Gender_Tech event brings together leading women’s rights and digital activists from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing women and human rights defenders online.
To mark the United Nations’ global ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’ campaign, Oxfam launched Gender_Tech in Beirut on 24 and 25 November, together with the Social Media Exchange (SMEX) and the Knowledge Workshop.
The two-day event, attended by over 100 participants, discussed the different and growing forms of violence that women in the region experience online such as harassment, blackmail and trolling, as well as issues of digital privacy, security, and surveillance.
“The Internet, like any other technology, is shaped by society. It can be a medium for good as much as it can be a medium for racism, sectarianism, and misogyny. It has served women in our region to speak out, organize and mobilize, as much as it has been used to attack and silence them”, said Farah Kobaissy, Oxfam’s MENA Regional Gender and Advocacy Manager.
As one of the world’s fastest-growing digital regions, many forms of discrimination, harassment, and violence that women face offline in the MENA region are extended into online spaces. At the same time, women especially human rights activists, face increasing surveillance and restrictions from state and non-state actors on what they can do and say online. While online violence against women in the MENA region is a growing problem, it remains under-recognized and under-reported.
Palestinian women’s rights activist and co-founder of the Wiki-Gender project, Farah Barqawi, explains, “Cyber-violence in the Middle East takes many forms including online exploitation, threatening and doxing – or revealing personal documents or details online without their consent to identify or blackmail them”.
The event included a hackathon which came with creative solutions to prevent and counter online and offline violence against women and girls. “We can harness technology as a tool not only for getting better data on violence against women and girls, but also for preventing it and calling it out”, says Amber Parkes, Oxfam’s MENA Regional Gender Justice Lead.
The event also tackled the question of the digital economy and whether it helps or hinders women. While the internet has benefitted many women financially by providing flexible and remote working options, or by allowing them to have an online business where their society restricts them working outside the home, panelists noted that there are also downsides to this new digital economy. “The fear of losing our jobs to automation is constantly looming, with women and workers from the Global South at particular risk. The question is: how do we create collective responses to our shared precarity; how do we claim the fruits of our digital labour?”, says Lara Bitar, Editorial Director and Lead Researcher at SMEX.
By bringing together leading women’s rights advocates and digital activists from across the region, Gender_Tech, “helped to spark a new and crucial interest in exploring the relationship between the feminist and the digital rights movement in the region”, as concluded by Nadine Moawad, a prominent feminist activist from Lebanon and one of the event organisers.
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MENA Regional Gender and Communications Officer