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News || Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Souktel/MEPI Mobile Service Gives Palestinian Women a Voice

Palestinian women will play a greater role in local elections, have better access to education and jobs, and even have a say in what they hear on the radio, thanks to a new Souktel mobile service funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). Called “Resalati” (Arabic for "my message"), this wide-reaching service helps local non-profits in the West Bank to better connect with the 3,400+ women they serve--by using Souktel's SMS polling software, mobile peer networking platform, and text-in radio feedback hotlines.

Since the project’s start last year, one local partner has used the service to send over 40,000 SMS updates about trainings and community meetings to women in villages across the country. Another partner uses the service’s “PeerNet” application to run SMS chat sessions on domestic violence—and to let women in remote communities know where they can find help.

A third local NGO has set up a nation-wide SMS feedback hotline for listeners of Nisaa FM, a radio station that focuses on women's issues. A first for the popular network, the hotline lets listeners text in their views on local programs. Incoming messages appear live in the studio on a map interface; radio hosts can then read these comments on the air, or review them to improve programming and respond to listeners' requests.

"What's most interesting about this project is how it gives women in rural areas an equal opportunity to engage in political and social spheres," says Souktel’s Lana Hijazi, the project’s Team Leader. "It’s also had a real impact in terms of raising awareness about gender equality in these hard-to-reach communities." As in many countries, women in remote parts of Palestine often feel isolated in what’s traditionally been a male-dominated society. By providing a safe way to share opinions and connect with peers, the service gives its users a voice—and sends a message to male community members that women's views matter just as much as their own.

"Using SMS to empower women was a great opportunity for us," says Dr. Omar Rahal, president of local partner SHAMS. "It's really amazing how, in one click, we can reach people in so many different areas at the same time. [The software] lets us send short but very meaningful, straight-to-the-point messages and awareness alerts."

Part of what makes this outreach unique is the customized nature of the SMS platforms: For each of the three local partners, Souktel designed the software in a way that best suits their specific needs. For the radio station, it was a feedback line that linked up directly with studio screens. For the NGO that focuses on domestic violence, it was a secure, discreet peer networking app. This individualized approach, and the hands-on training that Souktel staff provide, means that partners are more likely to make the most of the technology--which in turns benefits more women in need.