The 20th Biennale ‘Not Evenly Distributed’ blog series launched with a report from rebel-held Aleppo, a city in the north of Syria, widely regarded as one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Journalist, activist and film-maker Zaina Erhaim shows how access to digital technology is providing opportunities for women, even amidst the chaos of civil war.
Om Mohammad was the first visitor to the newly opened women-only Internet cafe named ‘My Space’ in the rebel-held side of Aleppo city. She came with her two toddlers, Taim and Limar, to check ‘how to use the Internet, and call others on Facebook’, she said. She sat at one of the laptops in the basement and froze, as that was her first meeting with a computer, until the dedicated trainer started teaching her how to turn it on and begin surfing.
Like most of the women living in the conservative parts of Aleppo city, Om Mohammad is prevented by tradition from mixing with men in the satellite-Internet cafes, which are the only way to access the Internet in the war-torn city. The Assad regime has cut off all means of communication: mobile networks, the Internet and even landlines in some areas for more than three years now, so expensive satellite Internet has been the only way to be connected. This has applied yet another layer of isolation to women, significantly affecting their ability to engage with both the outside world and the community in Syria – effectively keeping them marginalised.
[Image: A training session at My Space Aleppo]