RS 2: Pakistan

A Widening Digital Divide

Although Pakistan has made progress in the availability of internet and communication technologies over the past several years, its internet diffusion still remains at a low 22 percent, according to Saleha Zahid in her article, “A Widening Digital Divide”. Not only is the digital gap divided on gender, it’s widening across “income, religion, geographic location…and education lines,” writes Zahid (2). She says that Pakistan’s current policy on trying to bridge the divide is not an answer since it does not account for many different factors. Firstly, she states Pakistan “[restricts] internet access…to silence or suppress certain segments of the population” (4). Supporting this argument is the fact that internet in various areas near the frontier have been shut down due to military-run telecom and internet services citing national security reasons. Also, unlike the United States, the “lack of free market competition means that the internet continues to have limited coverage” across the country (5). In addition to the control exercised on its citizens by the government, social prejudices greatly affect the divide. Only 23 percent of Pakistan’s social media users are female, and their internet time is often supervised by male family members. Minorities and the disabled are also disadvantaged due to a lack of basic literacy and special equipment needed to utilize internet and communication technologies. Furthermore, as technology increases in efficiency and speed, the rich are capable of affording these advances, and “are able to exert an unequal influence in cyberspace” (8). Zahid also reports that service providers are discriminating based on data, such as price and user access, further accentuating an already growing digital divide. Likewise, Female users are more prone to bullying and blackmail, while minorities’ “freedom of expression is stifled” (11). There have even been murders of citizens that have spoken out against crimes online, such as university student Mashal Khan, who was lynched on fake allegations of posting blasphemous content. Cyber-crime laws have only recently been put in place starting late 2016, and even then the state can suppress “citizens’ right to information and freedom of expression” (12). Because there exists so many different types of discrimination around the country, Zahid argues that any new policy should account for all of this in order to close the gap. Since the UN has deemed that access to the internet is a basic human right, Pakistan needs to try a different approach, one that targets precise population groups, but also covers the various factors that differentiate their society to ensure that everyone has the ability to go online and close the huge digital divide.

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