Ladies First: The Women of Pakistan’s Tech Scene
KARACHI: The tech industry in Pakistan is emerging as a vibrant and essential part of the economy. And the biggest shift is the role in which women are playing; many of whom are spearheading the digital transformation.
Women Driving the Tech Space
Maria Umar is the founder of the Women’s Digital League (WDL). Her online portal for digital services focuses on women who are unable to work outside their homes. They hope to empower women in rural areas who may not have the essential equipment and training to work online. Findings of the Pakistan’s ‘Women Economic Participation and Empowerment—Status Report 2016’ highlighted the economic vulnerabilities that keep Pakistani women underpaid and overworked; something that inspiring business leaders like Maria are hoping to change.
At the vanguard of the female tech expansion is Madeeha Hassan, co-founder of Savaree a ride-sharing and taxi app. Savaree sees potential in the nightmarish traffic congestion in Pakistan and hopes to bring about a new way of thinking for commuters. Sidra Qasim started Markhor and set a record for being the first Pakistani startup accepted into a Y Combinator. The startup makes luxury handcrafted shoes, and its main selling point is its ethical commitment to empowering the craftspeople; many of whom are women.
Investing in women is a direct way to improve gender equality and economic growth. Giving women equal opportunities is not only what they deserve, but it will also benefit society as a whole. When women enter employment, they tend to spend more money on their family in comparison to men; which in turn will stimulate the economy.
Many great organizations put women at the forefront of their strategy. Code for Pakistan is a non-political organization that runs Women and Tech—a program launched to enable women to utilize and benefit from technology to participate fully in civic life. They offer regular meetups, workshops, and hackathons and through training and skill building they seek to empower Pakistani women.
Boot camps for new skills
Sheskills is just about to launch a digital boot camp to upskill women in Pakistan. In a country where the labor force is just 25 percent of women involved it’s clear that there is massive room for more female integration, and less than ten percent of the workforce are participating in the tech scene. The boot camp will focus on coding, digital marketing, and design, with an eye to providing essential tech skills. The six-week long course will offer a combination of offline and online lectures, the end goal being that attendees can build businesses by developing their products or by doing this for a client. Advisors signed up include Jehan Ara from NEST, Saad Hamid (CEO School of Skills) among others.
“In Pakistan, less than 10 percent of women are part of the tech industry even when Pakistan is one of the top exporters of freelancing services worldwide standing fourth on platforms such as Upwork,” said Saad Hamid.
“Our research tells us that there is a lack of support for women in the IT & ITES sector and lack of female leadership. We hope to change that by bringing digital skills to girls so they can learn and become active contributors to the digital economy,” Saad added.
Lamudi—an online property platform based in Karachi and backed by Rocket Internet has many female employees and as part of its commitment to gender equality seeks to employ talented graduates across all of its departments.
Today women in Pakistan represent the fastest growing segment of the small business sector. This untapped demographic has the potential to boost economic growth with the long-term result being a more stable and resilient economy.