Take the 20-year-old Parveen Sultana of Jaldhaka, Nilphamari. She is still detached from the advanced technology of Digital Bangladesh. She is the daughter of a farming family in the char region. She has no training in technology. She has no idea how to use a computer or the internet.

Then there is 21-year-old Mariam Akhter of Saghata upazila in Gaibandha. She may have completed her HSC, but hardly has any know-how in the field of technology. Papia Sultana (29) of Chilmari, Kurigram, Chandana Rani Saha (24) of Chandaikona, Sirajganj, Rahela Khatun (26) of Taraganj, Rangpur and thousands of other young women are similarly deprived of technological skills.

If the nation as a whole is to benefit from the success of technology, then interest, skills and accessibility concerning the use of technology must be increased among the entire population. A recent survey appearing in the media said that among the rural women of the 15 to 29 age bracket, 10 per cent used the internet. This was slightly higher, that is 20 per cent, among the urban women. Among the urban and rural male youth, 80 per cent had their own mobile phones, while for female youth this was 40 per cent (Dhaka Tribune, 22 August 2020). That shows that half the youth force of the country, that is young women, have less access to internet. This rate is lower than that of men and even lower for rural women.

We spoke about the matter to Lafifa Jamal, chairperson of Bangladesh Women in Technology (BWIT) and professor of robotics and mechatronics at Dhaka University. She said, “Women’s participation in technology is low all over the world, not just in Bangladesh. But fortunately in Bangladesh, women’s participation in increasing. However, this participation is urban centric. There is no alternative but to increase this in the rural areas too. In order to meet the SDG, alongside increasing women’s technological knowledge, they must be included in tech-based income generating ventures too. During the pandemic, women have become self-reliant through F-commerce. They must be encouraged in e-commerce too.”

Information and communication technology (ICT) has a vast role in fulfilling the country’s overall development and SDG. Various public and private services have been digitalized. Other services are on the way there. Those who are tech savvy with be able to benefit from these services, while the others will lag behind. The SDG visions of inclusive development cannot be implemented in this situation. If the benefits of all developmental activities are actually to be reaped, then our youth must be skilled in technology.

Speaking about the government’s initiatives in this regard, the ICT state minister Zunaid Ahmed Palak said, “The Sustainable Development Goals speaks of using IT for ensuring gender equality and women’s empowerment. We have taken up a She Power Project to this end, training 10,500 women in IT. These include 1,427 entrepreneurs. Gender equality is being ensured in recruitment at the software parks. Maternal health centres are being set up for women and expectant mothers. Presently over 15,000 entrepreneurs have become self-reliant by providing people with services through the union digital centres. This includes around 5000 women entrepreneurs.”

It is hoped that by means of integrated public and private sector initiatives, women’s participation in IT will increase further.

* Firoz Choudhury is assistant editor of Prothom Alo and can be reached at [email protected]

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