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Four women Internet Policy Analyst (IPA) authors, part of the Internet Governance for the MENA Region (IGMENA) program, came to the Tunis International Radio Channel to talk about gender, human rights, and Internet governance and shed light on Internet gender policy gaps in the MENA region. The radio session tacked many questions on gender as it relates to Internet policies. The IPA authors answered questions such as: What is the size of the Internet gender gap? What prevents women from accessing the Internet? What will help more women get online access? What the policies the Internet gap has a tremendous potential to empower women and enrich their lives? The radio guests were:
• Ms. Zohra Dhaouadi, Student Engineer, High Institute of Computer Science
• Ms. Tesnime Jemli, President of National Institute of Applied Science and Technology Google Club
• Ms. Hanane Abbasi, MA Student in International Relations, High Institute of Human Science
• Ms. Chaima Chaouachi, Tunisia Business School Student
Here is a summary of the points they addressed, from their own perspectives.
Ms. Zohra Dhaouadi:
In terms of my personal experience using the Internet in Tunisia, I got the chance to experience all the cyber-threats on the network. As a woman using the Internet on a daily basis, this has been my gateway for where I stand in life today. It has helped me become a global citizen on an international scale and given me total access to youth opinion. Thankfully, today women are closing the gap with men to be the key drivers of Internet development.
Currently, the largest international and local markets are based on e-commerce. Women have always been perceived as the first consumers, so why not the best and first sellers? Unfortunately, many restrictions are standing in front of success for Tunisian women and impeding their empowerment as Internet end users. As a woman, the first limitations I faced are financial ones: affording the cost of my Internet access has never been that cheap or easy for me. Also, affording Internet access and its speed at any time seems to be impossible in Tunisia. These are the problems preventing women from reaching their success. Yet there are other threats that restrain their use and damage them morally and even physically.
Women should be more aware of such of personal risks and dangers while online, from privacy concerns and identity theft to hackers and computer viruses. For such reasons, women expressed more fears than men about the Internet. Threats include the general criminal use of the Internet, child pornography, organized terrorism, and getting hacked. As a solution for such issues, here are my tips for better cybersecurity protection:
Ms. Tesnime Jemli:
In 2015, there are 5.4 Million Tunisian Internet users (5.2M have a Facebook account), which represents 49% of the Tunisian population. The fact that equality between men and women is guaranteed by law and legislation in Tunisia, does not prevent us from speaking about gender gaps in the use of the Internet. In addition, we have to take into consideration some other variables such as academic background, age, region, or place of residence (rural or urban).
Personally, I’m a frequent user of the Internet. I use it daily especially for research and educational purposes. Women in rural regions in the west and south of Tunisia have difficulties in accessing the Internet for two major reasons: lack of telecommunications infrastructure in these areas, and poverty and illiteracy, which prevent them from having access and paying Internet fees.
Internet providers and operators are working to make the Internet accessible and better quality, but at the same time civil society is also searching for solutions to provide the Internet for everyone. I can mention the initiative of Sayada al Monastir, where citizens installed a wireless community network with free Wi-Fi for all citizens in December 2013. This project, called “Mesh Sayada,” was conducted by the association for free digital culture Calibre, and materials were provided by the OpenTech Institute, a nongovernmental organization working on community networks. The Internet is a great tool for education and knowledge that women can benefit from to develop themselves personally and professionally.
Technology is not meant only for a specific category of people – everyone can learn how it functions and manipulate it and not be just a consumer. I did an internship in Morocco where I taught young men and women web development and how to create their own websites, and the great thing about it was that they came from different educational backgrounds but all wanted to know about this interesting topic. Even better was that the majority of them were girls. It was a wonderful experience for me. While surfing online, women should be aware that they will no longer be the owner of what they publish, so it’s important to be cautious; everyone can be a target of a cyber-attack. It may be a good idea just to delete or modify personal information. Let’s work together to improve awareness about using the Internet and ensuring safety online.
Ms. Hanane Abassi:
I would like to focus on civil society’s role in minimizing the gender gap in Tunisia, especially when it comes to relating this issue to Internet governance. First of all, as a woman who is an activist in several associations (IGMENA, CMC, MAU, AfriAct) and who uses the Internet every day to stay up-to-date on everything that is going on in our world – news, studies, leisure activities, and even new contacts – I do believe that civil society has a tremendous power to help women in Tunisia and in the MENA region as a whole, and to raise their awareness about the importance of the Internet as it has become a fundamental part of our daily lives.
Various issues prevent women from enjoying Internet accessibility. Statistics from the Ministry of Communication and Technology shed light on the fact that women are prevented from their right to join the Internet world because of distance, lack of time, lack of interest, and lack of skills to get online, especially in the rural and very remote areas in our country. Women are suppressed in the domestic sphere and if some of them have the chance to be connected, they may be in danger aseasy prey for terrorist groups (especially in our current context) or for hackers or even for sexual abuse. Hence, I emphasize that it is our mission as civil society activists – together with the government – to partner and cooperate in order to protect these women and treat them as equal human beings.
For the solutions to overcome this issue of the gender gap, I suggest that the government should devote some amount of money and interest to organize programs, such as weekly or monthly training sessions, to help women learn more about the Internet, its use, its governance, and how to defend their rights online.
Ms. Chaima Chaouachi:
Economic empowerment is the capacity of women to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from growth processes in Tunisia in ways that recognize the value of their contributions on the Internet, respect their dignity, and make it possible to negotiate a fairer distribution of the benefits of growth. Economic empowerment increases women’s access to economic resources and opportunities including jobs, financial services, property and other productive assets, skills development, and market information.
The Internet is a learning tool, and with the infinite resources that the Web provides, it's not terribly difficult to find websites that will teach you new and interesting skills in areas such as culture, scientific inquiry, and art. Digital know-how will enlighten and excite women – and if you stick around long enough, you may just learn a life-changing lesson in the process. College is overrated. Consider the Internet your debt-free alternative.
Women’s economic empowerment is a prerequisite for sustainable development and for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. And economic empowerment is also a right. There is no quick fix: women’s economic empowerment takes sound public policies, a holistic approach, and long-term commitment from all development actors. Donors can also increase their investment with governments.
Conversation summarized by Mr.Hamza Ben Mehrez
Policy Analyst Lead, IGMENA