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Net Worth

Internet Usage and Women’s Political Empowerment in the Middle


East

Jessica Simon • Dario Eubank • Hesham Alghannam • Ashley Starr Kinseth


IP502H: Research Methods • Professor Jeff Langholz • Tuesday, December 16 2008

For the past several years, the mainstay of the United States’ foreign

policy strategy in the Middle East has centered upon democracy promotion

(Carothers & Ottaway 2005). In order to implement this strategy, the U.S.

State Department launched the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) in 2002,

a program designed to bolster democracy development by funding

programs that promote education, economic growth and women’s

empowerment (Middle East Peace Initiative 2008). The Initiative’s final

dimension, women’s empowerment, embodies a crucial component of

building strong democracies as well as solidifying overall security (Coleman

2004, Tryggestad 2008).

Therefore, the following proposed study will seek to investigate

women’s empowerment in the political arena. Because the MEPI program

seeks to tackle key issues at the grassroots level (Hamzawy 2008), we

have sought to develop a plan for research that will provide information to

assist in this endeavor. We thus focus on ascertaining how women outside

of government perceive their social positions as well as the roles they feel

they play in shaping their political environment. Above all, we seek to

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understand if and how Middle Eastern women are finding ways to relate to

other women in order to create a unique voice that represents their

collective point of view to state powers.

It seems as though the Internet represents an ideal tool for helping

women augment their political empowerment. Several studies have

demonstrated that women who write and post their thoughts on the web

gain greater confidence in developing a political identity (Radsch 2008,

Otterman 2008, Skalli 2006, Sakr 2004). Additionally, many research

projects examine the role of the web in circumventing severe censorship

practices under autocratic regimes in order to access information typically

blocked by the government in other venues (Kalathil & Boas 2003, The

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 2001, Lynch 2008). However, to

date, no research has attempted to establish a direct, measurable

correlation between Internet usage and women’s political empowerment.

Thus our study means to rectify this omission by providing a project that

will, in’shallah, supply concrete answers.

Review of the Literature

One key component of democracy involves freedom of expression,

and as such, its presence or absence can serve as a prime indicator of the

extent to which democracy has taken root. Considering that United States

foreign policy relies heavily on spreading democracy in order to enhance

stability, it seems vital to examine the ways in which government

censorship may act as a hindrance to democratic growth (Carothers &

Ottaway 2005). Largely due to the ramifications of September 11, the

Middle East is often heavily scrutinized in terms of democracy

development; thus exploring censorship in this region makes for a

compelling study. The book Censorship in the Arab World represents a

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highly comprehensive analysis which illuminates the tensions inherent in

states where public opinion is at odds with the government’s agenda

(Nsouli & Meho 2006). In countries where autocratic regimes hold sway,

the media tends to be closely controlled by those in power, and anyone

who dares to deviate from the official script may face severe consequences

(Kalathil 2003).

Censorship, of course, hardly represents a new phenomenon

(Dearborn 2001). Yet the development of modern communication

technology introduces a unique twist altering the relationship between the

government and its subjects. The internet in particular provides a critical

means of circumventing censorship in that it presents difficulties for the

government in squelching public dissent (Nsouli & Meho 2006).

Consequently, several scholars have applied qualitative measures and

case studies in an attempt to gauge the impact of the internet in

developing greater freedom of speech in the Middle East (Lynch 2008,

Radsch 2008, Black 2008, Amin 2008, Washington Institute for Near East

Policy 2007, Kalathil & Boas 2003, al-Rasheed 2000).

Some authors believe that the presence of the internet may be

overrated and that its presence will likely make little difference in fostering

meaningful change. Mamoun Fandy, a senior fellow at the prestigious

Baker Institute, rejects the notion that Arab societies will use the internet

to spread democratic ideals, but rather asserts that it will be used as a

platform for the propagation of pre-existing local norms and values. Fandy

attributes this projected phenomenon to the notion that Internet

represents a barrier to the interpersonal interactions which are highly

valued in daily Middle Eastern life, noting that many Middle Easterners rely

on word of mouth to determine “truth” and thus are not apt to believe

information coming from unfamiliar sources (including radio, television and

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internet). Additionally, many authors point out that only a small segment

of the population – typically the wealthier urban set – have ready access to

the latest technology, thus excluding the vast majority from the freedom of

speech potentially allotted by internet access (Fandy 2000). As a result,

they argue, many voices continue to go unheard within the digital context.

Finally, many scholars note that governments are typically well aware that

this worldwide portal could weaken their grip on power, and as a result

often set up barriers such as stringent firewalls in order to try to maintain

control (Ebrahimian 2003, Hall & Huges 2001).

Alternatively, some scholars see the internet as a key catalyst in

providing a forum for free speech. One such author, Edmund Ghareeb in

his “New Media and the Information Revolution in the Arab World: An

Assessment,” suggests that increased internet access has transformed

political discourse in the space of a few years, thus creating a “new type of

political debate that transcends national boundaries.” While he recognizes

that governments may be able to block certain sites, Ghareeb notes that

“bureaucrats are not always as creative as the computer users and those

maintaining the sites, who can change addresses frequently or create

multiple ‘mirror’ pages” (Ghareeb 2000).

Women constitute a marked contingent of these “creative computer

users,” and it appears that many have begun harnessing the internet to

make a name for themselves in the public sphere. Naomi Sakr, a

prominent Middle East scholar, proffers several illuminating examples of

women’s empowerment in her book Women and Media in the Middle East:

Power of Self-Expression (Sakr 2004). Media, she stresses, represents a

critical tool for women in that it gives them a chance to emerge from the

background to make their voices heard.

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The internet in particular opens up many doors, and a number of

articles recently published in both Arab Media and Society and the Journal

of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies speak to this trend (Radsch 2008,

Otterman 2008, Skalli 2006, Lynch 2007). In her article “Communicating

Gender in the Public Sphere: Women and Information Technologies in

MENA,” Loubna Skalli delves into women’s political blogging in the Middle

East. She argues that women, by writing about their environment, “are

creating alternative discursive spaces where it is possible to redefine

patriarchal gender roles while questioning the socio-cultural, economical,

political and legal institutions constraining them”(Skalli 2006). She also

notes that many internet-savvy women are able to access information

otherwise denied them due to government censorship restrictions.

Although Skalli and others (Wheeler 2004, Lynch 2007) note that economic

constraints still prevent many women from participating in the online

discourse, those who do possess technical knowledge appear to play a vital

role in agitating for political change.

Research Question & Hypothesis

As highlighted above, numerous studies have shown the Internet to

provide a powerful means of escaping censorship imposed by authoritarian

states in the Middle East. The act of blogging in particular represents an

ideal forum in which beleaguered citizens are able to express and clarify

their concerns, which they in turn share with like-minded people who

harbor similar problems. It seems that women in particular would have a

lot to gain from utilizing this medium, especially in a culture that often

actively suppresses female voices. We therefore seek to determine

whether the Internet might give women the courage to challenge the

status quo, as it may create an opportunity for political dialogue to emerge

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from shared frustrations amongst female participants in the blogosphere. It

also seems plausible that the Internet might enable women to expand their

horizons by virtue of providing access to websites containing uncensored

political content. With this in mind, we pose the question:

• To what extent does women's increased Internet usage

augment women's political empowerment in the Middle

East?

In light of this proposition, it seems highly possible that the Internet may

indeed play a role in developing female political empowerment.

Consequently, we hypothesize that:

• The more Middle Eastern women are able to utilize the

Internet, the more politically empowered they will likely be.

We therefore plan to track women’s internet usage in order to

determine its impacts on women’s political empowerment. Women’s

political empowerment will be defined in terms of how Middle Eastern

women outside the official political realm relate to politics in their daily

lives. According to both the World Bank’s Empowerment Source Book and

the United Nations Development Program’s Gender Empowerment Measure

(GEM), two key elements of empowerment include awareness and choice

(World Bank Empowerment Source Book, 2008) and (UNDP GEM, 2008). In

addition to these indicators, we plan to ascertain the level of active

political participation on the part of Middle Eastern women. The detailed

operationalization of these indicators, in addition to that of internet usage,

will be further explored in the sections to come.

Sample and Unit of Analysis

Not all opportunities for Internet access are created equal. Certain

countries in the Middle East tend to be far more draconian than others both

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in terms of their treatment of women and the influence they wield over

Internet censorship (Kalathi and Boas 2003). Variations in socio-economic

conditions must be taken into account as well, as studies demonstrate that

women living in large cities are better able to access the Internet than their

country-dwelling counterparts (Lynch 2008).

Thus in looking at individual women in the Middle East, our unit of

analysis, our sampling strategy will seek to take the above two factors into

account. To that end, we have chosen three countries ranked on an ordinal

scale in terms of level of autocracy: Saudi Arabia (high), Egypt (mid), and

Jordan (low), as established by the World Bank’s Autocracy Index (2008).

Next, we chose two different sites in each country – one urban and one

rural – in order to account for plausible socio-economic differences. To

that end, we will conduct research in the countries’ respective capital cities

– Riyadh, Cairo, and Amman – in conjunction with the three respective

provincial cities of Khamis Mushait, Siwah, and Ma’an.

Operationalization of Variables

The study will conceptualize the dependent variable, women’s

political empowerment, in terms of three indicators – political awareness,

choice and participation. The first indicator, awareness, seeks to assess

the degree to which women possess knowledge and information relating to

politically relevant events, persons and circumstances. The indicator of

choice aims to measure the degree to which women control the shaping of

their political attitudes and beliefs based on the information they possess.

Finally, participation seeks to assess the degree to which women are able

to apply said knowledge and attitudes in order to engage actively in the

political process – for instance, by voting or participating in

demonstrations.

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The study will conceptualize the independent variable, internet

usage, in terms of two indicators – frequency and content. The first

indicator aims to determine the degree of frequency with which women

use the internet, regardless of the purpose(s) for which it is being used.

Content seeks to describe the purpose(s) for which women use the internet

– in particular, to what extent said women employ the internet for

politically relevant purposes.

Data Collection Methodology

The research team will measure the variables and their respective

indicators using an in-person survey performed in the aforementioned

urban and rural areas of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. To achieve a

margin of error of +/-5% or better, interviewers will aim to conduct

approximately 400 surveys in each location (Research Advisors 2006) 1.

Persons to be interviewed will be chosen at random as interviewers go

door-to-door to propose survey participation, each day selecting a new,

arbitrary neighborhood for exploration.

A team of two female interviewers will perform each survey in

tandem. The research design team will hire all interviewers from major

local universities, and as a prerequisite, all must be native to the region,

fluent in the local dialect, and proficient in English. In each region, four

teams of two interviewers will be trained on location in English by a leading

member of the research design team for a period of one week before

spending up to two months collecting data. Per their training, said

interviewers will be free to ask participants for elaboration or additional


1
Given populations in each of the capital cities (Riyadh, Cairo, and Amman) of
between 1,000,000 and 10,000,000, a minimum of 384 surveys are required to
achieve a margin of error of +/- 5%. Given populations in each of the provincial
cities of between 10,000 and 50,000 (Khamis Mushait, Siwah, and Ma’an),
between 370-381 surveys are required to achieve an equivalent margin of error.
To allow for incomplete or flawed surveys and to maintain uniformity and
simplicity, 400 surveys will be performed in each location.
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relevant information insomuch as she feels it may be valuable to the

study. Nonetheless, the basic survey format to be used as a guideline for

interviews has been appended here (Appendix A). Finally, the interviewers

will translate survey responses into English for data analysis on the part of

the research design team.

Before beginning research in the Middle East, however, the in-person

survey will be tested using a parallel process in the San Francisco (urban) /

Monterey (rural) areas. To that end, the team will hire two local university

students in each location. Each team will spend one week conducting the

same survey in the manner outlined above (excepting, of course, the

language). We will then analyze the resultant data to test for

comprehensibility before applying the survey methodology in the Middle

East.

Data Analysis Methodology

Due to the highly qualitative nature of “women’s political

empowerment,” the dependent qualities of awareness, choice and

participation will be measured primarily using Likert scales and assigned-

value multiple choice questions as a means of permitting survey

participants to quantify their relationships to the political process.

Frequency of usage, a quantitative measure, will be measured using a

single close-ended ratio scale. The final dimension of study, content, will

ask participants to categorize their time spent on the internet according to

a variety of potential uses. Participants will also be asked to respond to

open-ended questions regarding their preferred browsing activities.

The research team will then utilize these responses to develop

three indices: a women’s political empowerment index (WPEI) an internet

usage index (IUI), and finally, a political internet usage index (IUIP). The

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first index, WPEI, will account for all three empowerment indicators equally

(awareness, choice and participation each at 1/3 of total WPEI) and will

measure women’s political empowerment on a scale of 0-1. Each Likert

and multiple choice response, measured on a scale of 1-5, will be

translated to fit the 0-1 scale; then, response values will be averaged to

determine a final WPEI score. For instance, if a survey participant answers

“4” to all Likert scale questions, as well as indicating the fourth-ranked

response of five on each WPEI-related multiple choice question, she would

have a WPEI of 0.75 (relatively high).

Similarly, IUI will measure general internet usage on a scale of 0-1,

and survey responses will be assigned values between 0-1 approximating

the degree of internet usage they represent. For instance, if a survey

participant indicates that she spends “10-20 hours” online each week (the

fifth-highest internet usage response of six), analysts would assign her an

IUI of 0.8 (relatively high).

Alternatively, IUIP, a composite measure, aims to quantify internet

usage for specifically political purposes on a scale of 0-1. In this index,

general internet usage (IUI) will account for half of total IUIP, while the

degree of political relevance of said internet usage, defined as follows, will

also account for half. While admittedly more analytically subjective,

researchers will assign 0-1 values to a wide array of possible internet

activities aimed at accurately representing that activity’s degree of

political relevance. For instance, a response indicating “shopping for

beauty products” as a preferred internet activity may receive a political

relevance score of 0, while a response indicating “reading an

environmental studies journal” as a preferred activity may receive a score

of 0.5, and yet another response indicating “reading news on international

politics” as a preferred activity may receive a score of 1. Responses will

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then be weighted according to the percentage of time spent on each

activity as specified by the survey participant. Lastly, the two components

will be averaged to determine a composite IUIP.

Finally, the research design team will calculate two distinct

empowerment-internet ratios ((EIR = WPEI / IUI) and (EIRP= WPEI / IUIP)) to

determine a) the degree of correlation between women’s political

empowerment and general internet usage (EIR), and b) the degree of

correlation between women’s political empowerment and the use of

internet for politically relevant purposes (EIRP). EIR values close to 1.0

indicate a strong direct correlation between women’s political

empowerment and general internet usage; meanwhile, values close to 0

indicate low empowerment relative to internet usage, and values

significantly above 1.0 indicate significant political empowerment coupled

with little or no internet usage. In parallel, EIRP values close to 1.0 indicate

a strong direct correlation between women’s political empowerment and

internet usage for politically relevant purposes; meanwhile, values close to

0 indicate low empowerment relative to political internet usage, and values

significantly above 1.0 indicate significant political empowerment coupled

with little or no politically relevant internet usage.

Schedule

The research team anticipates spending two weeks in each of the six

cities in order to allow for organization, hiring and one week of interviewer

training. The interviewers, eight women (or four teams of two) from local

universities in each location, will then be allotted a period of up to two

months to collectively gather the 400 surveys required of each location, as

well as two weeks to translate and submit the data to the primary research

team. The interviewers, most of whom will likely be students, will be

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expected to work three days per week at an approximate rate of four

surveys per day per team of two to achieve a total of 400 surveys per

location within the allotted two month time frame. Data compilation and

analysis will begin at the end of month four, when the primary research

team returns to Monterey and begins to receive data from hired

interviewers in Riyadh. Data analysis will continue on a rolling basis

through month eight as interviewers from the remaining cities complete

their survey sets and continue to submit survey results. See figure 1,

below.

Figure 1. Schedule

Budget

Transportation costs, including airfare to Riyadh and from Cairo for

the primary research staff as well as connecting flights in the Middle East
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and domestic transport, are estimated to total $12,300. The four primary

research staff members will require lodging in the form of a two-bedroom

apartment for a period of two weeks in each of the six cities of inquiry; and

while housing costs vary dramatically depending on location, total lodging

costs are anticipated to total approximately $2,550.

Each primary researcher will receive a living stipend of $1500.

Interviewers in major metropolitan areas (Riyadh, Cairo and Amman) will

be paid at a rate of $10 per survey, while interviewers in rural regions

(Khamis Mushait, Siwah and Ma’an) will be paid at a rate of $8 per survey.

Therefore, the research team anticipates personnel costs of approximately

$27,600. Though the study will not require any significant equipment or

research materials, the research staff wishes to request $5,000 in

additional funding for discretionary purposes. Therefore, the team

requests $47,450 in total funding to complete the given research design.

For a detailed breakdown of costs, see figure 2, below.

Figure 2. Budget

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Appendix A: Sample Survey

Verbal Introduction:
Good (morning/afternoon/evening). My name is (first name) and this is
(first name). We are conducting a survey concerning women’s internet
usage and politics here in (name of country), and we were wondering if you
might be able to spare 20-25 minutes to answer a few brief questions.
Your responses will be kept purely confidential and any insight you provide
will be used strictly for informational purposes. Would you be interested in
participating?

Please rank the statements below according to the following scale:


1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = neither agree nor disagree; 4 = agree; 5
= strongly agree
1 2 3 4 5
I know a lot about my national government.
I am aware of my political rights as a citizen.
I am usually up to date on the latest political news.
I feel pressure from society to adopt common opinions on
political matters.
My political opinions are based on accurate information.
I am able to openly express my political opinions in public.
I actively seek alternative ways to express my concerns to
government officials.

I vote in public elections:


a) always.
b) usually.
c) sometimes.
d) rarely.
e) never.
f) my country does not have public elections.

I participate in political demonstrations:


a) frequently.
b) occasionally.
d) rarely.
e) never.
f) my country does not have political demonstrations.

On average, how much time do you spend using the internet each week?
a) I do not use the internet.
b) 0-2 hours
c) 2-5 hours
d) 5-10 hours
e) 10-20 hours
f) more than 20 hours

Please estimate the percent of your time online you spend engaging in the
following activities and, if applicable, respond to the sub-question(s).

%____ Checking and sending email


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if so, pertaining to what?
__________________________________________
(ie, personal, school, business, etc.)

%____ Shopping
if so, for what kinds of items?
______________________________________
(ie, clothing, furniture, software, etc.)

%____ Studying and/or doing schoolwork


if so, which subject(s)?
____________________________________________
(ie, literature, political science, chemistry, linguistics, etc.)

%____ Playing games


if so, which type(s)?
_____________________________________________
(ie, multi-player, sports, educational, etc.)

%____ Reading the news


if so, which type(s)?
______________________________________________
(ie, local/national/world, opinion, sports, science, travel, home
& garden, etc.)

%____ Reading magazines/journals


if so, what type(s)?
_______________________________________________
(ie, politics, gossip, fashion, shelter, beauty, scholarly (please
specify), etc.)

%____ Reading blogs and/or alternative news sources


if so, what type(s)?
_______________________________________________
(ie, politics, gossip, fashion, shelter, beauty, scholarly (please
specify), etc.)

%____ Keeping a personal blog/website


OPTIONAL: please provide your web address.
______________________________________________________________

%____ Networking
if so, using which sites?
___________________________________________
(ie, Facebook, MySpace, Match.com, etc.)

%____ Other:
____________________________________________________________

%____ Other:
____________________________________________________________

Please list the websites you visit most in order of preference.


1.__________________________________________________________________________
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2.
__________________________________________________________________________

3.__________________________________________________________________________

4.
__________________________________________________________________________

5.__________________________________________________________________________

What year were you born ? _______ What is your ethnicity?


______________________

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