New Approaches to Technology Empower Refugee Girls


The girl was sitting in the workshop fixing a cell phone when I told her that only 1 % of all technicians mending such gadgets were women.

She stood up with her eyes wide open and asked “In Lebanon?”

“Worldwide,” I said. “You are one of the 1 %.”

She put her hand over her heart with the biggest smile I ever seen. For women working in traditionally male fields like gadget repair, gender stereotypes can get in the way of job placement in the Middle East and north Africa region. Most cell phone repair shops and most men and women, do not think women can repair mobiles or work in technology sectors. However, in Lebanon, female refugees from Syria and local young people think differently.

Refugees everywhere face considerable challenges to obtaining the education they need to improve their lives. These include:

  • The remote locations of refugee camps or resettlement areas
  • Security concerns
  • Language barriers in their hosting communities
  • Legal restrictions on movement
  • Limited local infrastructure
  • Inadequate educational materials
  • Few trained teachers, particularly women
  • A lack of resources to address these limitations.

However, information and communications technology can help teachers and students overcome these barriers.

Mobile phones have become a necessity, as they are the one tool that helps refugees avoid isolation and learn about the services and initiatives that are available to them inside the camps and in their journey. According to a survey conducted by Penn State University and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 86 % of young people interviewed in Zaatari camp in Jordan said they own a mobile device, with more than 50 % using the Internet at least once a day. Those who took part also said they use mobile phones to access the news, social media, and stay in touch with family members in other settlements or with friends and family who remained in Syria.

Almost everyone in Lebanon has a cell phone, but they are expensive. There is a strong “reuse, re-purpose and recycle” culture in the Arab States, and consequently a big, national market for cell phone repair services. UN Women believes this presents a perfect opportunity for women to be trained to fill the supply gap in the market and to strengthen their livelihood. However, the mobile technical field is male-dominated with only 1%–2% women technicians even in the most developed countries, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit organization which aims to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion.

UN Women’s project in Lebanon, Community mobilization and Economic Empowerment of vulnerable women and youth in Crisis-affected areas explored how information and communications technology can improve both access to and the quality of education for refugees. The project, funded by the Government of Japan, offers vocational and technical training, work experience, personal development activities and psychosocial support, and awareness of gender-based violence, for young people to increase their access to the labour-market and enhance the life skills needed to help support their local community. The activities are being implemented in the Lebanese Government Municipality and Social Development Centre, and the Vocational Training Centre of the Ministry of Social Affairs.

The programme offer participants the opportunity to hone their skills in a workshop, teaching them everything from replacing main phone boards, diagnostics checks, trouble-shooting, empathy training and customer service training. These skills are highly sought after, and the lack of them directly impacts on the economy, the advancement of the country and the economic and social empowerment of women. After being trained the women get tool kits, job placement opportunities and small grants to set them up, so they can generate an income for themselves and their families.

One 15-year-old girl attending the programme said: “We joined this workshop to learn a new profession so that they do not marry us off at an early age. There should be equality between girls and boys so that our society can prosper. It is not right that boys go to school and work. People say that girls are best for housework and cleaning. If a girl does not work, they marry her off by 14 years of age. My friend’s wedding will be in July.”

New Beginnings- Syrian women refugees in the Arab Region

The gender gap in the technical and management positions could be explained by the demanding nature of these jobs, which contradicts with social norms that limit the working hours of women and assumes certain field tasks as inappropriate.

The team behind the workshop programme brought in the job placement opportunities as a way of breaking those social norms. Soubra Cell is one of the big mobile retail stories in Beirut which offered paid internship for eight of the workshop graduates. The CEO of Soubra praised the women for the positive change they have made to the workplace.

He said: “The store now is more organized than before and the trainees have more analytical and problem-solving skills than my previous male employees. We will be hiring some of them for sure after the internship.

“Most of the store’s clients are men and are not used to seeing women here but the girls are so efficient that men are becoming more comfortable in interacting with them and getting better service.”

The Empower Women’s Virtual Skills School to be launched in 2017 hopes to support

  • The development of women and girls’ life and employability skills
  •  The participation of the private sector in the training and jobs placement
  • Developing comprehensive awareness campaigns
  • Efforts to improve academic and career counselling
  • Redefining gender roles in society
  • Improved access to labour market information
  • Addressing legal issues that hinder the participation of women in the workforce
  • Providing business startup support
Photographer & Videographer Credit: Emad Karim

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  • Sister zeph
    Thank you for such a great work that you are doing to give women equality in IT, I am from Pakistan and I have never ever seen a women doing such work , we use computer and mobiles but we cannot think to repair them , I have never heard to any trainings for such gadgets to repair, even if we have to go to repair our own devices as women we cannot go without a man, I am working in rural Pakistan to raise the status of women through education and empowerment since 20 years and I do not have a male in my family except my old father who cannot move around with me, so I have to wait for my cousins to go with me to such shops for months, if i will go alone people will make stories about me and I cannot allow them to do it or parents of students will think I am not a good woman and will stop their daughters to study and to learn skills from my school 
  • Samia Abou ibrahim
    Amazing story ,thanks for sharing
  • Mahwash Rehman
    Truly inspiring stories. Thanks for sharing Emad! 
  • Yvonne Akoth
    Hi Emad,

    Thank you for sharing this very inspiring stor. 

    Tech is fun and I am happy girls are getting more interested in it from a young age. From this story, they have great potential to be great technicians and to contribute to the technology sector.
  • Norman Julu
    It happens everywhere in the world more especially in developing world and in areas affected with war. Let's rise up and fight for #WomenEconomicEmpowerment so that that we all live in the world we desire.

  • Giuliane Bertaglia

    Thank for sharing these incredible stories!


    I wholeheartedly hope that the women showed in the video will be able to rebuild their lives in the way they want and also they will become disseminators of ideas and actions in favor of a more just and egalitarian society. May their examples of life continue to rebuild society's values and help us to break the barriers of prejudice.

    I am giving them all of my support and admiration! ;)

    Best regards,

  • Nasra Hassan
    Thank you for sharing this piece Emad.

    Technology is the way forward, however, the gender gap is a huge barrier and with education and simple conversations this is a barrier we will overcome. 
  • Valentine Kamau
    Women can venture into any career. This is proof.
  • Dr Rejoice Shumba
    The gender gap still needs to be closed in ICT because ICT offers a range of job opportunities and with high unemployment among women, it is necessary to get women more involved in ICT.
  • Shalini Prakash
    It is great that people are adopting innovative ways to empower refugee people. Congrats to the team!
  • Lindiwe mlalazi
    It is important for all of us to continue to find ways to empower women and young girls. Well done to everyone who is involved and making a difference!!!! 
  • It is urgent that we continue to find more ways to empower girls and women, especially those who are displaced from their homes, education access points and workplaces, such as people who are currently refugees or asylum seekers. Wonderful to read about this initiative coming in 2017!
  • Cristina Lasagni
    Wow! This is definitely one of the best initiative I have seen so far. I am a woman in ICT and there is definitely an appetite in Europe to attract more female talent in the industry but there's no clear strategy or united effort in this sense. I do believe women in Lebanon can set a precedent and an example for other countries too.
    Keep us posted on the outcomes and would be great to connect with those ladies. They are a great example of courage and determination for us all! Thanks for sharing
  • Ogbeyalu Okoye
    Amazing! Technology sure empowers women and girls all over the world.
  • Dr Ishrat Bano
    Thanks Emad for sharing new technological approaches to empower girls and women!

    Much has been said and written about the gender gap in technical positions. It is the time we need to move further with solving this problem rather than just talking about it. This actually is an issue of missed opportunities which we, as a soicety,  don't provide to young girls and women. Technical fields are mainly male dominated sectors of the society which boost a strong perception that technical fields are of more interest to males than females.  I believe this problem of perception is the main cause of hinderance to take concrete steps to overcome this gap. Tech fields serve as a catalyst for economic development.

    Therefore, I am positive that working together we can overcome this problem and in next 5 to 10 years there will be more young girls and women in technical roles than ever before.  

    Onwards and upwards!
  • Wonjeong Chae
    Technogy and Education together, it will bring all sources of positive results. It would be great to see more countries promte more to support women.
  • Wairimu Mwangi
    The greatest aspect of this initiative is the fact that it has the potential of being replicated in other regions of the world. 
  • Wanyana Racheal
    This is a great initiative.  It will definitely help improve not only the economic,  but social status of women and girls in Lebanon. I wish it could be expanded to reach more countries in the MENA.
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