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