The Arab Cyberfeminist’s Digital Toolkit

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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.



In the UAE, I drive my own vehicle and also use Uber and Careem. Such apps are a necessity in Saudi Arabia, for example, since woman cannot drive there. By contrast, women in Kuwait can drive and travel on their own, and in Jordan, women can travel freely without permission from their husbands or male relatives.




Socialize with friends, family and colleagues with Facebook, WhatsApp (#1 app in Kuwait and Qatar), and Viber (#3 in Kuwait, according to App Annie). For free calls, a free app called imo is popular too. The cost of mobile phones and minutes is a major barrier, which is why everyone – but women in particular – prefers to use free apps for making calls.



If your foreign friends send a YouTube link without realizing that YouTube is blocked in many Arab countries, you can still access it via VPN. We use services such as Dash VPN/ VPN Shield for accessing the wider web. When connections are too limited to allow video traffic, many of my colleagues use UC Browser (Alibaba) to save bandwidth and connection costs.


Job search

Need a job? The next step is familiar to most Americans these days: go to LinkedIn. For women interested in freelancing, SmartCAT totally upends the traditional pricing model for freelance translators: instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a desktop app, they get free access to professional-grade language technologies and all the features needed to start working with clients. Translators can complete jobs for their existing clients – such as Tarjama – or find new ones by completing a profile that makes them visible to potential clients worldwide.



Google Docs and Asana help to collaborate. Google Docs is available on all devices, and is a massive step above the “old days” of uploading and downloading each document version with tracked changes individually (for translation agencies, this is an all-too-common situation). While Slack has not caught on in the region, a somewhat similar tool, Asana, is free for small teams looking to centralize their conversations in one easily searchable place.


Video meetings

Skype is the old standby for freelancers to stay in the loop and keep in touch. But it’s not the only game in town. Oovoo, for example, supports multiple devices and video chat with up to a dozen people simultaneously.



iTunes U is the 4th most popular app in the region on App Annie, and for good reason. The heart of a translator’s job is to know everything about everything and be able to communicate about it. So hearing the latest developments in science, history and other fields from world-leading lecturers is a big deal.


Dating apps

In the United Arab Emirates and all across the Arab countries dating is unacceptable while arranged marriages are the norm, so to beat the segregation imposed by a stern society, young men and women meet virtually.


All these insanely great tools are being actively used today

…in the case of the translators working for my company, in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, war-torn Syria, and elsewhere. No matter which country you’re in, however, I think women now have a whole different world of work and opportunities than their mothers did. And while all this state-of-the-art software was probably not designed for a Jordanian housewife or a Lebanese student looking to apply herself and make a little money, it certainly makes it possible to do things and go places – both physically and virtually – they may never have imagined before.