By Jillian C. York
The Arab blogosphere (encompassing blogs written in Arabic, English, and French, as well as a few stray languages) is a complex one. Whether from Morocco or Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Syria, almost every blogger in the Middle East and North Africa is up against censorship, cultural concerns, and the ever-present concern of surveillance.
Nonetheless, blogging has become a solitary platform for free speech in much of the Arab world. Because many bloggers in the region choose to remain relative anonymous (or pseudonymous), there is often little differentiation between male and female, particularly in blogospheres where political or human rights issues are avoided for risk of legal action. And while there are certainly well-known female bloggers discussing issues unique to women, many female bloggers in the Arab world face a unique challenge: to speak out about women’s issues often means going against the grain of family and society.
Still, for those who do, blogging is a potentially liberating experience. As Razan Ghazzawi, a Syrian female blogger says, “the space of the female is not the space of the male in this region – females have limited space to express their views inside their homes and in the streets. Not to mention the fact that they are subjected to sexual harassment in college, work, and in the streets.”.” She goes on to say, however, that “you do not find bloggeresses speaking out about these things, and I think it’s because the blogging itself is masculine, in the sense that there is an invisible definition of what is blogging and how we blog.” She also points out that many of the issues she mentions are unique to Arabic-language bloggers, as English tends to be more the domain of diaspora bloggers.
Shahrazad’s Blahs is a blog written by a Libyan woman; although her blog covers many topics from art to cooking, her posts are infused with concerns unique to women. In one recent post, she considered the concerns of female bloggers in Libya:
“Many Libyan female bloggers have either left the blogspehere all together or have made their blogs open to invites only. This is so sad as they were quite promising and happy in the beginning. Why is that one may ask ????The answer my fellow bloggers and readers is that they have been put into the so called pressured social paralysis situation where either the parents or some other family member has read the so called blog and disapproved of it existing.”
The post instigated a lively discussion of blogging in Libya and the greater Arab world, the consensus of which seemed to be that female bloggers are steadfast, and will continue blogging despite the obstacles they face for doing so.
Although there is not one simple answer for the complex issues facing these female bloggers in a complex reason, one thing is certain: Women are blogging at an ever-increasing rate in every country in the region, and women’s initiatives are popping up all across the board.
For more information on gender and blogging in the Middle East in North Africa, check out these links:
The Arab Observer: A Jordanian blogger who frequently discusses issues of gender and women’s rights.
Kinzi: A westerner living in Jordan who frequently blogs about women’s rights.
Kolena Laila: “We Are All Laila” – an Egyptian solidarity initiative for Arab women and bloggers.
Hala In USA: A blog post on gender roles by Hala, a Saudi Arabian blogger living in the United States.
Global Voices Online Special Topic: Gender