On Saturday in Tunis, Access Now joined our partners ArabWIC and Women Who Code to hold Women Hack Day, a unique event to celebrate women in technology in the region. The all-day event convened nearly 50 women software developers, policy makers, and advocates to discuss emerging trends in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, culminating in a software coding contest.
Technology played a major role in the Arab Spring and in the peaceful transition in Tunisia to democracy, where activists gathered on social media platforms to strategize and communicate. Since then, there has been significant progress on gender equality — but more remains to be done. In the MENA region, only 25 percent of women participate in the labor force on average as of 2013, despite making up 50 percent of university graduates. Still, some 30 percent of entrepreneurs in the region are women, according to the Economist (paywall). These trends vary according to country and even by city, but the upshot is that there is an abundance of talent and not enough opportunities for women to become leaders in technology.
We worked with our partners to recruit from four different universities across Tunis, and the event was hosted by the student group NetLinks and the Institut National des Sciences appliquées et de Technologie (INSAT). Many of the participants were members of cybersecurity clubs within each university. Panelists and speakers included Amira Cheniour (ArabWIC), Alia Smaoui (Microsoft), Dorra Mlouhi (ArabWIC) and our very own Islam Khoufi and Abir Ibrahem of Access Now. Other attendees included representatives Seynabou Dia (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) and Miriam Dahmoun (Focus International).
The event also served as an opportunity for staff in our Tunis office to discover new talent. Fifteen participants competed in a contest focused on sorting integers, reversing strings, and other tasks. Mouna Tayehi, an exceptional student at l’Ecole Nationale des Sciences de l’Informatique (ENSI), won the contest.
We hope to make Women Hack Day a regular event in Tunis with our partners. You can view photos from Women Hack Day here. If you’d like to learn more about women in tech, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook, and be sure to subscribe to Digital Citizen, our collaborative project covering digital rights issues in the MENA region.