Digital technologies in Palestine: Opportunities and challenges
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Digital technologies in Palestine: Opportunities and challenges

By Amal Tarazi

Ramallah-Palestine: Digital technologies are presenting exciting opportunities to facilitate the emergence of a stronger and more inclusive civil society. Around the world, active and large-scale efforts are being made to harness the full potential of digital technologies to mobilize civic action at the local, regional, and international levels. At the same time, the effects of digital technologies, especially social media platforms, have been seen on the standards and nature of public life, leaving great and sometimes complex challenges to social cohesion, security, peace, and democracy.

The growth and spread of the Internet have had an unprecedented impact on the flow of information across the world. The emergence of social media platforms in recent years has revolutionized the way we access and consume information as well as interact with and relate to others. This has presented an opportunity on the part of civil society organizations to achieve greater communication with the public and advocate for various social and humanitarian issues. On the other hand, these platforms have created new challenges at various levels, especially social.

In Palestine, like other developing countries, the need to access the Internet has increased in recent years in light of the digital revolution. However, it is dividing people between online and offline, in addition to relying on digital technologies in the workplace, executing transactions and paying water, electricity, and telephone bills, transfer and receipt of money, education, health and other aspects of daily life.

The need for these technologies doubled with the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the transition to remote work from home, or distance education for school and university students, and the great need for the Internet in conducting many daily transactions.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) indicates that about 91% of families in Palestine said that they, or one of their members, had access to the Internet at home during the first quarter of the current year 2022: 91% in the West Bank and 90% in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian companies that provide Internet services are now providing high-speed “Fiber Optics” to keep pace with developments in the field of smartphone applications and programs that require high speeds. Meanwhile, cellular telecommunications companies still provide third-generation internet services (3G) in the West Bank, while the Gaza Strip is deprived of these services due to the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation. Fourth and fifth-generation frequencies are needed to catch up with the countries of the world, many of whom have reached the fifth generation, the internet of things, and other advanced digital technologies.

As one of the oldest civil society organizations in Palestine, operating for more than 100 years, the YWCA has worked to keep pace with global technological developments by introducing modern digital technologies into its work environment and through its programs and interventions, in addition to aligning and developing its interventions with the impact of the digital revolution on the labour market, education, vocational training, and various aspects of life in Palestine.

Women’s rights and interventions

The YWCA of Palestine has recently launched its strategic plan for the years 2022-2026, focusing on continuing the path the association has followed since its establishment, centring on the economic empowerment of women, just peace, and social development. The plan specifically seeks to develop interventions and tools related to entrepreneurship for women and girls, and remote work online. The plan expands the areas of public relations and external communication with international and local partners, in addition to developing lobbying and advocacy interventions for women’s rights to include local and regional dimensions. The plan also calls for expanding the scope of its operational objectives to include several cross-cutting interventions.

The YWCA’s path and mechanisms of action have been amended to take into account existing developments and emergency conditions witnessed by society in pursuit of continuous development and support by adapting current programs to meet existing needs. The plan takes into account new circumstances and serves the YWCA’s goal of maintaining continuity of work. 

Our strategic plan is based on four main objectives that represent the YWCA’s key areas of focus, with the gradual development of interventions and tools, including economic empowerment of women and young women, helping them to access economic opportunities and decent work; social innovation that contributes to strengthening Palestinian youth and developing local communities; a society that practices an approach based on respect for human rights and preserving the YWCA’s historic legacy and its administrative and financial sustainability.

In a related context, despite the increase in accessing smart devices and digital content, there is still a lack of resources and skills necessary to benefit from technological capabilities, as young Palestinian women who live in marginalized communities, especially refugee camps, suffer from weak civic participation at various levels. They do not have access to the Internet due to poor infrastructure, or lack of mobile phones and computers. Moreover, they are exposed to cybercrime and do not have the resources to protect themselves and they lack sufficient awareness of digital rights and access to information.

 

YWCA training course in action.

 

Capacity-building for young Palestinian women

In order to overcome this challenge, in 2022 the YWCA launched a project for young Palestinian women to exercise their right to fully participate in the information society, and to know their rights in the digital age. The project aims to raise the level of young women’s participation in various areas of decision-making in Palestinian society through safe civic participation on social media. It focuses on defending the rights of Palestinian refugee women and increasing their access to digital communication, and technology. The project also aims to promote safe and positive interactions on social networks for women and young women and help them fight online harassment. 

The project targets young refugee women aged 18 – 30 from Aqabat Jaber camp in Jericho and the Jordan Valley governorate and Al-Jalazone camp in Ramallah and Al-Bireh governorate. It includes equipping community centres with technology devices and programs, accessories for developing digital content, providing the necessary programs, training courses in digital content development, raising awareness of the safe use of social networks and the danger of harassment, and developing ideas for designing digital content and human rights media to contribute to the current advocacy campaign of the YWCA of Palestine in the field of women’s rights and their participation in decision-making. It also includes the development of guidelines on safe use, positive interaction on social networks, and protection against online harassment.

At the level of awareness, the YWCA of Palestine has launched an awareness campaign on cybercrime, especially blackmailing and harassment women and girls are exposed to through social media, under the slogan “Safe Online”.

The campaign comes under “Shamal” project implemented by the YWCA through funding from UN Women Palestine, and in partnership with Ibda’ Cultural Canter in Dheisheh refugee camp – Bethlehem, The Phoenix Center in Al Arroub Refugee Camp – Hebron, and the YWCA Community Center in Jalazone refugee camp – Ramallah and Al-Bireh Governorate. ”Shamal” aims to promote the protection and reintegration of women and girls subjected to violence as well as survivors in marginalized areas in Palestine by targeting refugee camps, namely Dheisheh, Al Arroub, and Jalazone.

The awareness campaign includes organizing media activities and events, conducting interviews, workshops, and meetings with decision-makers, mobilizing partners, such as community centres, human rights organizations, women’s organizations, psychological and legal counselling centres, and the Palestinian police, especially Family and Juvenile Protection Unit, journalists, and influencers.

While addressing the challenges of greater digital justice for all, we have the opportunity to identify and model digital justice in education, mission, and work in human rights as well with international organizations and interfaith partners on the path of justice and peace. Several common elements stand out: The right to access information, and thus opposition to policies that interfere with or undermine this right; the need to support truth and to express vigorous opposition when what is communicated distorts the truth, reinforces negative stereotypes, or supports violent behaviour; the need for pluralism and the voicing of diverse views and to work against media concentration; the need to protect communication freedoms in the context of global economic and political structures of justice and injustice; the need to support and advocate for the right to communicate for marginalized communities and those whose voices are suppressed; the need to support alternate means of communication such as theatre, special liturgies, and local, indigenous newspapers and radio; and the need for the ecumenical fellowship to offer an alternative vision of communication, based on solidarity and sharing, mutual accountability, and empowerment.

The YWCA at a glance

The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) is a non-profit Palestinian association established in Jerusalem in 1918 that includes an umbrella of four grassroots associations in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jericho, and Bethlehem. The YWCA aspires to establish a free, democratic civil society that empowers women and youth to exercise and protect their political, economic, and social rights. Its work focuses on three areas including leadership and civic engagement, economic justice, and just peace. The YWCA adopts an approach that is based on human rights, thus, all our programs and lobbying and advocacy work is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

The YWCA of Palestine is affiliated with the World YWCA that works to empower women, young women, and girls in more than a hundred countries across the globe and enjoys special consultative status in the United Nations Social and Economic Council (ECOSOC). YWCAs around the globe share a common goal: “By 2035, 100 million young women and girls will transform power structures to create justice, gender equality and a world without violence and war; leading a sustainable YWCA movement, inclusive of all women.”

Amal Tarazi is General Secretary of YWCA Palestine.

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