Contrary to the belief that Arab women throughout the Middle East do not have access to or interest in the internet outside of work, the vast majority of Arab women access the web from home, belong to a social networking site and use the internet to connect with friends, a regional survey by the Gulf-based research group YouGovSiraj has found.
The study into evolving online attitudes and behaviors of Arab women across the Middle East found that 85 percent of Arab women using the internet access it from home, 71 percent belong to a social network and 66 percent connect with friends online on a daily basis. The survey also found 45 percent of Arab women online were reading articles and magazines, and 34 percent of them were spending at least 10 hours a week browsing the internet outside of work.
The study conducted in April and released on Sunday, surveyed over 1,250 women from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanon held the highest online usage for women with 68 percent of those surveyed spending more than seven hours a week online outside of work, followed by the UAE at 55 percent, Kuwait 53 percent, Egypt 50 percent, Qatar 47 percent, Saudi Arabia and Jordan 44 percent, Bahrain 42 percent, Syria 34 percent and Oman 30 percent.
The study found Facebook to be the leading social networking platform among Arab women, with an estimated 91 percent of online Lebanese women having a Facebook account, followed by 80 percent of online women in Egypt, 78 percent in the UAE, 70 percent in Jordan, 68 percent in Kuwait and Qatar, 66 percent in Bahrain, 64 percent in Saudi Arabia, 55 percent in Oman and 45 percent in Syria.
“This was a huge study,” Lara Al Barazi, research manager at YouGovSiraj told The Media Line. “We combined quantitative and qualitative approaches to better understand Arab women’s lives online: how they access the internet, what kind of websites and information they look at, what role it plays in their lives, and what they do when they are done.”
“You have to remember that these people are already connected,” she said. “So this was not a study into how many Arab women connect to the internet, it was a study into what Arab women who are already connected are doing online.”
The study was commissioned by anaZahra.com, a new website on Arab women’s lifestyles set to be launched next month by the Abu Dhabi Media Company, creator of the international English-language daily The National. The site will target Arabic-speaking women across the Middle East interested in fashion, beauty, celebrity news and various lifestyle topics.
“Everyone believes Arab women are not as interested in digital content as they are in reading magazines, but we discovered that the internet plays an integral part of Arab women’s lives, whether they are living in different parts of Saudi Arabia or a city in the UAE,” Zoya Sakr, Managing Director of anaZahra.com told The Media Line. “Arab women are getting really into digital stuff.”
“Arab women regularly consult the internet, both during the week and on the weekends, but there is a lack of portals that offer high-quality content in Arabic for them,” she said. “There is almost no competition, as the portals that exist are very traditional or local. So if you ask Arab women where they go for fashion and beauty, they say that they consult international websites.”
“We will have original content from over a dozen editors, with contributors in London, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and the Gulf,” she said. “We want women to inspire women.”
Sakr said web developers and entrepreneurs throughout the region were slowly waking up to the already large and growing female audience.
“Women’s community sites are a key growth sector online globally,” said Sakr. “Women are an important audience segment for content creators and marketers: they are expressive and they are connected. They like sharing with their friends and family and they are eager to engage with other women.”
“There is no doubt the world is going digital and this results in major changes in our daily habits, from socializing to entertainment," said Ricky Ghai, Executive Director of Digital Media at the Abu Dhabi Media Company. “This is especially true when it comes to modern Arab women, who have become more and more interested and involved in the digital space.”