Bangladeshi Women in Tech and Digital Education: Challenges and Strides

The world is rapidly becoming digital, and Bangladesh is no exception. As technology and digital advancements expand, so is women's potential in digital education and technology-related careers. With the rise of the digital economy, facilitated by the government's efforts, such as the Digital Bangladesh project, there has been a rise in women joining the workforce and taking on more challenging jobs.

Based on an Oxford Internet Institute (OII) report, Bangladesh is currently the second-largest country in supplying the online labour market, making it one of the most powerful socio-economic tools of the country. About 500,000 active freelancers are regularly working out of 650,000 registered freelancers in the country, a significant percentage of whom are women.  Between them, they are generating an estimation of $100 million annually, according to the ICT Division of Bangladesh.

"I believe that the future of tech-related jobs in Bangladesh is definitely improving. We now have the option of working as freelancers, which solves a lot of the issues like working while running a household and allows flexible work hours. Due to digital technology reaching the far reaches of Bangladesh, more women can work remotely from the comfort of their homes." shares Achia Nila, Founder and CEO of Women in Digital.

With recent advances in technology and communication, an increasing number of women are taking up digital education. Ruksana Akhter, Assistant teacher of Biology at The Flower K.G & High School, adds, "When we first started using an online platform to hold our classes digitally during the Pandemic, it was a struggle at first, but soon we learnt to use the various technological features available to us like Smart Boards and online platforms like "Learn Biology" which help us provide our students with the necessary resources to excel in the science and technology fields. For Bangladeshi girls to compete with the rest of the world, they need to gain more knowledge on technological advances."

Despite all the advancements, however, there remains a gender gap in the technology sector in Bangladesh. Women remain underrepresented in many IT-related sectors and are more likely to be excluded from new and emerging positions. By gatekeeping women from the tech-work force, we are eliminating almost 50% of the potential workers from the industry.

"Stereotypically, tech is seen more as a man's job, as they are more associated with logic, while women, who are seen as more emotional, get hired less. This is extremely frustrating as a woman hoping to work in tech in Bangladesh. So, most of us studying CSE plan on going abroad for work after completing our studies here as there are better opportunities available abroad. On top of that, it is a well-known fact that women get paid significantly less than their male counterparts, which discourages us from wanting to study CSE and even less enter the tech workforce." shares Sanjida Tasnim, a CSE student at BRAC University.

"I'm afraid of even applying for a tech-related job in Bangladesh because every time I go to give an interview, they ask me overly personal and invasive questions such as my marital status, which is quite unfair as the same questions aren't asked to a man applying for the same job." shares a student of CS department at BRAC University who wishes to remain anonymous.

Additionally, many women lack the resources and training needed to pursue digital education or technology-related careers. They are often discouraged from pursuing these types of careers due to social and cultural barriers. Even though more and more women are joining the workforce every day, the societal prejudices and gruelling work hours that exist in tech-related fields in Bangladesh bar them from excelling and reaching their true potential.

Because of the lack of information and resources for female students interested in studying science and technology, most of them have no choice but to choose their degrees based on societal and familial pressures instead of their own volition.

"I wish I could have had a real, unfiltered talk with someone who studied CSE or found resources to provide me with more knowledge before I chose to study Computer Science in my Undergraduate. Instead, I had a whole bunch of new information dumped on me, which made me more insecure about my own capabilities on top of the pressure to do well." shares another student from BRAC University's Computer Science department.

In an attempt to make the technology field more equitable and inclusive, the government has taken steps to promote digital literacy and provide access to digital education for women in rural areas. Additionally, there are several initiatives, such as tech boot camps, workshops, and online courses, which are specifically designed to help women gain the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue tech-related careers.

The Bangladesh Women in Technology (BWIT) aims to train and provide women working in Bangladesh's technology industry with a wide network of opportunities. The dedicated women who make up the team include experts in ICT, Computer Science, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Robotics, and Mechatronics.

In 2018, the government introduced the 'She Power Project- Sustainable Development for Women through ICT', which aimed to create a competent female workforce and empower women entrepreneurs, startups, and women working in technology in Bangladesh.

Another notable organisation, Bangladesh Network Operators Group, provides workshops and conferences on enhancing training and financially aiding women entrepreneurs and professionals in partnership with World Bank. There are also numerous government initiatives, such as the Bangladesh Korea Institute of Information and Community Technology (BKIICT) and Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC) who have taken initiatives to support working women in Bangladesh.

The ICT sector and digital education is becoming a forefront in turning Bangladesh into a booming economy. In order to encourage and inspire more women into studying STEM and joining the IT industry, companies need to provide better training, child-care facilities, proper steps to prevent any harassment they might face, less taxing work hours, and paid menstrual leave, among others. Only by addressing these core issues and acknowledging the bias in the industry can we, as a community, work towards making the tech field in Bangladesh more accepting and inclusive of people of all genders and ages.

Sara Kabir is a journalist at The Daily Star


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