Authored by


Freelance journalist

Empowering Bedouin and marginalised women using the internetIntroduction

It is well established that information and communications technologies (ICTs) play a vital role in empowering women around the world to realise their rights . This report examines how the internet helps Bedouin women, who used to live in isolation, and women living in rural and remote areas in Jordan, to conserve intangible cultural heritage while empowering them economically.

According to UNESCO, intangible cultural heritage includes a community's “ oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts” . 1

In 2009 UNESCO added the cultural practices of the Bedouin of Petra, one of Jordan’s most famed tourist attractions, and the Bedouin of Wadi Rum to a list of intangible heritages . Bedouin life in Petra and in the Wadi Rum desert has come increasingly under threat. 2 Costanza Farina, UNESCO representative to Jordan believes that their “ intangible heritage is very precious but, at the same time, very fragile". 3   Bedou in knowledge, know-how and oral traditions in general are rapidly disappearing due to the major changes in the lifestyle of these communities, including urbanisation and modernisation. 4

Policy, economic and political background

Jordan's population has increased from seven million in 2014 5 to 9.5-million people 6 in two years due to the inflow of Syrian refugees. Threats of terrorism, especially from the Islamic State (IS), have meant that the government allocates more than 25% of the annual budget to the army and security, with negative implications for realising economic, social and cultural rights (ESCRs) in the country. The country has not been able to create sufficient jobs to reduce the high unemployment rate, which is estimated to be 12.8% in 2016. Unemployment has also doubled in the case of women.

Jordan’s telecom infrastructure is growing at a very rapid pace and continually being updated and expanded. According to the latest statistics (2016) there are 11.5-million mobile subscribers with 147% penetration. As much as 76% of the population has internet access, with 80% of them using mobile broadband to access the internet.

Jordan's constitution guarantees cultural rights. 7 Jordan is also a state party to the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (IC ESCRs ), 8 which is the main universal treaty protecting these rights, in addition to related conventions .

Article 2.1 of IC ESCRs provides: "Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures". 9

"To take steps" means that: " A State Party is under an obligation to take all appropriate measures to progressively realise the rights listed in t he treaty". 10

The obligation also requires States to adopt legislative and other measures to fulfil their obligations in the treaty. 11

The concept of progressive realisation constitutes a recognition of the fact that full realisation of all ESCRs will generally not be able to be achieved in a short period of time. 12 Even if these measures are gradually implemented, they should be implemented without “unreasonab le delay” and accord ing to the “maximum of [a state's] available resources”. 13

In 2006, Jordan also ratified the 2003 UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. 14 The convention places great importance on strengthening the capacities of the local communities and stakeholders to safeguard their own cultural heritage. 15

In 2010 Jordan established a small directorate to promote intangible cultural heritage. 16 However the government does not allocate enough resources to conserve and safeguard this cultural heritage. The budget for the ministry of culture for 2016 and the next two years is: 17


In Jordanian dinar











In comparison with the total budget (JD 6,096-billion or USD 8.6 -billion) the budget of the ministry of culture equals to 1.39% of the total budget. At the same time, this allocation decreases year on year.

Examples of cultural heritage in Jordan

Petra is known for its multi-coloured sand mountains. Using a syringe, indigenous inhabitants inject this coloured sand into bottles to create layers of colour and geometrical decorations. Sometimes the names of tourists who want to remember their visit to the old city are able to add to the patterns in the same way.

Bedouin life has attracted many western women to marry and live in Jordan. The most representative of these women is Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a New Zealand-born nurse who has married a Bedul Bedouin of Petra. 18 Marguerite has authored a book Married to a Bedouin 19 which has been translated into several languages. The book is her main source of income besides selling sand bottles, t-shirts and, later, silver jewelry . With the introduction of internet she has her own website. 20 In her book Marguerite tells how she "settled into his cave, and slept with him on the ledge in front under a sheet of stars; how she learned to fetch water by donkey, bake bread daily and how she ran the local clinic". 21

Not far away from Petra, extends the Wadi Rum valley. This is in a sandy desert where a dozen movies have been filmed, including Lawrence of Arabia, in 1962 . Wadi Rum is attracting many tourists who wish to spend a night in the desert to discover how the Bedouin live. Like any major factor of change, tourism is both a risk and also a chance for the sustainability of the Bedouin's cultural heritage. 22

Saleh, a man from the Huwaitat Bedouin tribe, offers guided tours in Wadi Rum, together with his wife and child. These include camping, 4x4 safaris, mountain scrambles, Bedouin cooking and culture, desert trekking, and visiting secret valleys and other special places. 23 Tourism for local and foreign tourists in the desert valley of Wadi Rum is the main source of Saleh's income. Through the internet, Saleh welcomes tourists from all continents who are willing to take an adventure in the desert. 24 This is an example of how promoting heritage through tourism is considered a sustainable development and an incentive for local inhabitants to protect and conserve the environment. Heritage tourism is expanding and flourishing in Wadi Rum. Just google Wadi Rum from where you are it gives you tens of websites offering a diverse adventure.

Historically, Bedouin women made tents and woven rugs from sheep's wool . Sheep’s wool, goat and camel hair are used by Bedouin tribes and villagers all over Jordan to produce rugs, bags, and other beautiful items. Traditionally the entire process is done by hand; from the washing, carding, spinning and dying of the yarn to the finished product. The Bedouin tribe of Bani Hamida – also the name of a remote part of central Jordan - is synonymous with a weaving project started by twelve women from the tribe in 1985. In the project, the women are still using the traditional way to weave rugs and other products. The project is based in the village of Mukawir (known for its biblical heritage, such as the site of Herod's fortress and of the place where John the Baptist was executed). At Mukawir, tourists can visit the weaving rooms and buy their products. Alkifah (struggle) is another cooperative association producing herbal medication plants and aromatic herbs. As it is a small organisation, the head of the association uses a Facebook account to promote and sell their products. 25

The production of soap is a very old tradition in the region of the Middle East called Bilad al-Sham (the name given to the geographic unit of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and historical Palestine). Soap made of olive oil and local herbals is well-known as a home product in most villages where olive trees are planted. In Kufranja, fifty kilometers north of Jordan, a group of women produce traditional soap from olive oil and local herbals. In Orjan village, local women use a variety of local ingredients, including lavender, geranium, mint and pomegranate, to create high-quality handmade natural olive oil soaps named Orjan Soap. 26

Women constitute a large number of the artisans in Jordan’s handicraft production sector. Income earned by women helps them to become financially secure and independent and improves their families’ standard of living. 27

Madaba became famous for its mosaic map, which was made in 6th century A.D. as a decoration for the pavement of a church in the town. It is made up of two million tiny pieces of coloured stone and tile. The map which represents the biblical land at that time, was discovered accidentally in 1897 while constructing a new church. Later on many other ornate works of art used to decorate rich people's houses were discovered.

Madaba’s mosaics are an instrumental part of recorded history and have provided historians with the names and dates of important figures and events in Christianity and regional history. 28 Today, local people are taught how to make these mosaics for commercial sale. This helps to educate people about the need to protect what is old, while also providing them with a living. 29

To conserve and restore the mosaic art in Madaba, the Madaba Institute for Mosaics Art and Restoration (MIMAR) was established as an NGO to train women to revive this art. Today mosaic artists in Madaba produce an array of souvenirs and handicrafts used for a variety of purposes.

The pottery industry is a deeply rooted in Madaba. It is believed by many historians that it is p robably the most ancient craft in Jordan. Madaba played a major role in trading pottery throughout Europe and the Arab world and pottery was first made in the Levant over 8,000 years ago. Historians have uncovered many examples of fine Nabatean pottery in both Jordan and the surrounding countries. 30 Women are trained to paint pottery vases and ostrich eggs using a special dotting technique, which they then sell locally and to tourists. 31

Since 1999, the women of Ghor el Safi, a rural village south of the Dead Sea, located at 390 metres below sea level, have produced hand-dyed textiles using the colourful soil and natural dye plants of Jordan. 32 This activity supports the #unite4Heritage initiative in Jordan, a UNESCO-powered campaign that aims to celebrate and safeguard cultural heritage and diversity around the world. One of the most extraordinary results has been the successful revival of the ancient “indigo” industry for which the Jordan Valley was famous in the past. For the first time since its demise, indigo has been cultivated and processed in Jordan, and the natural blue colour is now back on the market. 33

The president of the Ghor Al Safi Women’s Association, Naifa Nawasrwa, informed the author that the main problem they face is marketing, as Ghor Al Safi is very far away from capital Amman. 34 Lama Haddaddin, a specialist in social media marketing, uses her Twitter account to help small organisations, such as the Ghor Al Safi Women’s Association, to sell their products. 35

Marketing was a huge obstacle for women wanting to sell their products. The internet presents a cheap way for the women to advertise and sell their handmade arts and products.

The Al-Hima Foundation, a Jordanian non-profit organisation specialising in revitalising communities through sustainable cultural heritage, is implementing a UNESCO project entitled "Empowering Rural Women in the Jordan Valley: Handicraft production at Ghor al-Safi." 36   The project integrates a nationwide assessment of the handicrafts industry with a close assessment of the capacities of the Ghor al-Safi Women's Cooperative to develop a business and marketing plan, and to improve the quality of their current handicrafts products. 37

The government, NGOs and private sector are frequently organising bazaars to sell the products of participating organisations and to promote tourism. Tourism Minister Nayef Al Fayez says the bazaars are important to realising ESCRs in the Kingdom. 38

Bedouin women usually have strong expertise in traditional medication as they live in areas far away from cities where health facilities are available. To conserve such practices and to produce local herbal and medicinal plants the Hashemite Fund for the Development of Jordan Badia (HFDJB) has funded several projects for Bedouin women. One of these projects is implemented in Graigrah, a small village in Jordan Valley. 39 It aims at enhancing the cultivation, production and manufacturing of certain herbal and medicinal plants as additional sources of income for the local community in the area. The project includes the planting of thyme in five greenhouses, the development of a drip irrigation network and the use of drying and packaging machines.

Women in Um el-Jimal village in the North of Jordan, the home to almost two thousand years of fascinating history and culture, like their ancestors use basalt stone, which is available abundantly in the area, to to create stone carvings of their culture. 40 Twenty five Jordanian and Syrian refugee women participated in a project, also funded by UNESCO together with the Netherlands' Embassy in Amman.

The Um el-Jimal project 41 is a concrete example of how the internet can be used to create digital cultural archives and strengthen traditional cultural expression.


From all the stories which have been mentioned above it is fair to conclude that the internet has a vital role in empowering women, especially in rural and remote areas, and is a key trigger for their economic development . The internet has given a voice to the voiceless, helped them to tell their stories which safeguard their own intangible cultural heritage and reinforce their cultural identity.

It is worth mentioning that foreign donors' money has not been wasted. Many successful stories can be mentioned which have demonstrated the difference for women in Bedouin and remote areas. 42

The stories illustrate that preserving cultural heritage has an economic aspect besides preserving diversity in society. They also suggest lively examples of how the internet is being used to realise the cultural rights of the women.

The internet gives unprecedented opportunity to indigenous and marginalised women to create and impart content in their origin languages, and about their cultural life and to archive this content online. It also helps them to seek, receive and impart cultural information. Through sharing this information, dialogue between different cultures becomes possible; and this is important for global understanding and peace.

Women have always been under-represented in old media, 43 but new media and social media have given them an opportunity to express themselves. It is estimated that there are 4,800,000 Facebook subscribers in Jordan (out of a population of 9.5- million. 41.3% are women. 44

Empowering Bedouin women has a social and economical impact on the whole country. It reinforces and preserves their rich cultural tradition. It is, also, one of the best ways to counter rural-urban migration and even reversing the equation of rural depopulation.

Action steps

The following action steps are suggested for Jordan:

  • Jordan's government should take measures to facilitate the participation of communities, groups, and NGOs in the conservation of cultural heritage for marginalised communities .

  • NGOs should pay attention to internet literacy and social media skills development amongst Bedouin women. Many do not have the basic skills to create a Facebook page, or open Twitter or Instagram accounts. Training and equipping women with ICTs tools and skills is a pre-requisite for bridging the digital gap in these areas.

  • The government should consider subsidising the distribution of laptops to households in Bedouin areas and to marginalised women.

  • Donors need to invest in projects which aim to preserve cultural heritage by funding startups run by Bedouin women in remote areas.

  • The media should pay more attention to raise public awareness of the importance of cultural heritage and the many threats it faces.


1 What is intangible cultural heritage?

2 Jordan tourism threatens Bedouin.


4 NATIONAL ASSESSMENTOF THE STATE OF SAFEGUARDING INTANGIBLE CULTURAL HERITAGE IN JORDAN , Supervised by Miss Toujan Bermamet/ Secretary General of Jordan National Commission for UNESCO. Page 52. Available online at:

5 See: Jordan's GISWatch report 2014.

6 9.5 million Jordan's population. (30 January 2016). Alrai daily newpaper. Available in Arabic at:

7 Article 15-2 of the constitution (as amended in the Official Gazette No. 5117 of 1/10/2011) provides: “The State shall guarantee the freedom of scientific research and literary, technical, cultural and sports excellence provided that such does not violate the provisions of the law or public order and morality.”

8 . ICESCRs was published in Jordan’s Official Gazette No. 4764 p. 2239 on June 15, 2006.


10 Fons Coomans (2007). Application of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Framework of International Organisations. Available online at: . Page 2

11 Human Rights Committee, General Comment No.31, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add. 13, para 7.

12 General Comment 3. Paragraph 9. Available online at:

13 ICESCRs, Article 2.1.

14 Jordan has ratified the convention 24/03/2006.…



17 General Budget Department. Available in Arabic at:


18For more information on Bedul Bedouin indigenous see: The Bedul Bedouin of Petra, Jordan: Traditions, Tourism and an Uncertain. Cultural Survivor Quarterly (Winter 1995).




22 NATIONAL ASSESSMENTOF THE STATE OF SAFEGUARDING INTANGIBLE CULTURAL HERITAGE IN JORDAN , Supervised by Miss Toujan Bermamet/ Secretary General of Jordan National Commission for UNESCO. Page 55. Available online at:












34 Interview (19 May 2016)


36 For more information on the project see; Valentina Gamba (2014). Empowering Rural Women in the Jordan Valley: a project linking textile production and development.


38 Muath, F. (May 14 May2016). Bazaar promotes Jabal Al Qalaa neighbourhood, domestic tourism. Jordan Times.


40 Dana, A. (1 June 2016). Women carve story of Um Al Jimal into stone. Jordan Times.


42 For successful stories see: USAID (2008).Jordan tourism Development project. Page 21

43 Female journalists constitute 18% of membership in Jordan Press Association.