Digital Pakistan 2023: Technology Transforming Women's Lives in Rural Pakistan
Growing access to smartphones and Internet connectivity is transforming the lives of women in rural Pakistan. They are acquiring knowledge, accessing healthcare and finding economic opportunities. A recent UNDP report titled "DigitAll: What happens when women of Pakistan get access to digital and tech tools? A lot!" written by Javeria Masood describes the socioeconomic impact of technology in Pakistan in the following words:
"The world as we know it has been and is rapidly changing. Technology has proven to be one of the biggest enablers of change. There has been a significant emphasis on digital trainings, tech education, and freelancing in the last several years especially during the pandemic, through initiatives from the government, private and development sectors. Covid-19 acted as a big disrupter and accelerated the digital uptake many folds. In Pakistan, we saw the highest number of digital wallets, online services, internet-based services and adaptability out of need and demand".
|Pakistani Women in South Punjab. Photo by Shuja Hakim UNDP Pakistan|
The report cites the example of Ayesha Abushakoor from Zawar Wala in South Punjab who is a Quran teacher. She is teaching students remotely in and outside Pakistan. She uses digital wallets to receive payments. The same report also cites the case of Samina, from Muzafargharh, who is getting training online to start a livestock business. Another woman Mujahida Perveen from UC Pega in Dera Ghazi Khan is managing her thyroid disease by watching YouTube videos.
Telehealth is helping more women access healthcare in remote areas of Pakistan. Startups like Sehat Kahani are employing women doctors who work from home to provide healthcare services. Sehat Kahani was founded by Dr. Sara Khurram and Dr. Iffat Zafar who raised seed funding of US$ 500,000 in 2018, followed by a pre-series of $1 million in March 2021.
Expansion of Digital Services:
The year 2022 was a very rough year for Pakistan. The nation was hit by devastating floods that badly affected tens of millions of people. Macroeconomic indicators took a nose dive as political instability reached new heights. In the middle of such bad news, Pakistan saw installation of thousands of kilometers of new fiber optic cable, inauguration of a new high bandwidth PEACE submarine cable connecting Karachi with Africa and Europe, and millions of new broadband subscriptions. Broadband penetration among 140 million (59% of 236 million population) Pakistanis in the 15-64 years age group reached almost 90%. This new digital infrastructure helped grow technology adoption in the country.
|Internet and Mobile Phone Banking Growth in 2021-22. Source: State Bank of Pakistan|
Mobile phone banking and internet banking grew by 141.1% to Rs. 11.9 trillion while Internet banking jumped 81.1% to reach Rs10.2 trillion. E-commerce transactions also accelerated, witnessing similar trends as the volume grew by 107.4% to 45.5 million and the value by 74.9% to Rs106 billion, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.
|Pakistan Startup Funding in 2022. Source: i2i Investing|
Fintech startups continued to draw investments in the midst of a slump in venture funding in Pakistan. Fintech took $10 million from a total of $13.5 million raised by tech startups in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to the data of Invest2Innovate (i2i), a startups consultancy firm. In Q3 of 2022, six out of the 14 deals were fintech startups, compared to two deals of e-commerce startups. Fintech startups raised $38 million which is 58% of total funding ($65 million) in Q3 2022, compared to e-commerce startups that raised 19% of total funding. The i2i data shows that in Q3 2022, fintech raised 37.1% higher than what it raised in Q2 2022 ($27.7 million). Similarly, in Q2 2022, the total investment of fintech was 63% higher compared to what it raised in Q1 2022 ($17 million).
|E-Commerce in Pakistan. Source: State Bank of Pakistan|
E-commerce continued to grow in the country. Transaction volume soared 107.4% to 45.5 million while the value of transactions jumped 75% to Rs. 106 billion over the prior year, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.
|Pakistan Among World's Top 10 Smartphone Markets. Source: NewZoo|
Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) cable, a 96 TBPS (terabits per second), 15,000 km long submarine cable, went live in 2022. It brought to 10 the total number of submarine cables currently connecting or planned to connect Pakistan with the world: TransWorld1, Africa1 (2023), 2Africa (2023), AAE1, PEACE, SeaMeWe3, SeaMeWe4, SeaMeWe5, SeaMeWe6 (2025) and IMEWE. PEACE cable has two landing stations in Pakistan: Karachi and Gwadar. SeaMeWe stands for Southeast Asia Middle East Western Europe, while IMEWE is India Middle East Western Europe and AAE1 Asia Africa Europe 1.
|Mobile Data Consumption Growth in Pakistan. Source: ProPakistan|
Fiber Optic Cable:
The first phase of a new high bandwidth long-haul fiber network has been completed jointly by One Network, the largest ICT and Intelligent Traffic and Electronic Tolling System operator in Pakistan, and Cybernet, a leading fiber broadband provider. The joint venture has deployed 1,800 km of fiber network along motorways and road sections linking Karachi to Hyderabad (M-9 Motorway), Multan to Sukkur (M-5 Motorway), Abdul Hakeem to Lahore (M-3 Motorway), Swat Expressway (M-16), Lahore to Islamabad (M-2 Motorway) and separately from Lahore to Sialkot (M-11 Motorway), Gujranwala, Daska and Wazirabad, according to Business Recorder newspaper.
Mobile telecom service operator Jazz and Chinese equipment manufacturer Huawei have commercially deployed FDD (Frequency Division Duplexing) Massive MIMO (Multiple Input and Output) solution based on 5G technology on a large scale in Pakistan. Jazz and Huawei claim it represents a leap into the 4.9G domain to boost bandwidth.
|Pakistan Telecom Indicators November 2022. Source: PTA|
|Pakistan's RAAST P2P System Taking Off. Source: State Bank of Pakistan|
Pakistan has 124 million broadband subscribers as of November, 2022, according to Pakistan Telecommunications Authority. Broadband penetration among 140 million (59% of 236 million) Pakistanis in 15-64 years age bracket is 89%. Over 20 million mobile phones were locally manufactured/assembled in the country in the first 11 months of the year.
|Bank Account Ownership in Pakistan. Source: Karandaaz|
|Financial Inclusion Doubled In Pakistan in 5 Years. Source: Karandaaz|
Documenting Pakistan Economy:
Pakistan's unbanked population is huge, estimated at 100 million adults, mostly women. Its undocumented economy is among the world's largest, estimated at 35.6% which represents approximately $542 billion at GDP PPP levels, according to World Economics. The nation's tax to GDP ratio (9.2%) and formal savings rates (12.72%) are among the lowest. The process of digitizing the economy could help reduce the undocumented economy and increase tax collection and formal savings and investment in more productive sectors such as export-oriented manufacturing and services. Higher investment in more productive sectors could lead to faster economic growth and larger export earnings. None of this can be achieved without some semblance of political stability.
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