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Lebanon’s girls set to Take back the Tech this summer

BEIRUT: To many, the Lebanese summer spells sun, sea and sand. But to one dedicated group of young techies, this summer means html coding, hashtags and hyperlinks – well, for one week at least.

Nasawiya’s Girl Geek Camp, running from July 11-17, is designed by the feminist group to enhance attendees’ computer confidence.

As part of the global collective, Take Back the Tech, one of Nasawiya’s aims is to help increase young women’s access to information technology, the idea being that as girls become more comfortable and familar with using the Internet, the more they will be able to use such tools to their advantage, accessing wider information and communicating in new ways.

The camp, being held at the Ecolodge in Taanayel in the Bekaa, will include workshops on taking photos, online research, becoming a citizen journalist, and filming, editing and uploading video with mobile phones or cameras.

Layal al-Khatib, a Nasawiya member and a camp coordinator, explains the idea behind the trip. “We want to teach these girls to how use the technology they have access to almost everyday and everywhere (smartphones, Internet etc.) in a more fruitful way than just uploading their photos to Facebook.”

“These young girls need to be exposed to real facts and figures about the state of women in the country … to use technology to know more and do something about it,” Khatib adds.

The camp will also include workshops on blogging and self-expression. As Nadine Moawad, another coordinator, explains: “A lot of schools in Lebanon don’t place emphasis on teaching youth how to get their voices out there, and we [Lebanon] definitely have a problem in training youth on giving and accepting constructive criticism.”

This can specifically be an issue for girls, as Moawad adds, “Lebanese society endorses a culture of silence around young women’s issues and systematically covers up important issues that they want to talk about with petty discussions like hair and fashion and shopping.”

Amanda Jabbour, 18, got involved with Nasawiya through their “Take Back the Streets” nights, aimed at reclaiming the often masculine dominated outdoor sphere.

Jabbour, who will begin her studies in political science at St. Joseph University in the fall, sees a parallel in the technology sector.

“In ‘Take Back the Night’ marches I took a stand in order to take back the streets, but the technology field is also thought to be women-unfriendly. Through the Geek Camp I will get the necessary tools to take back the tech too.”

Her aim, by the end of the week, is “Independence … after the camp I will be able to do more by myself.”

The organizers want to build on the basic IT training available in the Lebanese school system to help equip the girls with greater choices about their future paths.

“Students’ skills aren’t built to include more than searching Google or Wikipedia to copy and paste from,” Khatib explains.

“This camp will give the opportunity to use technology correctly, to learn and expand their knowledge.”

Mireille Raad, a freelance software engineer, thinks girls are often wary about venturing into the industry and sees the Geek Camp as offering an important service.

“In most of the places I have worked I’ve been the only lady in the department. Women either move to a more ‘management’ or sales role and rarely stay ‘pure tech.’”

“Worldwide stats say that the percentage of women going into tech is decreasing – not just in Lebanon.” Tech careers must be “demystified,” Raad adds, “Women take up careers in medicine and in engineering … I don’t see why they don’t do so in tech. The Geek Camp is important as it targets ladies before going to university, at that decisive moment.”

In its first year, the Geek Camp is open to girls aged 15-18, and will include sports and games asides from the technology sessions. Attendees are invited to pay what they can afford, from $10 to $200, to cover their costs.

Applications close May 30. Visit http://bit.ly/geekcamp or email n.moawad@gmail.com or call 03-487051 for more information.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 16, 2011, on page 12.

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