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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Digital burqa or business suit : social media and the gender digital divide among resettled Iraqi women Gazali, Serah


This study explores concepts of digital justice for women who live in a liminal space between home and resettlement. It examines their experience in social media and how it is affected by their gender, immigration and marginality. I approach this topic through a case study of Iraqi women with a refugee background who are resettled to British Columbia, Canada. Their narratives shed light on the complexity of the digital divide for women. I use intersectional theory and feminist research methods to address the persistence of digital inequalities. My results contradict what early feminists wrote about 'cyberspace' as a liberating gender-neutral terrain void of structural barriers to entry. In reality, the internet today is anything but open and equal. This point is not new. However, studies on Middle Eastern women bloggers and online activists-especially those of Muslim background-still present the internet, via social media, as a site to practice selfhood and challenge gender norms. My findings suggest a more complex picture. We cannot detach technologies from the power structures that created them and the systems within which they are embedded. It is true that social media may offer opportunities to experiment with identity and challenge norms, but the internet also mirrors pre-existing social structures and can amplify the effect of those structures due to the immediacy of access and abundance of online material. To avoid surveillance, women in this study adopted one of two strategies: they either adorned a digital burqa and remained anonymous or wore a digital business suit and migrated to social media platforms where interaction is highly formal. The success women have in handling social media is due to their ingenuity in avoiding surveillance. This success comes despite the potential risks of using technologies designed to amplify users' visibility and collect users' data.

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