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Mehrunisa Qayyum, in her blog PITAPOLICY, which covers politics and analyses development in the Middle East and
Arab women’s rights activists have taken advantage of social media to further their role as social entrepreneurs.
By Shazia Kamal – WASHINGTON DC
North Africa (MENA) region, assessed the most recent list of the top 100 Arab women by ArabianBusiness.com, noting the growing impact of “women who have transformed their business entrepreneurial skills into social entrepreneurship….”
The power of activism lies in the ability to mobilise all segments of society to raise awareness of and propel action on a particular issue. In order to achieve these goals when it comes to women’s rights issues in the Middle East, activists are adopting the tools of successful female social entrepreneurs – community-based women's project opportunities, social media and global partnerships.
A great example of community-based entrepreneurship is the Sakhra Women’s Cooperative. Founded by Zeinab Al-Momani in Lebanon, this organisation is the first women’s agricultural union in the Arab world. The cooperative provides a platform and financial assistance to marginalised female farmers who have traditionally lacked a voice in the design and planning of projects that affect their lives and families.
Furthering their role as social entrepreneurs, women’s rights activists have taken advantage of social media. Egypt’s Asmaa Mahfouz, an activist and one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, which organised protests that led to this year’s Egyptian revolution, posted an online video calling on her fellow citizens to rally against the 30-year dictatorship of former President Hosni Mubarak. Her use of technology exemplifies how women across Egypt can utilise social media to inform and educate others, despite societal norms that have historically left them out of social and political processes.
Women’s rights activists should continue to make every effort to become equipped with technology – such as computers, laptops, cell phones and social networking devices – to spread awareness of their mission and programmes. Although there are some obstacles to women accessing computers and cell phones because of government restrictions or high costs, local communities can create networks to make sure that lines of communication stay open and that activists have access to partner organisations to exchange ideas and updates on their progress.
The ability to communicate effortlessly with people from different countries because of technology has turned our world into a global village. One result is global coalition-building, when local institutions – such as civic groups and non-governmental organisations – build partnerships with global counterparts.
The Al-Ashanek ya Balady Association for Sustainable Development (AYB-SD), a non-governmental organisation in Egypt, is one organisation that operates through this type of global partnership. AYB-SD aims to alleviate poverty by providing services such as education, job training and loans for women, teenagers and those living in poverty. It has a partnership with the Swedish institute She Entrepreneurs, which provides the members of AYB-SD with social media training. This type of structure can and should be replicated throughout the Middle East to empower women activists and equip them with the skills and contacts necessary to create change on a large scale.
Younger generations, I believe, are much more open about and tolerant of women’s rights and women taking on new roles in the community. Youth involvement will be the key to navigating activist frontiers, and, in the future, young women will create deeper inroads into government, media and civic society through the use of such tools.
With the correct tools, skills and knowledge comes the power for real change.
Shazia Kamal is Associate Editor at AltMuslimah.com, a platform for commentary on the intersections of faith and gender in Islam and beyond.
This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).