Effectiveness of Social Media as a tool for Opening Up Spaces for Women Leaders’ Participation

Social media has come a long way since its advent, shifting people’s ways of knowing, connecting, communicating, and working. This ability to reimagine communities has seen social media evolve into a formidable tool for social change credited with reinventing spaces, the public sphere, and organizing in ways that have catalyzed socio-political “revolutions” and democratized citizens’ participation.

While celebrated for its catalytic effects, the “real” power of social media, its capacity to shift norms, reimagine communities proper, and facilitate gender-based social change remains a matter of conjecture. This multi-country study contributes to filling the empirical gap through describing and explaining the effectiveness of social media in promoting abertura (opening) and closure for women’s leadership in Jordan, Lebanon, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The study uses these five countries, in which Hivos, and its partners have been implementing the Women Empowered For Leadership (WE4L) Program for five years as case studies for social media and women’s leadership. In addition to insights from WE4L implementation, the study also employed an eclectic set of data collection methods and variety of participatory methodologies to form thick descriptions and sound explanations around social media and its varied impact on women leader’s careers, causes, and aspirations.

This study describes how women in leadership and the organizations that promote women’s leadership have accessed, used, and experienced social media, as well as the interpellation of women and social media in generating influence and the emergence of space and new forms of online gender-based violence.

It also explains how social media has assisted in making and breaking women leaders’ careers directly and indirectly with consequences for their career progression. In doing so, the study shows the extent to which social media has lent itself as a useful tool for women leaders’ activism, and its cross-country and within-country impact on promoting the 50/50 gender representation agenda.