Perspective: A woman in tech in Palestine
Business Management

Perspective: A woman in tech in Palestine

“I grew up knowing nothing but war and conflict,” says 31-year old Abeer Abu Ghaith, who has set-up several businesses to help young women in her local Palestine and MENA region. This began with online network, StayLinked in 2013, while last November she launched the MENA Alliances Group Inc. Described by AP News as “the first female high-tech entrepreneur in the West Bank” she also represented Palestine as One Young World Ambassador in Bangkok last year.

“I lived in refugee camp in Jordan for 12 years,” she tells IDG Connect. “I learned firsthand the reality of the lack of resources for living and education at a very young age. Then I moved to live in a small village [in Palestine]. I have experienced three wars so far in my life along with occupation, settlements and hostile settlers, checkpoints, blockades, raids, and incursions.”

Ghaith tells us how checkpoints restrict free movement on a daily basis. “It takes an average of two hours to reach my work 15km from my home – instead of 15 minutes – because of movement restrictions,” she says. “Restriction of movement is the key cause of high rates of unemployment and poverty in Palestine, especially among women.”

One of the core issues as she sees it is that jobs are available in the larger cities but it is not an option for a woman to live alone or be out late at night. “As a result, Palestinian women have one of the lowest rates of workforce participation in the world. Despite this challenge, Palestinian women make up a majority of students in many universities in Palestine,” she says.

“I was often told growing up that ‘a woman’s future is in her husband’s kitchen,” she adds. “But, I believe as a woman I can help change the world in my own way, even in tough situations. This motivated me to finish school with high grades. Then I earned a bachelor’s degree in computer systems engineering and graduated with honors.”

Despite this, she describes a period of two years where she was completely unemployed with no job prospects. “During my unemployment period, I kept taking online courses in my technical area to improve my skills. This helped me to get my first job as an instructor in computer networking at a university.”

Yet even this was not plain sailing. “My first class was all men. Everyone but two people walked out when they saw that I was a woman instructor. But I did not give up. I taught those two people! And by the third class, almost the entire class of students returned because I had proven myself.”

“My whole life, I have used the power of networks and technology to improve my life and the lives of others,” she says. And she tells us how she started her business without money, from home, with just a laptop and the internet.

“It is a way around the occupation,” she says. “There are no roadblocks or checkpoints to go through. There is no wall in the way. There is no need to go out of homes at night to work.  The online work model provides women and youth in Palestine the experience they need to enter the workforce and improve their skills by providing them with instruction and feedback in order to submit the best possible work to clients.”

She describes how successful the project has been in the MENA region and says “after improving the model in Palestine, I want to help more women and youth to be connected with job opportunities around world.

“In MENA, high unemployment is considered the biggest challenge – especially among women. Women’s unemployment in MENA is almost double men’s unemployment. Arab Women today are more educated than ever before, but their participation in the workforce is about half of the world average. 

“As many women in the Arab World live in cultures with: conservative attitudes; restriction on women’s geographic mobility; and limitations in career and job choices. This leads many to take the option of marrying and staying home to raise children. In addition, within the culture of the Arab World, many types of jobs are considered inappropriate for females, such as work in construction, technical and engineering professions.

“Working online is an option that allows women to not have to choose between work and marriage. Working online gives them a chance to experience both.

“My dream,” she concludes, “is to create a platform that generates more than one million jobs for women and youth in the MENA region over the next five years.”

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