The Gender Digital Divide in Rural Pakistan: How Wide is it and How to Bridge it?
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While Pakistan’s National Information Technology (IT) Policy aims at harnessing the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for development, especially in the underserved rural areas, it ignores the role of existing gender inequalities on the possible benefits of ICTs. We have investigated aspects of the ‘gender digital divide’ in rural areas of Pakistan in order to enable an evidence-based gender-sensitive revision of the policy as well as ICT-related interventions from which both females and males gain. The study took place in four of the most marginalized rural districts of the country where this divide is likely to be most pronounced. We found mobile phones to be the ICT that is most commonly available in rural Pakistan. Radios and TV sets are the second most widespread technologies in marginalised rural areas. However, mobile sets at hand are largely owned by women’s husbands, fathers and brothers, whose permission to make calls is required by a large share of all female respondents. I, therefore, argue that availability and gendered use of ICTs are two different things altogether. Social norms related to women and girls’ access to education as well as regulating their mobility prevent them from using ICTs. These norms have to be taken into account in policies and interventions to ensure women and girls’ access to and beneficial use of ICTs.