Islamabad: Six in 10 women internet users face some kind of restrictions from their families when using the internet, reveals a survey conducted by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD).
The study titled “Women Disconnected: Feminist Case Studies on the Gender Digital Divide Aamidst COVID-19” examines the impact of gender digital divide on women in Pakistan during the covid-19 pandemic.
The study is based on a survey with 215 women from across Pakistan and a series of in-depth interviews.
A majority of the respondents of the survey said they are only allowed to use the internet for attending online classes or talking to family members.
The research findings indicate that 40% of the women surveyed use the internet every day with the usage becoming higher as family income rises.
More than one third of those surveyed acknowledged higher restrictions on the use of the internet for girls than boys, with 16 per cent saying girls are not allowed to use it at all.
The research findings indicate that 40 per cent of the women surveyed use the internet every day, with the usage becoming higher as family income rises.
About half of the respondents, who use the internet daily, come from families with over Rs60,000 per month income while 7 in 10 of those who do not use the internet come from families with below Rs300,000 per income.
A whopping 80 per cent of the respondents who are unable to use the internet are from South Waziristan, the newly merged districts of the KP province.
The cost of the internet continues to be a concern with 76 per cent of the respondents saying that the internet in Pakistan is expensive and more than a third saying it was beyond the reach of an average person.
The study indicates that the need for internet usage among respondents increased with the covid-19 pandemic as 8 out of 10 respondents saying they felt the need to use it more during lockdown.
Mobile appears to be the main mode of connection for women who took part in the survey. 88 per cent of the respondents who use the internet said that they are accessing the internet through their own devices and 78 per cent of those using their own devices are using mobile phones.
The study indicates that the need for internet usage among respondents increased with the covid-19 pandemic, with 8 out of 10 respondents saying they felt the need to use it more during lockdown.
At the same time, a number of them lost regular access to the internet due to the lockdown which barred them from using the internet in workplaces, educational institutes and other places that they had previously used to connect.
Prior to the pandemic, many women accessed the internet outside their homes but their problems now include slow speed and reduced access due to family members using the same connection or devices.
The respondents and interviewees also indicated that surveillance at home has become stricter and threats of domestic violence more pronounced as men remain in the house and many women are unable to step out to purchase mobile data.
The research also finds evidence that women in the newly merged districts are unable to connect to emergency health services in case of emergency due to lack of connectivity. The lack of communication combined with lack of local emergency health care has resulted in fatalities of women, including during childbirth.
Researchers say that the unavailability of official data about gender digital divide being available by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) or local service providers also posed challenges. Therefore, much of the research was based on anecdotal evidence and reported incidents.
Commenting on the research, Zoya Rehman, one of the researchers, said that “We were trying to look at the lived experiences of Pakistani women and, of course, there’s no monolithic Pakistani woman either, which is also something we assert in this research project. These experiences cannot be seen through one kind of lens and you can’t brush them with one stroke.”
Hija Kamran, another researcher, regretted that despite access to the internet being acknowledged as a fundamental right, “many people continue to be disconnected” in Pakistan, “Our study finds that the gender digital divide is not merely an inconvenience, it, in fact, hinders growth and opportunities, and is life-threatening for women who are not able to access the Internet because either there are infrastructural barriers.”