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Only 10% of young women in rural areas have access to the internet

  • Published at 03:07 pm August 22nd, 2020
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Syed Zakir Hossain

Speakers at the event discussed how young people can use technology for better employment opportunities

Bangladesh has to make sure young people, especially women in the country have access to technology to continue the development of the country. Research suggests only 10% of young women in rural areas can access the internet, experts say.

Panellists at a webinar made these observations on gender and youth inclusiveness in technology in Bangladesh, on Saturday.

South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) and ActionAid Bangladesh jointly organized the webinar to discuss how youths can use technology for better employment opportunities.

Mahtab Uddin, programme associate of Sanem, presented research on the topic where he talked about policy, demand for, and state of technology in 2020.

He said an analytical investigation of the current youth scene, and gender inclusivity and access to technology is needed. 

He added that questions still remain about whether access to technology has been equally ensured across gender, age groups, income groups, or regions.

Only 10% of young women between the ages of 15-29 use the internet in rural areas, whereas the rate is 20% in urban areas, Mahtab said.

The study also said most people in Bangladesh use their mobile phones to access the internet. 80% of male youths in rural and urban areas own mobiles, while the number for young women is only 40%.

72% of male youths in households belonging to the poorest income decile own a mobile phone compared to 92% in the top income decile. 

On the other hand, only 24% of females from the poorest income decile own mobile phones, while the rate is 73% for the richest income decile, according to the study.

Household computer access in rural areas is 4% while the rate is 12% in urban areas. The number of female users is very low as well in this regard.

Mahtab Uddin said, according to the Labour Force Survey Bangladesh 2017, 58.25% of youths took computer training in rural and urban areas. But they are not able to use it to improve their employment prospects because they are lagging behind in using the technology.

A mismatch between demand and supply was pointed out as one of the main reasons.

Mahtab said the demand for vocational education and training are extremely low. In 2019-20, 135,000 seats remained vacant at 624 public and private institutes offering diploma courses in technical trades.

Selim Raihan, executive director of Sanem emphasized the point of inclusiveness in technology and said the cost of technology is a major setback in this regard.

Dr Raihan pointed out that even with a decline in the price of technology, inclusivity is not ensured. Also, sometimes the quality of internet connection restrains access.

He said technology can reduce poverty and inequality and asked the government to step up to secure quality access to technology for people.  

Anir Chowdhury, policy advisor at a2i said: “Employment, entrepreneurship, migration, innovative research, and skill development work can be advanced by technology. 4IR [Fourth Industrial Revolution] technology can help us prepare for the future.”

According to a study, “Future skills to tackle the challenges of automation in Bangladesh” by a2i in 2019, the five sectors – garments industry, furniture industry, agriculture, leather, and tourism – can see a possible job loss of 4 million. 

Deputy Minister for Education, Barrister Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury Nowfel, said providing telemedicine services, 24 hour call centre services, or taking 4,500 live classes for 30 million students during the pandemic in the country was possible only because of technology.

In 2009, vocational schools had only 9% of students, now the rate is at 27%. In order to develop skills, according to the 2010 Education Policy, the government will include technical and vocational education in all types of general education by 2021, he added.

He blamed social stigma and taboo as the primary reason for girls lagging behind in technology. To overcome the issue, raising awareness on the use of technology should be emphasized, Nowfel said.

12 lakh online training programs will be arranged in the next 5 years, said Ministry of Youth and Sports Deputy Secretary, Sayed Ali.

Country Director of ActionAid, Farah Kabir, said to ensure a supportive environment and safety for women, the government can develop a mobile App with private organizations through which women can tell their problems. 

She said if the success stories of grassroots women are published more by the media, then women will likely step up and move ahead.

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