst COVID-19” has been published by Media Matters for Democracy. It discusses findings on women’s access to internet in Pakistan across income and age groups, and geographical location.
The report found that 4 in 10 respondents use the internet every day. Half of those who use the internet daily belong to families with over 60,000 monthly incomes. Seven in 10 of those who do not use the internet belong to families with below 30,000 monthly incomes.
A significant majority, over 8 in 10 of those who said that they did not use the internet belonged to South Waziristan. The report said that discriminatory policies, combined with political and safety concerns, have resulted in a lack of infrastructural access.
A total of 76% respondents said that the internet is either beyond the reach of the average person or is a bit expensive.
Majority of the families who consider women’s use of the internet bad are those with less than 50, 000 monthly incomes. Six in 10 respondents face restriction from their families when using the internet. Restrictions are related to time spent online or the purpose of internet use. One in 10 has to share account and usage details with elders and men in the family.
Eight in 10 said that their need to use internet increased during the COVID-19.
The report includes three case studies. “On the Peripheries, the Cost of Gender Divide is a Woman’s Life”, explains the relationship of internet access with women’s health, development infrastructure, etc, in Waziristan.
“The Pakistan Army-run Special Communication Organization (SCO) is the dominant provider of telecommunication service in the peripheral region of the country since 1976…Given the monopoly and lack of competition, the quality of service remains low and mobile-based 3G/4G services remain unavailable,” it said.
The second case study is “Uneven Experiences: The Digital Divide for Women in Marginalised Communities of the Federal Capital”. It uses personal experiences of women regarding internet use for professional, educational and leisure purposes. It also spoke about “digital purdah” or surveillance of women and their internet use by their families.
The third case study “Chadar and Char Deewari meet Classrooms and COVID-19: the Gender Digital Divide and Women’s Experiences of Online Education”, dealt with women’s experiences amid the pandemic.
The report is based on the survey of 115 people, of which most respondents, 39.9%, are from Punjab, 36.2% respondents were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 12.2% from Sindh, 8.9% respondents from the capital territory of Islamabad, 2.3% from Azad Jammu & Kashmir, and one from Balochistan.
Almost 1 in 2 respondents (53.5%) belonged to the age group of 20-25 years.
The report concluded, among other things, that an increase in the adoption of internet and technology has not helped bridge the digital divide across class and gender.
You can read the full report here.