When I first heard the term “hackathon” I must admit I was slightly awed and more than a little nervous. The intricacies of most technology-related activities pass me by like spring water over rocks; in other words, I have the technological aptitude of a frog.
So when Chayn, the volunteer-run NGO, put out a call for volunteers to help research for the Peace Hack Beirut (#PeaceHackBEY) in September 2015, I have to confess that I had a moment of hesitation before taking the plunge and signing up. I had signed up for the second sprint for the hackathon – I assumed it would be easier since (a) it would be later at night so I wouldn’t constantly be disturbed by annoying family members entering my room at random points for inane conversations, and more importantly (b) it would be easier to do the tasks assigned if I already had a prototype before me, compliments of the first round of efforts. Volunteering for Chayn was not only an incredible way to make an impact on the world, it also taught me how to make better decisions about the projects I wanted to work on and how to best utilise my volunteering time. I was instantly interested in the #PeaceHackBEY and wanted to be a part of the hackathon in any capacity. The hackathon is part of the Talking Peace Festival, an initiative by International Alert that brings together technologists, designers, developers, the NGO sector and peace practitioners to create and realise ideas and solutions that can be used to stop violent conflict, help build peace and combat the issues faced by Lebanese society. Sure, I can’t code nor do I live in Beirut, but this hackathon meant I could do something to help the refugee crisis, when most of us often feel helpless.
The task at hand for #PeaceHackBEY was to find the (1) “Barriers to access information and services for youth, women and refugees in Lebanon” and (2) examples of “Tech for Good”. The latter was focused on finding about technology that has helped women, youth and refugees in accessing information and services more easily. Chayn, being totally driven by volunteers from across the globe, can easily divide tasks between different individuals in order to get faster and more efficient results. Working with such a diverse team of people has its benefits, and in no time at all I was actively participating in the activities assigned. I was given the task of finding out information for the first part of #PeaceHackBEY.
While one might naturally assume that Lebanon, with its multilingual and highly educated society, is a flourishing economy, it is quite unfortunate that in most cases the opposite is true. Women, regardless of belonging to one half of Lebanese society, find numerous barriers erected in their way to progress simply because they are women. Whether it is health services, business opportunities or even political arenas, women face hurdles at every turn.
Women wishing to start entrepreneurial ventures are hesitant to step into the mostly male-dominated business industry because they do not receive the same services/facilities that their male counterparts are privy to. The widespread mindset that women are only suited to the role of caretaker and homemaker is responsible for much of the obstacles faced by women and girls trying to progress further in Lebanese society. Most women are not allowed to partake in politics (only 3.1% parliamentary seats belong to women), start businesses or even study after a particular level by their husbands and families. While women employees are allowed a 10-week maternity leave, this policy does not extend to those females who have their own businesses. Unlike the services available to male business owners (training, cost management, networking etc), female entrepreneurs find themselves at a dead end with regards to services aimed at improving their abilities in the industry and as professionals. Many other such discrepancies with regards to women workers and entrepreneurs have resulted in women in Lebanon being hesitant from starting their own ventures. The health sector in the country is also sadly lacking in its attention to women. A distinct lack of knowledge regarding women’s health has resulted in failure to cater to girls and women properly. Women in Lebanon also do not have ownership rights over their children, leaving them emotionally and economically dependent on their fathers/husbands, who may then use this knowledge to control different aspects of their lives. This is a major reason for the high levels of domestic violence faced by many Lebanese women.
Aside from women, the youth in Lebanon have also suffered severe hardship over the past few years, resulting in lack of job availability, increased insecurity (both economic and otherwise) and sectarian and social differences. The government has been, so far, unable to effectively address these issues, causing severe lags in the societal rungs. Such a polarized society is not at all ready to cater to the vast numbers of refugees pouring across its borders from adjoining countries (the last known count 1,154,040 persons in August 2015).
One might say that the circumstances in Lebanon are not very far off from those in Pakistan. The recently passed cyber crimes bill makes it impossible to attempt any sort of critical thinking with regards to the government and its way of running things; women and girls in the country suffer from pretty much the same discrimination as their female counterparts in Lebanon if not worse; one half of Pakistan’s youth is struggling to rise above the economy while the other half is trying to survive while suffering from severe PTSD resulting from more than a decade of war. Pakistan also has some of the largest numbers of refugees in the world today.
Working on such assignments with so many different people, getting to know the other side of the world, one realizes how similar we all are in many different respects.Chayn, with its global outreach and commitment to open source information, has been a beacon of light for those who seek help where none can be found. It is a wonderful feeling, working with so many different people from different parts of the globe on the same project at the same time. It really makes one feel like a part of a big family with one agenda – making this world a safer place for women. It is an honor to call myself a part of this huge family, able to do my bit to change this world one person at a time. Like Chayn‘s slogan says: “crowd sourced, with love”.
This article is also posted on Chayn.co