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The Digital World - Experiences and insights from feminists in MENA

November 25th is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls. This year, it comes one week after hundreds of thousands of intimate images of Irish women were released online without their consent or knowledge.

 

All types of violence practised offline are reflected online as yet another patriarchal space.

~ Hayat Mershad, Lebanon

Since early 2000, digital technologies have had continuously and rapidly changing implications for the way the world around us works. Technology has transformed how we interact socially, engage in public debates and political discourse, and organise and mobilise for social change – providing space and tools for innovation and new ways of working.

Since the pandemic halted our “normal” way of life, the use of digital platforms has considerably intensified, and so to have the risks for women using these platforms.

To delve into this a little deeper, we interviewed young feminist activists from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to highlight the experiences and aspirations of young women and feminist activists in the MENA region around digital spaces, safety, and rights.

 

Whenever women are more visible, they pay the price.

~ Maya Ammar, Lebanon

For context, the MENA region is characterised by deeply embedded patriarchal social norms and oppressive authoritarian regimes.

Women are confined to roles prescribed by those norms, their personal freedoms are constrained, and their participation in public spaces is restricted. So, digital platforms have emerged as an alternative space for women to overcome these restrictions, by facilitating their engagement in public debates and their ability to voice their demands and to have a stronger collective voice.

However, despite providing an alternative, the digital space reflects, or mirrors, the patriarchal social norms of the offline world that normalise violence and protect perpetrators. The digital space has also intensified existing inequalities and harmful norms and practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to what has been dubbed a “pandemic of online gender-based violence”.

To make matters even worse, state-sanctioned surveillance puts restrictions (and sometimes threats) on Internet users – creating further manifestations of systemic oppression and control over the way women represent or express themselves in digital spaces.

 

Digital technologies are a double-edged sword.

~ Suhair Faraj, OPT

Digital platforms have already proven to be a useful, accessible, and cost-effective tool for feminist and women’s rights organisations (WROs) in their work towards social change. When face-to-face communication and movement are restricted, such as in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) due to occupation and geographical fragmentation, or during the recent uprisings in Iraq and Lebanon, or yet again, during the COVID-19 pandemic, their work has been significantly facilitated by online tools and platforms. WROs have been able to sustain their work, reach more people, disseminate critical information, and continue responding to the needs of women and their communities.

These platforms, nevertheless, also open the door to individual and mass attacks against those organisations, the women involved, and the content itself.

 

The digital space is not a safe space, but it’s a brave one.

~ Lilav Ihsan, Iraq

Women’s rights and feminist movements have been a critical force for social change in MENA, but they face increased restrictions in a region where civic space is closing at a dangerous pace. Digital platforms have offered an alternative space for discussions, mutual learning and support, as well as solidarity and resistance through garnering collective power.

However, feminist activists regularly face violent attacks, threats and defamation campaigns whenever they are active online. They are often silenced when they express their opinions, engage in political debates, or speak out against violence and harassment.

So, while the digital space provides room for resistance and solidarity, it is also a tool in the hands of the oppressors.

Despite the constant risks associated with the digital space, it remains a public space that is constantly being claimed and reclaimed by women across the region – as is the actual world around us where women struggle to remain present and safe.

To find out more about the future of digital spaces for women in MENA – download the full report.

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COVID-19 and hunger, a lethal threat facing the people of Yemen this winter

The pandemic has turned some of us into armchair statisticians. Those of us who, every evening, frantically check Twitter or turn on the news to hear the infection rates – and on the bad days, the number of fatalities. We monitor the rise in cases across the world, obsess over spikes and waves, and wish it would all end so life would go back to normal.

But for the people of Yemen, life was far from normal even before COVID-19. For more than five years, the country has been in the grip of war and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Four out of every five Yemenis need some kind of humanitarian assistance, and almost four million people have been displaced by the fighting and airstrikes. Almost 20 million, or two thirds of the population, have to rely on food aid to survive, while Yemen is also experiencing the largest cholera outbreak on record. Now families in Yemen face another threat – COVID-19.

The damage caused by airstrikes in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. Photo: Bassam Al-Thulaya/Oxfam

And that’s not all. Widespread destruction of the country’s health services and water infrastructure mean that the people of Yemen are at serious risk if they contract the virus. Yet the United Nations’ response plan to get clean water, food and medical care to the most vulnerable is only 44 percent funded this year.

It is a tragedy of epic proportions, made worse by the fact that other members of the G20 have exported more than US$17billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since it became involved in the conflict in Yemen in 2015. Those same members have only given a third of that amount in aid to people caught up in the crisis.

“Having suffered years of death, displacement and disease, the people of Yemen need these powerful members of the international community to bring all parties to the conflict together to agree to an immediate countrywide ceasefire and return to negotiations committed to achieving a lasting peace. “Making billions from arms exports which fuel the conflict while providing a small fraction of that in aid to Yemen is both immoral and incoherent. The world’s wealthiest nations cannot continue to put profits above the Yemeni people.”

- Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s Yemen Country Director

Ibtisam and two of her children in their damaged home. Photo: Radhyah Mohammed/Oxfam

Among those affected by the war is Ibtisam Sageer Al Razehi, a 35-year-old former teacher and mother of three. She lives with her young children in the remains of the family house in Sa’ada city which was damaged by missiles and artillery fire. Her husband was killed by an airstrike in 2015.

“I lost my husband, my children lost their father, we lost the breadwinner and because of war I also lost my salary as our last hope for living,

“Humanitarian aid has decreased a lot; now we receive food every two months instead of every month. I appeal to the world to have mercy on the children of Yemen and stop this war. We are very tired of living in war for years, we lost everything beautiful in our lives, even the simple hope of peace.’’

- Ibtisam

The people of Yemen have already suffered so much. Without your help, many of them risk starving this winter or, weakened by hunger, could succumb to COVID-19.

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“Let’s talk about #FirstWorldProblems…” – Oxfam Ireland

  • New Oxfam campaign highlights how we’re #OneWorld and all part of solutions to global issues

Oxfam Ireland is calling on people to talk about #FirstWorldProblems, tapping into the often-trending topic to start a new conversation around the issues facing us as a global community.  

The charity’s #FirstWorldProblems campaign launched today with the release of a short online video suggesting there aren’t actually any first world problems, just one world facing global issues that affect us all.

Using the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems is a good reminder that we’re all aware there are bigger – and much less trivial – problems facing people around the world.

But it can suggest that those problems are removed from our lives here in Ireland when in reality, and especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve never been more aware of how connected we are.

Oxfam Ireland’s #FirstWorldProblems campaign aims to highlight how the biggest problems facing our global community – from poverty and inequality to discrimination, conflict and climate change – are shared, but so to are the solutions.

It also aims to show how the people of Ireland are part of those solutions every day, including through their contribution to Ireland’s overseas development programme, Irish Aid where they contribute a small portion of their taxes to support development and humanitarian work carried out by organisations like Oxfam Ireland.

People can watch the full #FirstWorldProblems video and find out more about the campaign at www.oxfamireland.org/fwp.

ENDS

CONTACT: For interviews or more information, please contact:

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869 

Notes to the Editor:

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Oxfam Ireland launches brand new online Christmas shop

  • Oxfam goes digital amid Covid-19 lockdowns with new online Christmas shop 

  • Go green and power people this Christmas with Oxfam’s online gift range 

Oxfam Ireland have officially launched a brand-new online Christmas shop calling on people to do something precious this Christmas by giving gifts that support both people and planet. 

The charity is calling on the public to shop with purpose this year by visiting their new online pop-up shop to browse their wide range of gifts. Each gift makes a lasting impact by supporting small traders the world over and helping to raise vital funds for Oxfam’s global work to beat poverty.

The Sourced by Oxfam range contains an abundance of festive food, gifts and eoc-products that are made with care, protect the planet, and help the women and men who produce them to earn a decent living – providing them with a way to lift themselves out of poverty. Present ideas in this year’s gift range include Zaytoun's Extra Virgin Olive Oil (€28). This Fairtrade oil is sourced from family-owned olive groves in Palestine. Zaytoun is an award-winning social enterprise where 100 percent of profits are reinvested into furthering their mission of supporting Palestinian farmers by paying a fair price - enabling them to fund community projects and invest in farming tools. 

Oxfam’s online shop also has a range of great options for children and young people including educational books such as An Anthology of Intriguing Animals (€15), the ABC of Kindness (€8) and Plastic Planet (€9), and fun Moomin Calendars (€11) to start making plans for 2021. What you might not know is that by buying Moomin at Oxfam you are supporting a special partnership that raises funds for projects that are empowering women and girls worldwide.

Michael McIlwaine, Oxfam Ireland’s Head of Retail, said: “This Christmas, we’re asking people to give something different by shopping more sustainably on our new online shop. 

“Everything in our range of gifts is guaranteed to last longer than your festive bottle of wine or foodie hamper as all of them contribute to our mission to beat poverty for good by raising vital funds for our work across the world.

“From supporting development projects that transform lives in Rwanda, Tanzania and beyond, to saving lives through emergency responses in places like Yemen – where millions of people already on the brink of famine now face a deadly winter freeze – your gift will make a difference for people most in need and help to protect our shared planet.

“Last year alone, the generosity of people shopping at Oxfam, especially at Christmas time, raised enough money to fund life-changing projects that positively impacted the lives of 7.9 million people across 10 countries – including supporting women to develop businesses and earn an income, getting safe, clean water to people in desperate need, and helping communities prepare for extreme weather events.”

In addition to their online shop, Oxfam also offer their Unwrapped gift collection. With Unwrapped, you are guaranteed to find the perfect card – be it for a winter birthday or wedding, or a quick hello or season’s greetings - in support a cause you or your recipient care about, such as climate change or access to education. People can add a personal message to their gift card either online (e-card) or by hand (Oxfam post you out your Unwrapped card). 

McIlwaine concluded: “Why not commit to give something different as one of your gifts this year? Whether that’s your workplace Kris Kringle or family stocking fillers, Oxfam’s online shop and Unwrapped gift range has you covered.” 

Visit the new Oxfam online shop via https://shop.oxfamireland.org/

To see Oxfam’s full range of Unwrapped gifts, visit oxfamireland.org/unwrapped

ENDS

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869 

NOTES TO THE EDITOR:

  • Oxfam shops will reopen in line with Government regulations – it is hoped this will be on the 2nd December. 
  • Product images for use: https://oxfam.box.com/s/s6rep9ku1bhbwi223e4m2oxri97z3eyg
  • This is Oxfam Ireland’s second pivot to digital due to Covid-19 restrictions. Early in the year their fashion fundraiser Fashion Relief went digital with a bi-weekly interactive a 30-minute programme aired from Lorraine Keane’s home every second Friday at 7.00pm. The show allows viewers to click and buy what they see, raising vital funds for Oxfam’s work worldwide, including their COVID-19 response in some of the world’s poorest countries. Launched on Friday 12th June 2020, Fashion Relief TV is an always on platform so viewers can watch back and shop at any time at www.fashionrelief.ie   
  • Each of the Unwrapped gifts represent one of four funds – Livelihoods, Saving Lives, Water for All, or Investing in Futures – and all money raised through the sale of Unwrapped cards/e-cards will go toward the relevant fund and help Oxfam's work worldwide.
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