Know your digital rights: Hayat’s story – once bullied online, now an agent for change

A high rate of cybercrimes and gender-based violence online has been reported in Gaza. According to a study by the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, Palestine is witnessing one of the fastest growing rates of gender-based violence online in the world. Social norms experienced offline are being reinforced in online spaces. The study indicates that one third of young Palestinian women are subjected to violence on social networks, and one in four women were forced to close their social media accounts[1].

 

Being slandered online

Hayat, a 25-year-old woman from Khan Younis in Gaza, experienced this online gender-based violence firsthand. She recently received her bachelor’s degree in nursing hoping to be employed. But in Gaza, in order to find a job as a nurse, you first need to succeed in a yearly nursing exam run by the de facto authority.

 She wanted one of her teachers to assess her final grades before the end of the semester to increase her eligibility to apply for the exam. “I asked the teacher for more than a month, but he didn’t respond”. Hayat resorted to the Dean of the Faculty to solve her issue. It’s when the Dean tried to hold the teacher accountable that Hayat’s problems started. 

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Hayat walking in her neighbourhood in Khan Younis Governorate (Photo taken by Mohammed Abu Daqqa, Women’s Affairs Technical Committee)

“I remember entering the university one day. I was astonished to find that everyone was pointing a finger at me, and people refused to talk to me”. Later, Hayat learnt that her teacher had used a Facebook university group page to accuse her of not attending his classes and of talking to him in an indecent and disrespectful manner.

“I was so frustrated and almost collapsed, it was humiliating. Being a young woman in Gaza means there is a double layer of oppression. I remember being very cautious, so my parents wouldn’t find out”. Hayat wanted to file a case with the police against the teacher who slandered her, but was told she would never be granted her Bachelor’s Degree certificate if she did so.

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Hayat is participating in a youth’s debate around gender-based violence arranged by Women’s Affairs Technical Committee (Photo taken by the media unit in Women’s Affairs Technical Committee)

 

Women speak up

Hayat’s case is no exception. To tackle this issue, Oxfam Solidarity in collaboration with Palestinian organisations Taghyeer, Women, Media and Development, and the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee applied for a grant from Wehubit to educate young women and men on the use of ICT, digital security, cyber-gender-based violence and mitigation strategies.

“When I saw the announcement for this project, I was thrilled: it is a dream come true. I remember seeing the application on the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee Facebook page. I didn’t think twice before applying and genuinely hoped to be selected,” says Hayat.

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Hayat is participating in Women’s Affairs Technical Committee activities around gender-based violence in Gaza (Photo taken by the media unit in Women’s Affairs Technical Committee)

“In the project inception meeting, we got introduced to many important concepts around digital rights. We will also be taking training on online gender-based violence and cyber security”.

One very important thing that caught Hayat’s attention was the online platform this project made available for youth to raise their voices. “I really value the Mapping Her” application as this app maps the conditions of Palestinian women and provides us with an opportunity to express ourselves in innovative ways by having a dialogue with decision makers”.

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Hayat and some youth participants from the youth groups in Gaza (Photo taken by the media unit in Women’s Affairs Technical Committee)

As concepts surrounding digital rights have recently been introduced in Palestine, this project is one of the first of its kind in Palestine providing spaces and platforms to challenge gender norms in the digital sphere. 

“I was subjected to online bullying, but I discovered my power as an agent for change. I hope that through this project I, together with other Palestinian Youth, will be able to change the lives of youth suffering but forced to remain silent”.

 

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Hayat and some youth participants from the youth groups in Gaza (Photo taken by Women’s Affairs Technical Committee)

 


[1] https://7amleh.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Hashtag_Palestine_English_digital_pages.pdf