Young woman creates Yemen’s first autism-related application
August 13, 2023
For Hamas Abouhatem, aged 27, being a woman in Yemen’s male-dominated tech field did not discourage her. Hamas’ compassion for other women and an understanding their struggles led her to thinking creatively to pioneer an innovative, digitalized approach to addressing autism in Yemen.
In 2020, the Computer Science graduate from Sana’a University developed a mobile Android application called “Taif”. Through her app, Hamas is working to empower mothers with knowledge and equip them with the information to successfully address their children with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Presented at the sixth Youth Leadership Programme (YLP6) organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Yemen, “Taif” helps facilitate the early diagnosis of children with ASD. Designed in consultancy with doctors and ASD health professionals, a series of surveys and exercises undertaken in the first few months of the child’s life can help parents identify whether their child may potentially have ASD and how far on the autism spectrum they may register.
While taking us through her creative journey, Hamas shared challenges that she and other women faced working in the ASD sector, referencing “hitting a glass ceiling”. “People do not openly accept the idea of women working in STEM yet. They question our capacity to advance technology and did not fully understand the autism app nor its importance,” says Hamas.
In Yemen, autism is not fully understood or widely known, and there is a lack of reliable data about children with ASD. “ASD among children is an unknown issue in Yemen, and mothers are almost always the ones who notice it first in their children,” says Hamas. Despite these challenges, she was even more determined to create the application.
Hamas was assisted in her creative journey by participating in the YLP6 programme where she received invaluable training in writing project proposals, strategic planning, and networking with experts and partners. “I am very proud to have pioneered the ASD application and am not surprised that it was a woman who created it. We are more aware of the needs of our children and are also more understanding of the struggles we all face with them.”
Reflecting on women in the tech industry, Hamas laments about the limited number of women who have an opportunity to participate. She notes that there “should be more opportunities given to women” both in training, support, and funding possibilities. As such, Hamas fondly reflects on the support she received from Dr. Abdu al-Sana’ani – an autism specialist and a key advisor who participated in the creation of the “Taif” app.
When speaking about Hamas’ qualities and skills, al-Sana’ani indicates that he “could quickly tell her ambitious character by her discipline and dedication”. He notes that “With her leadership skills, Engineer Hamas is making a huge difference that could benefit both families and professionals working with autistic children. I am very glad to see a woman leading the technology sector and to use it to resolve such challenges, that only other women can understand in the Yemeni society.”
Hamas’ advice to other women in the tech field is to believe in themselves and their innovative ideas, no matter what. She says that women should not focus on the challenges they face, but rather to stay focused and determined to continue on their path. “Despite the difficulties I face in the current situation in Yemen, I have no plan to stop or give up. Women have different roles and realize different challenges that only we can resolve,” says Hamas.
In recognition of the vital role youth play in achieving development goals, UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States launched a Youth Leadership Programme (YLP) in 2015. The YLP aims to empower change-makers and support young women and men to design and implement innovative, impactful, and sustainable development solutions – whether in the form of social enterprises, nonprofits, NGOs, initiatives, or campaigns. YLP builds the region’s most dynamic network working at the intersection of youth, innovation, and sustainable development.