Devices containing private images can become a sexist weapon in this Middle Eastern country. When a phone breaks, the user can go years without fixing it, for fear of suffering blackmail

On one summer’s day in 2022, Warda Seif roamed the streets of Yemen’s city of Aden under the blaring sun for two hours looking for a mobile phone repair shop to fix a software glitch in her device. She knew the problem could be sorted out within an hour, but when the male technicians asked her to share her password and leave the device for a day or two, she refused, and moved on to the next store.

Her refusal may seem peculiar, but the risks she dreads are grave: Yemen’s conservative society is one of the world’s worst performing countries on the Gender Inequality  Index, ranking 155 out of 156 countries in 2021. Deeply-ingrained patriarchal norms and gender roles dictate women’s choices and actions, and place women as bearers of their families’ honor, making them easy targets of extortions and blackmails.

And mobile phones store a lot  of that honor in the form of personal images and confidential information, even if these images are neither explicit nor revealing.

“Widespread IT illiteracy amongst women and their reliance on strangers to set up their emails or fix their devices makes them prone to extortionists,” said activist Mokhtar Abdel Al-Moez, founder of Sanad, a nonprofit organization with around 400 volunteer digital experts offering support to cybercrime victims since March 2020.

  • Mwalimu
    62 months ago

    Images could as well be copies of immigration documents for secretive efforts to run away from abusive family relationships or financial details for whatever plans or projects.