Turning digital access challenges into opportunities for women and girls across the Arab States region

March 8, 2023
Photo: UNDP Lebanon

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on progress made, to call for change, and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in their countries and communities. This year’s theme is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality’.

Advancements in technological and digital sectors are transforming industries, economies, and societies across the Arab States region. And, despite progress in recent years to advance the rights of women and girls across the Arab States region, inequalities persist at many levels.

On the digital front, inequalities can result in a gendered divide that may hinder women's access essential data, information, and services freely, navigate digital domains safely, and participate in the digital economy effectively. Bridging such a digital gender divide requires improved internet connectivity and access to technology, with the requisite education and training

Today, many countries in the Arab States region are working to ensure that women and girls have equal access to technology, which has become a prerequisite for equal opportunity.

Egypt | Young women hacking for Climate action

Photo: UNDP Egypt

UNDP teamed up with Samsung Electronics in Egypt to organize a four- day Global Virtual Hackathon under the title “Hack4ClimateAction,” to help young men and women develop their digital capabilities and harness their innovation for environmental action and a more sustainable future. Nearly 180 youth from across the world participated. Young women were among the top winners in the Hackathon.

Iraq | Digital transformation opens opportunities for women.

Photo: UNDP Iraq

In Iraq, UNDP is collaborating with the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers to support the government’s effort to build its e-governance capabilities and strengthen its digital services.

Advancements in digital transformation are intended to enhance civic engagement – offering reliable, optimized, and seamless access to public services and facilitating e-participation through direct engagement of citizens with government’s business processes and systems.

Increasing the use of information and communication technologies to modernize government not only helps improve services, but it also boosts the digital economy and broadens the field of opportunities for all citizens, especially for women.

Jordan | Data-driven platform helps young woman hone her entrepreneurial skills.

Photo: UNDP Jordan

In Jordan, UNDP cooperated with the Jordan Economic Forum to develop the “Jordan in Figures” Platform –a youth-led initiative, which facilitates access to data and information that can help young men and women entrepreneurs to develop their interpersonal skills, economic leadership, and data-born insights.

Twenty-six-year-old Batool Muhiessn, born with Cerebral palsy and impaired mobility which reduces the range of motion for various joints of her body was the only young woman with a disability participating in the initiative.

The initiative has helped her become an entrepreneur and a disability rights activist leading her own initiative that provides support for children with disabilities.

LEBANON | Integrating women in post-crisis economic recovery.

Photo: UNDP Lebanon

With funding from the Government of China UNDP in Lebanon implemented an initiative to support the economic recovery of businesses post-COVID19. The initiative primarily targets women and youth who are among the vulnerable groups most affected by the crises in Lebanon, training them on e-commerce and digital marketing.

After COVID-19 and with the spike in fuel prices, online shopping has become a priority for businesses operating in Lebanon to reach both internal and external markets.

Encouraging women and youth to find opportunities within the vast field of digital innovation and providing them with the know how to start and sustain their own online small and medium-sized enterprises, contributes to economic recovery and financial prosperity across the country.

Libya | Business accelerator targets young men and women to sustain peace.

Photo: UNDP Libya

In Libya, UNDP partnered with Tatweer Research—an organization under the Libyan Local Investment and Development Fund aiming to strengthen a knowledge-based economy in Libya— to initiate a business start-up accelerator to support young men and women to innovate business ideas, identify market niches, build relationship with partners and investors, and get access to capital across the country.

Operating in Tripoli, Benghazi and Sebha, the business accelerator is helping create new businesses and generate jobs for hundreds of youths, with a special; focus on young women entrepreneurs, providing a critical pathway for building peace in Libya.

Somalia | Women make their voices heard through media

Women looking at camera
Photo: UNDP Somalia

News coverage in Somalia generally lacks focus on issues that primarily affect women, including childcare, domestic abuse and equal political representation.

UNDP in Somalia helped establish the first-ever all-women media unit, which provides women media professionals with a harassment-free space where they can work with real decision-making authority, be in charge of the narrative and make their voices and stories heard.

The unit is staffed and managed entirely by women with full editorial independence to produce stories for TV, radio, and online media. One editor and five journalists decide what issues to cover and how, with a mix of hard news and in-depth features that focus on the stores they think need telling.

To develop the next generation of Somali women journalists, the unit offers six-month internship opportunities for the best final-year women journalism students at two universities in Mogadishu.

Palestine | Digital solutions help women expand their small businesses


The State of Palestine has embarked on a mission to leverage the potential of digital transformation to tackle its persistent development challenges, which have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to be on the path to achieving the SDGs.

 UNDP and the e-Governance Academy of Estonia jointly supported the State of Palestine in conducting a Digital Landscape Assessment, to help identify digital solutions for accelerating progress towards the SDGs, including the critical cross-cutting goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Micro, small, and medium enterprises represent the backbone of the Palestinian economy – comprising 98% of businesses, of which 25% are led by women. The Palestinian Accelerator Lab worked on mainstreaming digital solutions into women’s businesses and access to virtual marketplaces to empower Palestinian women led enterprises and help them flourish and grow their business

Arab States Region | Digital levers of equality

Over the past two years, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe, UNDP assisted 82 countries to adopt over 580 digital solutions. This included everything from leveraging digital finance to facilitate cash transfers to people unable to leave their homes during lockdowns; to helping countries develop digital readiness assessments; to providing robots that are serving in COVID-19 wards. Most of the solutions were gender-equality-informed.

This year, UNDP collaborated with UN Women, UNFPA and UNESCWA to produce 17 country reports on the status of gender justice in the law.  The agencies launched an online portal, including a regional matrix that uses colour-coding to indicate change in the status of laws and give a regional overview of progress and remaining gaps at a glance. Together, the regional online matrix and country reports provide countries with an effective tool that sheds light on areas that require attention for advancing women’s rights and gender equality according to international standards. They also support the efforts of women organizations to advocate for laws that protect the rights of women and girls for a better future.

The reports have shown that only 3 countries adopt laws that criminalize cyber violence specifically against women and girls. Along with increasing access to digital technology, it is important to provide a safe digital space and protect women in that space against violence and discrimination.

UNDP continues to work on supporting countries and communities to bridge the gender gap in access to technology and innovation in a safe space and use digital technology as a lever to help drive gender equality, support inclusivity, tackle climate change, and open-up economic opportunities.