Tuesday, 30 May, 2023

Women in Technology: A Prerequisite for Smart Bangladesh

Sriramappa Gonchikara

Women in Technology: A Prerequisite for Smart Bangladesh
Sriramappa Gonchikara

Technology, an ever-evolving catalyst, is consistently working to improve our life and experience. Research suggests that although the sector is always embracing change, it is still lagging behind in gender diversity and inclusion.

Over the years, the emergence of new digital solutions has added more precision to our lives, hence the adaption of these software are widespread across numerous industries. Revolutions in the economic sector have seen remarkable changes, setting the foundation for globalization in innovative ways. When technology is creating such holistic profit for various strata of society, women’s participation in the workforce can surely improve the advancement of it.

Women in Technology (WiT) remains a much-discussed global issue because of the many challenges and also the possibilities it upholds. In a report published by PWC, only 19% of tech-related jobs are held by women at the top 10 global tech companies. Out of the jobs in leadership positions at these global tech giants, women make up only 28%. But to invite more females and establish the technology sector as a promising employment ground for them, the world needs more women leaders in technology.

To make this happen, young women need to have more access to quality education and training. In a study curated by National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP), men outnumber the women in workforce in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), with women taking up only 28% of the workforce globally.

In Bangladesh, the number of girls enrolling in schools has increased. Women, even coming from the rural areas, are joining the workforce. But there is more space for improvement. In the context of establishing Smart Bangladesh Vision 2041, this is the right time to reevaluate and reassess their roles in our society.

Two of the key pillars of Smart Bangladesh Vision are economic development and human development. The economic development plan aims to increase productivity by expanding trade and investment and promoting entrepreneurship and innovation.

While 49.4% of our population consisting of women, only 36% of women are actively working and amongst them, a wide percentage works in the readymade garment sector. While their participation in this sector has been remarkable, women of our country should also explore other options in the job market to engage more in economic growth. The technology sector can prove to be a promising sector of employment for the women. Standing in line with the rest of the world, Bangladesh is also exploring the plethora of opportunities to execute digital growth across the country. But to bring these opportunities into play, the women need to be equipped with education, skills, and aspirations.

According to a study titled ‘Barriers to STEM education for rural girls: A missing link to innovation for a better Bangladesh’, by Nasrin Siddiqa, although many expressed their desire to join the technological workforce, a very low percentage of women lived up to their words. The study also showed that despite more girls passing the secondary and higher secondary education level, only 8.06% female students enrolled in science departments and 1.46% in engineering and technology in 2019. According to 2020 data, in physics department of Dhaka University,188 female students were admitted against 501 male students. The mathematics department had 172 women enrolled against 1,364 male students. The same scenario was seen in the chemistry department, with 158 females being admitted against 254 males. A Bangladesh Open-Source Network (BdOSN) report found that around only 25% female students enrolled for Computer Science (CS) or Information Communication Technology (ICT) in universities.

Besides institutional education in STEM, women also need to be trained practically on digital literacy. During the pandemic, many businesses made their presence online. These initiatives were mostly run by women and kept afloat many families. Whereas in Bangladesh, many women and girls do not relish the opportunity of using smartphones, let alone use computers or the internet. According to a study by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM), 96% of women in villages and 87% in cities in Bangladesh have never used a computer. In addition, the study also revealed, 87% of rural and 77% of urban women have never used the Internet, 57% of urban female population have their own mobile phones while the percentage stoops down to 42% among rural female population.

Profound knowledge and trained practically on modern technology can empower women both in urban and rural areas. This will sufficiently add to an increase in the GDP and keep the financial wheel of the country running expeditiously.

The second main pillar of the Smart Bangladesh Vision goes hand in hand with the first one. Technologically empowered women can improve the well-being of the nation by providing them with quality education, self-care, healthcare, social protection and so on. Since and during the pandemic, the world has seen the booming of different online platforms. Rural women who did not have a safe cushion to lean on for financial security wove stories of inspiration as they ran successful business ventures through different online platforms. This proves that having a sound perception of the tech zone, they maintain and even enhance their lifestyle even in times of peril.

While the government of Bangladesh is taking up multiple initiatives to increase technological literacy amongst the masses, still it is quite impossible for the government alone to reach every citizen. This is where the private sector comes in and as Bangladesh is one of the key countries in South West Asia for multi-national companies, many MNCs are already taking up initiatives to support the government in achieving its goal.

The Coca Cola Foundation has always addressed complex global challenges and worked towards leaving a lasting impact on the community. In 2010, the Coca-Cola company launched the 5by20 program, a globalinitiative which aimed to economically empower 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020. With support from the partners and the Coca-Cola foundation, the company has surpassed their goal, empowering 6 million women across 100 countries to provide business skills training, mentoring networks, financial services and other assets to help women’s lives and businesses.

As a part of the initiative, the Coca-Cola Foundation established Women Business Center (WBC) collaborating with United Purpose in 2015. Initially, with an aim to economically empower 100,000 women, the partnership founded 70 WBCs in Jamalpur, Bagerhat and Khulna. These centers worked to empower local entrepreneurs, identifying their hurdles and providing effective solutions. The entrepreneurs also received training on business skills development, market information, agriculture training, mobile banking, guidance and networking. In 2020, the Coca-Cola Company achieved a milestone by training more than 1 lakh marginalized women across the three districts. With this commendable milestone, the initiative graduated to the second phase with 30 new WBCs in Sunamganj & Gopalganj with the aim to empower 40,000 women entrepreneurs.

According to surveys run by 30 WBCs, Sixty percent of the women said they did not have access to IT services before the WBCs came along and 90% of the women entrepreneurs are in full control of their finances. The WBCs have not only empowered the women populace, but also boosted their confidence at many levels.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2023 is 'DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.' With the fast-pacing world, it is only acceptable that we move with the whole world and take on holistic approaches to reach sustainable development. The nation cannot move ahead with half of its population being left behind. By committing to create a more equitable world, women can thrive to their truest potential. Working together to harness the power of technology, we can create new opportunities that can be the instigation of a brighter future. 


The writer is the Country Director, United Purpose.

Email address: [email protected]