Digital Platforms Help Women Sidestep Social, Environmental Barriers to Employment


Kashi Halford
The founder of Handasiyat, Sa’d, discovered that women engineers in countries such as Iraq, Libya, and Syria did not feel safe traveling to work. Handasiyat gives women the freedom to work from the safety of their own homes.

Women in MENA face significant social barriers to employment, in addition to environmental and economic barriers. While cultural expectations may pressure women to stay in the home as family caregivers, new digital solutions are helping women pursue careers from home. The option to telecommute is giving many women the flexibility they need to balance work and family obligations.

One such digital solution is Handasiyat.net, an online hub operating in Jordan that employs women engineers who work from home. Handasiyat was launched by Nermin Fawzi Sa’d, a mechanical engineer who originally began Handasiyat as a portal for engaging clients of her own freelance work. When demand for engineering services grew, Sa’d placed a small wanted ad for a freelance female engineer, and she was shocked to receive over 700 CVs.

“I learned that for Jordanian women, whenever you have a child, the mother is the one responsible for childcare,” Sa’d said in a recent interview with The oDesk Blog. “Babysitting facilities are rare, very expensive and offer limited hours. Engineering work has traditionally required long hours outside of the home, so this is a huge problem. Sixty-one percent of female engineers are no longer in the field.”

Sa’d also discovered that women engineers in countries like Iraq, Libya, and Syria did not feel safe traveling to work. Handasiyat could give them the freedom to work from the safety of their own homes.

“Talking to these women, I realised that the market was losing talented, experienced women due to obligations or situations that can be overcome by working virtually via a remote platform,” Sa’d wrote recently in an article featured in The Guardian. “That is how my business, Handasiyat.net, was created.”

There are more solutions in the MENA region that are reinventing jobs with digital technology. Nabbesh, based in the United Arab Emirates, connects freelancers across over 108 cities in MENA with job opportunities. Its skills-matching search engine links graphic designers, web developers, photographers, copywriters, social media experts and other digital service workers with employers that want to hire talent on demand. Nabbesh’s secure invoicing and payment platform further reduces barriers to employment. The organization recently launched Work that Works for Women (www), an initiative that is specifically targeting women in the UAE.

“Many people don’t know that women in the UAE account for more than 70 percent of the students in higher education, one of the highest proportions in the world,” Loulou Khazen Baz, co-founder of Nabbesh, said in an interview with Elan. “Women clearly make up an invaluable brain trust that Nabbesh is trying to tap into in the Middle East. The www Initiative is about increasing options that work for women—wherever they are in life.”