Social media unites Arab women for digital activism across region and beyond

Social media unites Arab women for digital activism across region and beyond
Israa Ghrayeb’s story sparked protests, with hundreds of women in the Arab region demonstrating. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 March 2020

Social media unites Arab women for digital activism across region and beyond

Social media unites Arab women for digital activism across region and beyond
  • From Yemen to Lebanon and from Morocco to Egypt, female activists are harnessing modern-day technology to digital activism
  • The murder of 21-year-old Palestinian Israa Ghrayeb prompted debates about domestic abuse and honor crimes

JEDDAH: Online activism has revolutionized Arab women's struggle for equality in the past few years as they use the web to demand legislative change, confront sexual harassment and gender-based violence, as well as condemn patriarchy and misogyny.

From Yemen to Beirut, Rabat to Cairo, activists are mastering modern-day technology for digital activism. Women across the region are uniting through social media and, through this empowerment and solidarity, are holding their harassers to account, securing their rights and gaining the confidence to speak out.

Sarah Sheikh Ali is co-founder and director of an NGO called Humena that brings together human rights experts, members of civil society and academics from the Middle East and North Africa to promote human rights and gender equality.

“Social media has given women a platform, a network of allies, and a public presence that can’t as easily be silenced,” the Lebanese researcher told Arab News. “Social media, for all its flaws has helped us, as women, to know and feel we're not alone.”

One of the most devastating stories that triggered serious discussions about domestic abuse and honor crimes was that of 21-year-old Israa Ghrayeb, who was beaten to death by her relatives last August.

Her case revealed there was a lack of basic legal protection for Palestinian women, and local media and authorities failed to take serious steps until her death caused outrage among netizens.

The hashtags “Israa Ghrayeb,” “No honor in honor crimes” and “We are all Israa Ghrayeb” were trending on Twitter in several Arab countries for weeks.

Saudi women were pivotal in spreading the news across social media platforms and making sure it stayed at the top of trending lists. Ghrayeb’s story sparked on-the-ground protests too, with hundreds of women from the region and beyond demonstrating as part of the #Talat movement, meaning “women rise up.”

“In many ways these photos and footage, and the ease with which they can be shared, have energized protests and motivated women to rally around shared struggles,” Sheikh Ali said, referring to women at the frontline of demonstrations in countries such as Sudan and Lebanon.

Fatin Selim, who is 28 and from Saudi Arabia, said that last year represented a major qualitative shift in Arab women’s cyberactivism.

“Women addressed many issues with courage, and bravery, despite the different cultural backgrounds between them, they supported each other,” she told Arab News.

“I cannot imagine Israa Ghrayeb’s assaulters put in the dock without women's solidarity on Twitter. They were true investigative reporters, collecting information, refuting the assaulters’ arguments, and standing up for the victim.

“It was a wonderful and pleasant thing to see the development of women's awareness in an unprecedented way.”

Saja Al-Otaibi, who is 25, said social media discussions had helped women to discover new sources of support and empathy.

“The most remarkable thing about the women’s digital movement is that progress in society became faster, and that fears and apprehensions subsided, men’s support for women's issues did not appear on a wide level in our societies except with the spread of social media,” she told Arab News.

“And Saudi Arabia seems to lead this scene in the Arab world.”

A World Bank report recently ranked Saudi Arabia as top reformer and the top improver among 190 countries in terms of gender equality.

Its “Women, Business and the Law” 2020 report gave the Kingdom an overall score of 70.6 out of 100 - a 38.8 jump since its last ranking - placing it first among Gulf Cooperation Council countries and second in the Arab world.

But overall the MENA region fares poorly in terms of gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum. “Assuming the same rate of progress going forward, it will take approximately 150 years to close the gender gap in the MENA region, 15 years shorter than what was predicted last year,” it said.

“For now, many women in the region continue to face limitations of basic rights, including for divorce, inheritance, asset ownership, access to justice, and freedom of movement.”

Social media platforms have given women space to express themselves. Initiatives and projects to empower women and spread awareness abound, be they podcasts, virtual campaigns, support groups, online workshops, counseling or coaching services.

Body image, gender, patriarchy, spirituality, fitness, legal awareness, rights, marriage, family, social issues and life skills are just some of the topics discussed online.

“The virtual world has helped us to look outside ourselves, and realize that despite the distances, nationalities and religions, we have a shared struggle in our societies,” Bayan Seif, 19, told Arab News. “A sense of solidarity is always crucial to maintain and strengthen any just case.”

She said every story could act as a source of consolation, hope, and inspiration, whether it revolved around pain, harsh experiences, successes, and that dialogue was the main vehicle for social change.

Sheikh Ali invited women from across the region to join this year’s International Women Day campaign theme #EachforEqual. 

“Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day. We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women's achievements,” according to the campaign’s website.

“Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world.”

International Women’s Day is on March 8.


Facebook sets up new team to work on the ‘metaverse’

Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality such as its Oculus VR headsets, AR glasses and wristband technologies. (File/AFP)
Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality such as its Oculus VR headsets, AR glasses and wristband technologies. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 sec ago

Facebook sets up new team to work on the ‘metaverse’

Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality such as its Oculus VR headsets, AR glasses and wristband technologies. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook establishes new team to work on metaverse, a digital world where people can move between different devices and virtual environments

LONDON: Facebook is creating a product team to work on the “metaverse,” a digital world where people can move between different devices and communicate in a virtual environment, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Monday.
The team will be part of the company’s virtual reality organization, the group’s executive Andrew Bosworth said in a Facebook post.
“You can think about the metaverse as an embodied Internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge in an interview last week.
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets and working on AR glasses and wristband technologies.
It has also bought a bevy of VR gaming studios, including BigBox VR. It has about 10,000 employees working on virtual reality, The Information reported in March.
Zuckerberg has said he thinks it makes sense to invest deeply to shape what he bets will be the next big computing platform.
“I believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile Internet, and creating this product group is the next step in our journey to help build it,” he said on his Monday Facebook post.
He told The Verge: “If we do this well, I think over the next five years or so ... we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”


McDonald’s creates new unit to focus on global digital app

McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants. (File/Reuters)
McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants. (File/Reuters)
Updated 17 min 48 sec ago

McDonald’s creates new unit to focus on global digital app

McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants. (File/Reuters)
  • McDonald's creates new unit that brings together digital, data analytics, marketing, restaurant development and operations segments
  • Loyalty programs bring in valuable data about customers’ food orders and habits, which restaurants use to push specialized deals

NEW YORK: McDonald’s Corp. is bringing its digital, data analytics, marketing, restaurant development and operations segments into one unit as it focuses on driving growth through its global app and new MyMcDonald’s Rewards program, the company said on Monday.
The company rolled out MyMcDonald’s Rewards on July 8 as fast-food chains have raced to launch loyalty programs to spur sales, reach younger consumers and give customers more ways to order.
To lead the new unit, McDonald’s promoted Manu Steijaert to a new global chief customer officer position, effective Aug. 1 and reporting to Chief Executive Officer Chris Kempczinski. Steijaert previously ran international operated markets including European countries, Russia and Australia.
Nearly half of all restaurant customers use at least one loyalty program, particularly when ordering fast-food, according to a consumer survey from loyalty program provider Paytronix Systems Inc. and PYMNTS.com.
The programs rake in valuable data about customers’ food orders and habits, which restaurants use to push specialized deals in the hope of getting people to eat there more often and spend more money on extra items.
McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants, Kempczinski said in an internal message seen by Reuters. The company created the team “to remove some internal barriers and silos that ultimately lead to a fragmented customer experience,” Kempczinski said in the memo.
The company reports second-quarter earnings results on Wednesday.


EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results

The final prices for Google Hotel and Google Flight should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance. (File/AFP)
The final prices for Google Hotel and Google Flight should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance. (File/AFP)
Updated 32 min 34 sec ago

EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results

The final prices for Google Hotel and Google Flight should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance. (File/AFP)
  • EU provides Google with two months to improve the way the platform shows internet search results in relation to hotels and flights
  • Google has long faced scrutiny from antitrust enforcers and consumer groups around the world over its business practices

BRUSSELS: Alphabet unit Google has two months to improve the way it presents Internet search results for flights and hotels and explain how it ranks these or face possible sanctions, the European Commission and EU consumer authorities said on Monday.
The world’s most popular Internet search engine has long faced scrutiny from antitrust enforcers and consumer groups around the world over its business practices, which in some cases have landed it with hefty fines.
The latest grievance centers on the prices on its services Google Flights and Google Hotels.
The final prices for these should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance, while reference prices used to calculate promoted discounts should be clearly identifiable, the EU executive and national consumer watchdogs, led by the Dutch agency and the Belgian Directorate General for Economic Inspection, said in a joint statement.
“EU consumers cannot be misled when using search engines to plan their holidays. We need to empower consumers to make their choices based on transparent and unbiased information,” EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said.
The agencies also told Google to revise the standard terms of its Google Store because some cases showed that traders have more rights than consumers.
If Google’s proposals are not sufficient, the agencies will discuss the issue further with the company and may impose sanctions.
Google said in a statement: “We welcome this dialogue and are working closely with consumer protection agencies and the European Commission to see how we can make improvements that will be good for our users and provide even more transparency.”


Tunisian journalist union calls for protection of journalists after Ennahda threats

Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” (Facebook)
Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” (Facebook)
Updated 26 July 2021

Tunisian journalist union calls for protection of journalists after Ennahda threats

Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” (Facebook)
  • The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists demanded that Tunisian authorities provide protection for journalists in the country
  • Tensions in the North African country rose on Sunday after President Kais Saied suspended Parliament, fired PM Mechichi and dissolved the government

LONDON: The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) demanded that Tunisian authorities provide protection for journalists in the country on Monday, after reporter Mohamed Yousfi announced he had received threats from members of the Muslim Brotherhood-associated Ennahda party.

Yousfi reportedly received threats from Ennahda supporters over claims he made during an appearance on Al-Mayadeen television channel earlier this week that members of the movement blackmailed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and prevented his resignation. 

 

 

Tensions in the North African country rose on Sunday after President Kais Saied suspended Parliament, fired Mechichi and dissolved the government. 

Parliament’s speaker, Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda party, called the president’s move a coup and an “assault on democracy.”

Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” 

In the post he said he held the president, prime minister, head of the military and the acting minister of the interior responsible for his safety. 

In a statement published on its Facebook page, the SNJT said that Yousfi had received “death threats regarding his media statements in which he portrayed the general situation of the country, including the political, health and social crisis,” which had “caused a systematic campaign of incitement, insult and assault against him by electronic accounts and militias working on behalf and for the benefit of political parties supporting the government.”

Saudi Arabia and Egypt have designated the Ennahda party as a terrorist organization.

The SNJT also condemned campaigns of incitement and violence aimed at silencing and intimidating other journalists in Tunisia. 

It highlighted in a monthly report that attacks against journalists and photographers in June had increased, with the 18 attacks reported up from 13 incidents in May. 

According to Reporters Without Borders, Tunisia ranks 73rd in the world on the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Saied’s move to dissolve Parliament comes in response to nationwide protests over the past few days, prompted by Tunisia’s economic, political and health crises. 

Over the weekend, hundreds of Tunisians rallied in Tunis and other cities demanding the government step down after a surge in cases of the coronavirus disease COVID-19.

The protests turned violent when police used pepper spray against demonstrators, who threw stones and shouted slogans demanding Mechichi’s resignation.


Police shut Al Jazeera TV’s Tunis office

Al Jazeera television said on Monday that Tunisian police had stormed its bureau in the capital Tunis. (File/AFP)
Al Jazeera television said on Monday that Tunisian police had stormed its bureau in the capital Tunis. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 July 2021

Police shut Al Jazeera TV’s Tunis office

Al Jazeera television said on Monday that Tunisian police had stormed its bureau in the capital Tunis. (File/AFP)
  • “Around 15 policemen, some in uniform others in civilian clothes, entered our offices and asked us to leave,” Al Jazeera director in Tunis Lotfi Hajji said
  • The move came a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended parliament

TUNIS: Tunisian police on Monday closed the office of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera television in the capital Tunis, its bureau chief said, amid political turmoil in the North African country.
“Around 15 policemen, some in uniform others in civilian clothes, entered our offices and asked us to leave,” Al Jazeera director in Tunis Lotfi Hajji told AFP.
He said the law enforcement officers gave no reason for the actions, but confiscated the keys to the premises and forced all staff to leave.
The move came a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended parliament, following a day of street protests against the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic.
Hajji said the police told Al Jazeera staff “we are following orders.”
“What is happening is very dangerous, it is proof that freedom of the press is threatened. Today it is Al Jazeera, another day another media,” Hajji said.
AFP contacted the interior minister for further details but no immediate explanations were given for the closure of the outlet’s office.