The COVID-19 pandemic undid essential socioeconomic progress made in recent decades across Asia and the Pacific, including in Afghanistan, where such negative consequences are even more acutely felt after several decades of violence.
Despite considerable security, economic and geographical challenges, Afghanistan has made notable progress in extending access to media and information to large swaths of the population.
Mobile communications have spread particularly rapidly thanks to a vibrant and competitive market.
In this digital era, access to reliable networks, affordable services and devices, and localized content and knowledge are key ingredients of socioeconomic development, and crucial for the digital empowerment of every Afghan citizen.
The gender digital divide in Afghanistan
While substantial progress continues in connecting the unconnected in Afghanistan, a 2019 survey shows that only 17.6 per cent of the Afghan population say they use the Internet.
Furthermore, there is a significant digital gender gap in the country and across all low- and middle-income countries. For example, in South Asia, women are 51 per cent less likely to use a mobile phone.
More understanding of how education could better protect the ability of women to access the Internet safely and securely is profoundly necessary. The government must provide better digital literacy skills training and ensure platforms offer women safe and secure access to information. Advocating for women in the field of technology on social media may also be worthwhile, targeting communities that can support women’s use of technology.
It is essential to help Afghan women and girls build digital skillsets.
A lack of skills to take advantage of technological advancement risks deepening the digital gender divide, especially in developing and least developed countries.
The Afghan government is focused on implementing several digital government projects, including Digital CASA (Central Asia South Asia), which aims to increase access to more affordable Internet in Afghanistan.
Other projects, such as the E-AFGHANISTAN National Priority Program proposal, and the National Cyber Security Strategy of Afghanistan (NCSA), are also designed to benefit women.
EQUALS in Afghanistan
On 27 January 2021, the very first Information session of EQUALS Global Partnership was hosted by the Afghanistan Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (ATRA) and ITU.
Participants discussed a possible plan of action to support the goals of the partnership to bridge Afghanistan’s gender digital divide, an issue highlighted by information and communications technology (ICT) professionals, policy-makers, academics, youth organizations and civil society organizations from across the country.
Recognizing the importance of digital skills and digital literacy in empowering Afghan women, I had the pleasure of joining ITU and other partners to officially announce ATRA as the lead organization to support all digital gender equality activities for women in Afghanistan.
Towards digital gender equality
Technology can make a significant difference in women’s lives in Afghanistan and beyond.
Training more women to become active digital creators is one way to make technological progress more inclusive, representative, and impactful.
Accessing and using the Internet can help women feel safer and more connected, opening a world of information, services, and life-enhancing opportunities, and potentially unlocking substantial benefits for Afghan women and their communities.
It is my personal hope that our digital empowerment efforts are based on social realities on the ground, and sufficiently localized to achieve a more tangible and lasting impact in Afghanistan. In today’s digital world, we must leave no one behind – no matter their gender.
ATRA joins a distinguished group of EQUALS partners in Afghanistan: the UN Resident Coordinator Office and country team in Afghanistan, UN Women for Asia and the Pacific, the United Nations University Institute in Macau. Learn more about EQUALS here.