x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

UAE women rank second for Middle East internet use

Over half of the women in the UAE browse the internet for more than seven hours weekly, a new survey has shown.

Abu Dhabi// Over half of the women in the UAE browse the internet for more than seven hours weekly, a new survey has shown. Most use the time for social networking and to connect with friends on sites such as Facebook. The UAE ranks second among internet usage in Middle Eastern countries, with 55 per cent of women using the internet for more than seven hours a week. Only 45 per cent of women read articles and magazines, while 66 per cent used the time to socialise. "In Europe and in the West you may find that women engage in chat for several other reasons than they do here," said Ricky Ghai, executive director of digital media at Abu Dhabi Media Company. Women in the Middle East have been slower to adopt the medium because most of the content was not relevant to them. "People were researching European sites, English language sites, and that actually added to the slow growth of the internet because of cultural restraints, sensitive or offensive content." The sudden increase in female internet users can be expected to grow further as new websites are being developed specifically for the Arab woman, such as anaZahra.com [ADMC product] which is expected to launch next month. "They [Arab women] were under-served," Mr Ghai said, but now "there is a space being created, which women can engage with in confidence, intelligence and trust. There is a bigger appetite for education and learning than in the West." Over 1000 women were polled from across the Middle East in the YouGov survey. Almost half of female internet users were looking for serious fare with longer articles. "Plenty of women go onto the internet for reading," said Iman ben Chaibah, the editor in chief and founder of Sailemagazine.com, the first online magazine run by a woman in the UAE. "When I look back there were plenty of women who were using it, but there were never surveys to check that kind of detail," she said. "At the end of the day they all have a voice. They all contribute to society and they do talk, but it was never documented online." She believes that women in the Middle East have always benefitted from the internet, but their contributions to the web have been a more recent phenomenon. "The drive to document it online makes it heard around the globe -- that's the point of it." Online magazines and newspapers are popular destinations, but social networking sites still take the lion's share of the market, with 71 per cent of women having an account with one of them. Many of them also participate in blogs and online forums. "Blogs really provide freedom of speech, which is what empowers Arab women today," said Zohara Hirji, who runs the popular UAE site grapeshisha.com with her husband Rahim. "Arab women have been using the internet to have their views -- and search for other opinions that distance and lack of exposure to global opinion had prevented in the past." The transitory nature of the UAE makes connecting online a necessary component to relationships, mitigating the distance between people's home countries and where they live now. Mrs Hirji said that women in the region are especially keen to maintain friendships with people who live abroad. "Popular social media, such as Facebook, allows them to make friends normally with other females (and sometimes males!) who share the same interests and hobbies. Some Arab women have been fortunate enough to study abroad and now that they are back home and working, they want to reconnect with old friends." It also allows strangers in the same country to connect, providing support in such a diverse and international community. "With the very diasporic nature of the UAE, there is an increasing need for sites that cater to multiple cultures, that help to promote understanding, provide information and provide an opinion on what is going on in such a growing and changing society." As the internet begins to shape the lives of Arab women, they in turn will begin to shape it. "The internet is an uncontrollable space," said Mr Ghai. "But the one thing about consumers is that they decide." amcmeans@thenational.ae

Abu Dhabi// Shaikha al Shamsi spends a lot of time online. "I send emails, I read articles, I do a little bit of research time to time, I read magazines, sometimes I am participating in online forums, blogs. Basically, this is what I usually do." The 29 year old Emirati working in marketing and uses the internet on a daily basis at work, but she also uses it in her down time. "I use it to be in touch with friends, especially if they are not around," she said. "Facebook is now becoming very popular, actually, among the UAE Nationals." She said that the use of these sites is growing, especially with new destinations, such as Twitter and LinkedIn. "The use of special media is becoming more effective," she said that it is an easier way to connect with people than online forums. The younger generations are even more involved with these social networks. "I've seen girls that are young and they chat about videos, about topics, about things that they relate to, about things of interest, especially to their ages. "They upload videos, they discuss topics, they share. For example, if there are ladies, they share their dresses and designs. They share, "What do you think of this design? I just designed it," and it's sort of helping them to understand." Although there are many advantages to using social media she is concerned about the anonymity. "If there are no restrictions, definitely it will become dangerous," she said. "You don't know who is using this, you don't know the age of the person. So if there are some restrictions around, especially for UAE nationals, it would be good. If there are no restrictions, no policies, no supervision, definitely it will like entering into a dangerous zone." amcmeans@thenational.ae