BEIRUT: The owner of what was to become a novel, women-only Internet cafe has now reneged on his original decision, after deciding that there was not enough demand for the idea.
As anyone who has been to an Internet cafe in Lebanon will know, they can be very gendered places.
Walk into one anywhere in the country and you will most likely find a gaggle of teenage boys, playing online games and shouting at each other. Or men, sitting around, smoking.
PinkGray, in Caracas, which opened last weekend, sought to offer women a sanctuary from this masculine environment, where women could go to get work done or Skype with friends.
As the owner, Allan Soud, explained: “I asked my sister – why do you never go to Internet cafes? And she said that the boys take liberties – it’s not a completely comfortable experience for girls to browse the Internet and chat with their friends.
“They’re often full of teenage boys playing games and shouting … for Lebanese girls, they want to chat with their friends, their boyfriends maybe.
“I asked men in my neighborhood, ‘Would you allow your wife to go to an Internet cafe?’ And 90 percent would say, ‘Are you out of your mind? Not my wife, my daughter or my sister.’ They are normally too masculine places, to say the least,” Soud added.
But after less than a week, Soud has decided that this unique business venture will not be profitable enough.
“Over the first few days, young women were coming into the cafe. But then they started saying, ‘It would be better if we could come with all our friends.’ I don’t think there’s enough demand for a women-only cafe.”
Nadine Moawad, a feminist activist, had supported the idea of an Internet cafe just for women.
“Often people say that women-only spaces constitute segregation and that that’s not how you solve the problem. But in this case, I don’t agree.”
Moawad, who is also a member of “Take Back the Tech,” a collective working with information technology as a means to promote gender equality, believes that parents are often uneasy about allowing their teenage daughters to visit Internet cafes dominated by boys.
She said this was especially an issue for girls from lower-income families. “They may not have Internet at home or their own laptops. And often parents worry about their daughters going to these places. The environment can be quite aggressive,” Moawad added.
And in today’s increasingly connected world, Moawad said that it is important that women don’t get left behind: “It’s crucial that all young women have access to the Internet.”
But for Soud, the demand for such a concept is not yet strong enough in Beirut, or at least in the Ras Beirut-area of Caracas.
“Maybe I can still open one in [the southern suburbs of Beirut] … we will see. But for now, I am going to be more selective – I’m not letting in teenage boys who play online games.”