Sunday September 26, 2021

Stakeholders propose over 2 dozen ideas for digital policy

ISLAMABAD: With preparations for Pakistan Digital Policy underway, different stakeholders have asked the government to provide quality access and better outreach of internet services in both urban and rural areas of the country to ensure everyone could benefit from digitalised Pakistan.

The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom, Oxfam and Bargad organised a two-day consultative event in Islamabad to seek inputs from youth groups, marginalised segments, young women from rural areas, persons with disabilities (PWD), and transgender. They all proposed over two dozen recommendations to incorporate into the upcoming Pakistan Digital Policy.

Participants suggested that the new policy should introduce digital inclusion as a cross-cutting theme that should cater to digital needs, services and programming of the rural youth, young women, PWDs and transgender.

Addressing women empowerment, IGNOTE CEO Asim Shehryar Khan highlighted that out of two million individuals enrolled for digital skills courses over the last three years, approximately 25 percent were women, including those from the rural areas, which was a great sign of inclusion.

Participants from youth groups highlighted that reliable access to internet, adequate training and skills development and financial access were some of the challenges the faced on a regular basis.

Some major recommendations included that the ministry might expand the outreach of its existing programmes like IGNITE by involving youth groups, women organisations, corporate bodies, civil society and international organisations working on digital inclusion. This could readily provide access to its services to larger and relevant audiences.

Including mechanisms and policies to deal with online harassment of women was also recommended.

The government was also asked to significantly upgrade and maintain internet infrastructure across urban and rural locations, to ensure uninterrupted supply of electricity, and to improve financial inclusion via collaboration with micro-finance institutions and banks. Individuals who identify as transgender should be facilitated to open and use official banking channels for transactions, it was suggested.

Participants also asked to facilitate online transactions for provision of services internationally through digital payment systems like PayPal, and to make available interest and collateral free capital for digital startups. A special scheme should be launched to help rural youth buy digital gadgets such as smartphones and laptops through interest free loans with preference for PWDs and young women, they recommended.

Development of community centres in rural areas with the facility of internet and computers was also suggested. Digital applications should be promoted with the focus on farming techniques, problems, pests and diseases, insecticides, and fertilisers, etc.

Participants said there was a need to start language programmes and new software programmes to increase literacy among the most vulnerable, those with disabilities and the poor for better integration into the society.

“New software programmes should be developed to enable PWDs to work by overcoming their respective impairments like Daisy software for visually impaired people. The websites and gadgets should have the accessibility option to make the operation easier for PWDs.”

Technology upgrades were also recommended to ensure that PWDs had necessary information available on their gadgets about accommodation, transportation, education and training workshops, and health facilities nearby.

Further, they said counselling programmes should be initiated to motivate and encourage youth to pursue online-earning opportunities in rural areas. Trainings should be held on using digital platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram to conduct business, they suggested.

Information technology and digital media should be included in the curricula of formal education. Public should be sensitised to mitigate the harmful effects of internet access and make it beneficial for all through community involvement and parental controls.

Appropriate ethical training should be added in relevant courses. Adoption of modern technology for efficient collection of data on PWDs for future policy making should be ensured, the participants said.