The Arab Cyberfeminist’s Digital Toolkit

Talking about women and technology in Arab countries, perhaps we expect a story about a woman who is uneducated and has little knowledge of English. She may not have Internet access, or at most a mobile device, although she most likely has a family to care for. She is at the financial mercy of the family’s breadwinner. What does she do in this scenario? And more importantly, how true are these assumptions?

Technologies have reached a turning point, enabling Arab women to participate in the formal economy in a way that is global, collaborative, knowledge-based, and conducive to part-time and occasional work.

But as the World Bank notes, barriers still remain: the gender gap in Internet usage in Arab countries is 34%, meaning that men account for 2 in 3 Internet users, 48% of women in the Arab world do not own a mobile phone (let alone a smartphone!). That leaves 84 million unconnected women in the region. Unequal access has serious consequences for inequality more broadly. Broadband Internet is now a priority in efforts across the region to reduce poverty and create jobs, especially among women and youth.

I live in the United Arab Emirates. Let’s get some stereotypes out of the way: women do work here in Dubai. How do I know? I’m proof: I operate my own translation agency with clients around the world, providing opportunities to Arab women eager to work from home and apply themselves in business.

We want to do many of the same things as our Western sisters: socialize, get around, work, and better ourselves educationally. We’ve figured out ways of accomplishing these tasks in a low-cost way using tools that were originally designed for a very different audience. So I’d like to share how it’s done.