f<a+i>r Middle East and North Africa Hub
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Middle East and North Africa Hub

The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D), at the American University in Cairo’s School of Business is proud to be the Middle East and North Africa Hub ( MENA Hub) of the A+ alliance network.  A2K4D is a regional hub for research investigating the role of digital technologies and innovation in promoting inclusive development, with focus on Egypt, the Arab World, and Africa. The Center’s activities are interdisciplinary, encompassing the inclusive dimensions of artificial intelligence, innovation, digital platforms, new business models, new forms of digital work, alternative knowledge governance, data governance and open data practices in the digital economy. At A2K4D we adopt a gendered lens across all our research and capacity building efforts.

The Center’s existing and growing partnerships and collaborations strategically position it to foster a sustainable MENA A+ alliance network. A2K4D is an active member of several research partnerships, including Open Data for Development (OD4D), Open African Innovation Research partnership (Open AIR), Fairwork Network, Global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers (NoC), The Access to Knowledge Global Academy (A2KGA),  EQUALS Research Partnership. We also work in close partnership with civil society organizations like Take Back the Tech.  

As the MENA hub of the A+ alliance, A2K4D’s activities will involve knowledge creation and awareness raising about novel technologies and data  for development. A2K4D will harness its local, regional and global partnerships to bring together and grow a MENA wide feminist AI network of multidisciplinary stakeholders including institutions and individuals who are passionate about how applied AI can make positive change in the region. We will host a  series of webinars to synergize efforts by social scientists, economists, data scientists, techies and domain experts who are grappling with unprecedented pace of technological change against a backdrop of growing multifaceted inequalities in MENA, especially with regards to gender, knowledge creation and awareness raising about novel technologies and data for development.  

Incubating Feminist AI: MENA f<a+i>r Hub’s First Network Meeting

Speakers: Soraj Hongladarom, Caitlin Kraft-Buchman, Nadine Moawad, Nagla Rizk and Amira Salah-Ahmed.

Moderator: Nadine Weheba

Date: Wednesday, Dec 14th 2022

The first Middle East and North Africa (MENA) f<a+i>r Hub’s network meeting was held on Wednesday 14th Dec 2022 at 3.30pm Cairo local time via Zoom. The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) at the American University in Cairo, School of Business introduced the f<a+i>r Hubs Network and brought together key stakeholders in MENA in an action-oriented conversation on how new technologies such as AI can be harnessed to address MENA’s most pressing developmental problems with focus on gender inclusion.

Key issues discussed:

  • Digital and analogue divides are intertwined and can be exacerbated by AI.
  • Feminists need to invest their efforts in proactively creating the future that we want to live in rather than just reacting.
  • AI can play a role in promoting awareness of the way technology can be intertwined with socioeconomic problems and can be utilized for achieving equality and justice.
  • What is coming for humanity is impossible to predict, but it is necessary to try all approaches to ensure the future is fair for women.
  • There are high level plans on investing in AI for smart cities, pensions, healthcare etc. in the region and in Egypt in particular however there are not enough women or youth present at these tables. No one is currently looking at AI with a feminist lens.
  • There is a huge disconnect between those working in feminist spaces and those working in tech. We need to bring both groups together to share knowledge and have discussions. We also need to include major stakeholders involved in decision and policy making.
  • There is an urgent need to build an open data platform that hosts data sets from the MENA region to produce AI models for the MENA region instead of relying on tech produced by the West.



The Second Meeting: ‘Algorithmic Decision Making (ADM), Feminism and Inclusion in MENA: Unpacking Concepts and Call for proposals

Speakers: Manal Jalloul and Nadine Weheba

Moderator: Nagla Rizk

Date: February 8th, 2023

The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) hosted its second webinar as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) hub of the F&lt;a+i&gt;r Hubs Network titled “Algorithmic Decision Making (ADM), Feminism and Inclusion in MENA: Unpacking Concepts and Call for proposals” on Wednesday February 8th via Zoom. Joining the webinar as a speaker was Dr. Manal Jalloul (Founder of AI Lab and NVIDIA Deep Learning Institute, Certified Instructor and University Ambassador at the American University of Beirut). Dr. Jalloul unpacked concepts of ADM and discussed how it can be harnessed for gender inclusion in MENA. We also discussed the project’s latest call for proposals, titled: “Incubating Feminist AI: Call for Expressions of Interest Algorithmic Decision Making Systems”. The call focuses on harnessing ADM for more equitable outcomes and models deploying more effective and inclusive social protection in MENA.

Key issues discussed:

  •  It all goes back to data. Due to historical norms and gender discrimination, there is bias in the data available that is used to create and train ADM systems. Data needs to be more inclusive and representative for ADM systems to work fairly.
  • Bias exists in the design of the algorithms themselves; algorithms are designed by people with gender-biases. The teams that develop these solutions need to be diverse in order to prevent human biases from impacting the technology.
  • ADMs have the potential to help meet SDGs such as equal health, gender equality and ending domestic violence.
  • AI can be used to identify inequalities in data and ADM systems. AI and ADM systems must be tested prior to deployment and before using them on a wider scale. We can use AI to test new technologies to ensure that there are no biases of treatment.
  • AI policy-making in MENA needs to be data driven in order for policies to inform our unique needs as a region. AI can be used to extract insights from data such as correlations, gaps, inequalities and areas that need attention. We can also use AI to gather data on the impact of policies implemented and make modifications accordingly.
  •  Once datasets are diverse, they can then include the scope of women who are usually outside of national statistics and data sets such as those in the informal economy whose data cannot be found in national statistics.



Feminist Phenomenology and Applied AI examples in MENA

Date: August 2nd, 2023

The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) hosted its third webinar as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) hub of the f<a+i>r Hubs Network (Feminist AI Research Network) on August 2nd, 2023. In this webinar, Aliah Yacoub, AI Philosopher and AI and head of techQualia at Synapse Analytics, discussed the connection of feminism, social justice, and AI in the region from a philosophical point of view. She also provided examples of the challenges associated with the use of applied AI in the region and the role of feminist theoretical frameworks in promoting gender equality and mitigating discrimination and biases.

Key issues discussed:

  • Feminist epistemology is excluded and neglected in the process of developing AI meaning AI is not a neutral but a gendered intelligence. Male epistemology is dominating the AI field since the way we historically recognize patterns and obtain knowledge is gendered.
  • The theoretical & the socio-technical exclusion of women’s knowledge is also exacerbated by their underrepresentation in the tech workforce, where on average women represent less than 20% of the occupants globally. 
  • Structural challenges facing women in STEM include STEM education carrying over to the workforce, socio-cultural norms and gendered labor, internet penetration, the digital divide and financial exclusion.
  • Gender gaps in the tech world are deeply entrenched despite positive trends. We need to break down the structural (societal, economic, or political) barriers that prevent the integration of women in the tech world.
  • Contemporary injustices are rooted in historical inequalities in power. Data feminism aims to avoid the repetition of these inequalities.
  • There has been an increase in female-led tech startups in the MENA region with a focus on FemTech. There have also been initiatives across the region attempting to to mitigate data biases by updating datasets and addressing female underrepresentation, offering AI-curated tech training programs for women and campaigns incentivising quality investments in women in tech.