Current Projects

Measuring The Impact of Technologies and Mobile Wallets on Low-Income Women’s Economic Empowerment in Pakistan 

According to Global Findex Report 2021, female bank account ownership has doubled, and the number of women using digital payments has increased from 5 percent to 11 percent since 2017 in Pakistan. There has been a rising focus on technology as a means to improve women’s financial inclusion, especially in contexts with incomplete financial markets and limited women’s ability to access and use the service. A rising trend of mobile ownership over the past years and a simultaneous lack of financial inclusion opens the opportunity for mobile money to improve financial inclusion in Pakistan. Our research looks into the intricacies of how access to digital financial services, like mobile wallets, can impact women's empowerment and characteristics, such as education, health, and wealth, in Pakistan. This project will inform whether women’s access to technology is limited while we consider how digital financial services and technology adoption can help increase their financial inclusion and other spillover consequences. The research method utilized is qualitative analysis with an experimental approach. We aim to do the baseline and endline surveys with the treatment and control group to unpack the evidence on mechanisms that impact women’s economic empowerment in diverse contexts. We explore the specific measures that are impacted, the pathways of impact, and the different forms that agency and empowerment might take in the Pakistani context.

Emerging Issues of Women in Urban Context of Pakistan

At a time when 40% of consumers are buying more online than they were previously (Forrester Consumer Technographics Covid-19 Survey) and 65% of the world’s GDP is predicted to be digitized by this year (IMF, 2020), there is merit in exploring the possibilities and challenges that digitally-run businesses present for women in developing countries such as Pakistan. According to a working paper published by the Centre for Research in Economics and Business, both male and female decision-makers prefer home as the preferred location for women to set up a business, and are even willing to forego almost 60% of median profits to run the business from home, due, in part, to safety concerns while leaving home. Taking together the growth in online business and the finding that women generally prefer to set up businesses at home – with UN women identifying 12 million out of 20 million home-based workers in Pakistan as women – there is a need to conduct an in-depth analysis of the prospects and challenges presented by women’s home-based digitally run businesses. Based on a qualitative study we aim at exploring women’s motivations for choosing home-based digitally-run microenterprises, the challenges they face in setting up and running such businesses, the process by which they become digitally literate and the impacts such businesses have on women’s empowerment. This study is expected to advance women’s and girls’ financial, and political inclusion, and allow women and girls access to different choices and ways of being and doing, further empowering them. 

Past Projects

Technology Design for Female Factory Workers

This is an IDRC funded project focusing on understanding the potential of technology to provide women in Pakistan equitable access to employment opportunities and safe spaces for their personal narratives of workplace violence and harassment. Sexual violence in particular reproduces inequalities of gender, race/ethnicity, class, age, and sexuality, and is made more effective by the silencing of its usage. At 22 per cent, female labor force participation in Pakistan is the lowest in the region barring Afghanistan. Among those who work, only about 12 per cent work in the manufacturing sector with nearly 80 per cent working from their own dwelling. Although the concentration of women working out of their own homes is driven by several factors including mobility restrictions placed by the family and childcare burdens, a major reason why women work out of their home relates to harassment both en route and at work. Based on a qualitative study of female factory workers we aim to understand their experiences of harassment and marginalization, their access to safe spaces to seek support and share their narratives and their current access to technologies with a specific focus on mobile phones. Following the qualitative study, this project also explores novel participatory design methodologies to co-create technologies with female factory workers.

Exploring Gendered Technology Use in Pakistan

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed in full force the extent of the (gendered) digital divide and its impact on individual welfare. Only about 50% of women in Pakistan own a mobile phone while only 19% have access to mobile internet (GSMA, 2021). Particularly within low-income households, women’s access to and control over technology is severely limited and heavily monitored. With most, if not all, productive and other activities moving within the home due to the pandemic, women’s ability to earn livelihoods, access education and health services, and even connect with others have been severely affected. Following Kabeer’s work on empowerment, our project looks to document the process through which women are able to exercise their first-order choices (i.e. decisions related to livelihoods, child-bearing and rearing, marriage, education and health). Looking at a sample of women from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, we will consider how women’s agency in these first-order choices interacts with their ability to access and use digital technology. In particular, we will document how women’s sense of self-empowerment varies with the choices that they exercise both in the physical and digital domains. We will also pay special attention to the negotiations that occur within the household (and beyond) so that women can gain control over different aspects of their lives: whether empowerment in some areas means ceding control over others.  

Female Workers Vulnerabilities During COVID and Access to Technology

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a loss of approximately 255 million jobs and global labour income declined by 8.3% or US $3.7 trillion. Pakistan has been no exception to the economic slowdown and livelihood losses. The initial Covid-19 lockdowns resulted in the loss of 20.76 million livelihoods in Pakistan (making up 35% of the total workforce), out of which approximately 3 million did not regain employment by July 2020. Some sectors, such as the informal sector, have been hit especially hard, with already marginalized populations being hit hardest. In this study, we will be focusing on the women's home-based and domestic worker populations. Lacking worker benefits and state support for protection, not only are such workers amongst the most vulnerable, but the pandemic has further amplified their social and economic vulnerabilities.  However, there is currently no formal study that documents and explores the mechanisms these women have employed to navigate the new economic landscape. We aim to explore the strategies and mechanisms HBWs and DWs are currently using to manage their finances and generate income. An understanding of their existing strategies and access to specific opportunities (like digital technology) will help us create a detailed policy brief and framework to help expand their access to opportunities for economic growth. One such powerful opportunity is the leveraging of social commerce and digital technology.