Almost three quarters of Arab social media users believe websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can boost women’s rights in the region, according to the latest Arab Social Media Report.
Some 73 percent of those polled said social media could help boost female entitlements in the Middle East, while 82 percent thought the websites could enhance women’s participation in civil society.
More than half believed social networking provided women with economic or entrepreneurial opportunities, and two-thirds said the practice could support gender equality within the political landscape.
“On a regional level, a high percentage of respondents felt that social media could be an empowering tool for women, enhancing their participation in several facets of their lives,” said the report.
“Given the low ranking of most [Middle East] countries on gender equality and women’s empowerment indices, the participants’ optimistic responses indicate that social media users in the Arab region view this media as a potential catalyst for changing gender equalities.”
However, Arab women’s use of social media remains low, the report said.
Just one third of Facebook users in the Middle East and wider region are women, compared with an equal amount of male and female Facebook users globally.
This ratio has not changed since the last report in May, despite the fact that Arab women have been active on social media sites throughout the Arab Spring.
Most respondents surveyed said they thought women were less likely to use social media because of the societal and cultural constraints imposed on them.
Other reasons included a lack of female trust in online privacy, computer illiteracy, access to and/or confidence in social media, a lack of education among women or a limited amount of female content.
Most responses were the same across both genders, authors said, reflecting the ability of social media sites to balance male and female inequalities.
“The survey findings show that many of the responses of male and female social media users were similar, indicating that social media could be a ‘gender equaliser’,” the report said.
Social networking has become an integral part of daily life in the Arab world, and particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring movements in a bid to organize protests and share views.
Figures showed the total number of Facebook users reached more than 36m by November this year, compared with just over 21m in January, having almost doubled since the same time last year.
Twitter, which continues to be overshadowed by Facebook on both a global and regional scale, is also increasing in popularity.
By the end of September this year the site had 652,333 ‘active twitterers’, with as many as 854 tweets a minute.
According to the report, social media sites now infiltrate almost every aspect of daily lives in the Arab world.