ICT4D: mainstreaming the marginalised in Pakistan

Workshop 2It was great to be back in Islamabad to participate in the second two-day workshop organised by the Inter-Islamic Network on Information Technology and COMSATS Institute of Information Technology with the assistance of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, and held on 5th and 6th October.  It was fascinating to see the progress that has been made in Pakistan since the first such workshop that we convened in January 2016,  particularly in terms of policy making, awareness, and entrepreneurial activity.  It was also very good to see such a diverse group of participants, including academics, entrepreneurs, civil society activities, government officials, and representatives of bilateral donors engaging in lively discussions throughout both days about how best we can turn rhetoric into reality.

Following the official opening ceremony, there were seven main sessions spread over two days:

  • shahUnderstanding the ICT4D landscape, in which the main speaker was Dr. Ismail Shah, the Chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority
  • The road to facilitation: financial technologies for the marginalised, with a plenary given by Qasif Shahid (FINJA) about making payments frictionless, free and real time.
  • Addressing the digital gender gap, at which the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D spoke about why this is a pressing concern, and it gave a chance for him to tdiscusst the new UN-led EQUALS initiative for gender equality in a digital age, as well as some of the challenges that face women in using ICTs (slide deck).
  • No tech to low tech to high tech: an entrepreneur’s tale, with a plenary by Muhammad Nasrulla (CEO INTEGRY).
  • disability panelServing the most marginalised: accessibility and disability, with a plenary by David Banes on access and inclusion using ICTs, which included a very useful framework for considering digital accessibility issues.
  • Developing technologies for the rural/urban slum needs, during which Muhammad Mustafa spoke about his vision of enabling all 700 million illiterate adults in the world to go online through his Mauqa Online initiative.
  • Educating the marginalised, where the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D spoke about educating marginalised children (slide deck) and Shaista Kazmi from Vision 21 described their Speed Literacy Program.

Each session combined enthusiastic discussion around the themes addressed by the plenary speakers, and it was excellent to learn from all those involved  about using ICTs in very practical ways to deliver on the needs of poor and marginalised people and communities in Pakistan.

Atiq and AlberFull details of the event can be found on the INIT site, where copies of the slide decks from each main presentation will also be available.  Very many thanks go to all of the organisers, especially Tahir Naeem, Akber Gardezi and Muhammad Atiq from COMSATS IIT and INIT for all of the hard work that they put into making the event a success.  We look forward to convening the next such workshop in about a year’s time, once again bringing together people from all backgrounds intent on using ICTs to support Pakistan’s most marginalised communities.

Royal Holloway, University of London, at EQUALS Focal Point meeting in New York

UN SmallThe UNESCO Chair in ICT4D was delighted to represent Royal Holloway, University of London at the first Focal Point meeting of the EQUALS initiative held on the side of the UN High-Level Political Forum in New York on 18th July 2017 .

EQUALS is a global initiative founded by the ITU, UN Women, the ITC, GSMA and the UNU, and delivered by a partnership of more than 20 corporate leaders, governments, non-profit organizations, communities and individuals around the world working together to bridge the digital gender divide – by bringing women to tech, and tech to women.

Royal Holloway, University of London, was created from two of the leading women’s university institutions in the UK: Bedford College founded in 1849 as the first women’s higher education institution in the country; and Royal Holloway College, founded in 1879, also as an all-women College.  The wealth of expertise of Royal Holloway, University of London’s researchers and teachers, especially  those involved in the UNESCO Chair of ICT4D in fields such as information security, business management, computer science and geography, is highly relevant to the EQUALS agenda of enabling gender equality in the digital age.  The Chair is also one of the first 20 research organisations committed to working as part of EQUALS Research Group led by the UNU-Computing and Society Institute, and looks forward to participating actively in the group.

EQUALS smallThis first Focal Point meeting brought together the founders and partners to explore ways through which the work of EQUALS can best be delivered through three coalitions of partners:

  • Access: Ensuring that women and girls have full access to digital technologies, devices and services;
  • Skills: Empowering women and girls to acquire skills to become both ICT users and creators in the digital world as well as in broader STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields; and
  • Leadership: Promoting leadership opportunities for women in the digital workforce including women’s entrepreneurship.

The work of EQUALS can be followed at:

Despite all of the global initiatives undertaken so far to use technology to empower women, digital inequality has increased.  As UNESCO reported in March 2017 “the global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016, with the estimated gap highest in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) (31%) and Africa (23%). Moreover, Internet penetration rates remain higher from men than women in all regions of the world”.  EQUALS aims to use new approaches to reverse this trend, ensuring that women across the world have the access, skills and leadership to enable them to benefit from ICTs to the same extent as do men.

Gender and ICTs – a Long Way still to Go…

Volume 1   Issue 3   December 2016

The launch of “EQUALS: The Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age” by the ITU and UN Women in September 2016 is to be welcomed.  However, it highlights that much still remains to be done at the interface between technology and gender, despite all of the efforts made over the last two decades. We suggest that there are four key areas where further action is necessary.

First, the word “gender” is all too often equated simply with “women”, and ignores the diversity of genders encapsulated in the acronym LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer and Questioning).  Indeed, whilst women are frequently marginalised through ICTs, the challenges faced by gay and lesbian people are often at least as bad, as witnessed by the hacking to death of gay activists who used online media in Bangladesh in 2015 and 2016.  Using “gender’ rather than “women” for initiatives that explicitly focus on women also seems to devalue the very important work that still needs to be done to enable and empower women to use ICTs safely and productively.

Second, we are dismayed that the harassment of women at international ICT events still remains commonplace, as exemplified by recent high profile incidents.  Undoubtedly, this is in part related to the male domination of the ICT sector more generally, which is itself something that the EQUALS initiative seeks to address.  However, such male behaviour is unacceptable, and conference organisers need to address it unequivocally.  We call upon all conference organisers who have not already done so to put in place clear guidelines on expected behaviours and actions taken should they be broken.  The Geek Feminism Wiki has an excellent conference anti-harassment policy template that could serve as a model for organisers to build on.

Third, there is good evidence that online sexual harassment is much more widespread than is often thought, particularly in the conservative societies of North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia as reported by the BBC in their recent stories on sex, honour and blackmail in an online world.  Our own ongoing research in Pakistan has highlighted the very extensive amount of sexual harassment using mobile devices there.  Whilst women suffer most from such harassment, it is important to note that men too are harassed.  Interestingly, preliminary results from our online survey suggest that although social media are used for harassment, most often it occurs through calls and text messages.  The implications of posting images on social media have recently been highlighted by the apparent honour killing of Pakistani model Qandeel Baloch, but this is just the tip of an iceberg, with many women in Pakistan living in fear of retribution should family members see imagery that others may have posted.  Most worryingly, our survey shows that 40% of respondents think that when women are sexually harassed through their mobile devices, they are usually or sometimes to blame for it.

Finally, we argue that men need to become much more involved in challenging the unacceptable ICT related behaviours of other men. Initiatives led by women for women have not yet made the necessary inroads into changing male behaviour, although they have often provided valuable advice about safe online behaviour for women and support for those who have been abused online.  Multimedia resources can be used very effectively to share advice and information online, and men should be encouraged to stand up and complain publicly when they witness unacceptable behaviour. Likewise, there is a growing movement for men not to participate in conference panels or sessions in which women are not also involved. Organisations such as the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) and Men Stopping Violence also provide an example of what can be done to develop grassroots male initiatives to counter sexism.

Very much more needs to be done, though, if women and men are to benefit equally from the appropriate use of ICTs.  This is an agenda that requires urgent attention, and it is something that everyone involved in ICT4D can, and should, act upon.

UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at WRS-16

rhul-wrsMembers of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D participated in the ITU’s World Radiocommunication Seminar 2016 (WRS-16) held in Geneva from 12th-16th December 2016. This provided an excellent opportunity to gain detailed updated information on both terrestrial and space services, covering technical and regulatory issues including publications, databases and tools for countries to use in managing radiocommunications.

now-smallIt also enabled us to engage in the kick-off meeting of the Network of Women (NOW) for the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) held on 13th December, during which the Chairholder contributed to the panel discussion, speaking on:

  • the big picture of women in the ICT/radiocommunication sector;
  • how to encourage women to take ownership of the group; and
  • the role that ITU should play in supporting this type of action.

As well as participating in the formal aspects of WRS-16 this was also an excellent opportunity to engage with national delegations and participants, especially from Pakistan and Kenya, as well as officials and friends in the ITU to discuss how the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D can further contribute to the ITU’s activities.

The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Telecom World, 2016, Bangkok

teamThe UNESCO Chair in ICT4D featured prominently at the ITU’s Telecom World 2016 held in Bangkok from 13th-17th November, and was a partner of the ITU’s parallel Kaleidoscope academic conference held on the theme of ICTs for a Sustainable World.  Three PhD alumni took an active part in the event: Salma Abbasi (Chairperson and CEO of the e Worldwide Group) who participated especially in connection with her ongoing work on ICTs for development in Nigeria; Sammia Poveda (UNU Computing and Society), who represented UNU-CS primarily in several gender-related events, especially the EQUALS working meeting and the joint session on the gender dimension in international standardization; and Caitlin Bentley (Research Associate at the Singapore Internet Research Centre at Nanyang Technological University) who represented both her present Centre and the UNESCO Chair at Kaleidoscope.

Other activities where the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D was represented included:

  • The ITU Secretary General’s consultation with academia on 13th November, which considered the possible launch of a new ITU journal, an advisory board of academia to the Secretary General, and a platform to strengthen cooperation between the ITU and academia (the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s written contributions)
  • The m-Powering Development Advisory Board meeting held on 13th November

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©ITU/I.Wood

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This was a great opportunity for colleagues in the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D to engage in discussions with those in government, the private sector, civil society and international organisations and to influence policy on ways through which ICTs can contribute to development, especially for some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised.  We are most grateful to colleagues at the ITU for making this possible, and for inviting our participation at ITU Telecom World 2016.

Thanks to the ITU’s official photographer for most of the above images!