BEYOND WRITING: CONVERSATION WITH MAHA JOUINI

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The World Writers’ Association (WoWA) is a community of over 800 creative writers from across the seven continents in the world. These writers are the 2020 Global Ambassadors accepted into the program of the World Literacy Foundation (WLF). As we continue to create a safe space for writers globally, we also want to shine a light on people who are positively changing the world through humanitarian services.

A Pan-African tech woman, a high and new technology expert, Master holder from Tianjin University of Science and Technology in China. She worked as a media coordinator in the African Union campaign to end child marriage in Africa. The Maghreb Voices platform named her for the personality of the year in 2018 for her major role as a social media influencer in North Africa. She participates in several events in China while presenting North African culture especially dance, as an author she wrote poems and short stories to enhance minority rights groups in Tunisia with a special focus on Indigenous communities, Currently she’s the National Coordinator of African Artist for peace initiative AAPI and with AAPI she works to eradicate the gap between Northern part of the continent and Sub Saharan Africa. With art, she’s enhancing the Inter-African Dialogue, promoting peace, and Branding our Africa.


For this edition, we bring you an interview with Maha Jouini. 

Keep reading to find out what inspired her to choose a career path in tech and her advice to every woman.

R: Good morning, Ms. Maha! Maha: Good morning, dear. R: For those getting to know you for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself? Maha: My name is Maha Jouini. I’m an author and storyteller from Tunisia. I started writing more than 15 years ago when I was young in high school, I believed in myself, I started to write short stories. I shared it and I published it in local magazines of high school then, well then when I moved into university, I went further. Uh, currently I work in Mauritania on a project of a woman in sciences, where I promote the presence of women in scientific fields. I mean, sciences and technology. Uh, I’m uh, from Tunisia and, I have been all the time considered as a Pan-African tech woman, because my work is based on using the leverage of technology to enhance Pan-African spirits, especially among North Africans. After all, I always said that, uh, the gap is so high between the Northern part and the Sub-Saharan part. So we need people in between. We need people to make all Africans come together, and gather and work, and think about the future of their continent. I studied at Tianjin University of Science and Technology in China. I’m a master’s holder in the field of artificial intelligence and I got that scholarship thanks to the African Union Commission because I was NUYVC, you know, the program of African Union Youth Volunteer Corps. I was amongst them. I served with the AU in the campaign to end child marriage in Africa and work as a communication assistant. And I was pleased and honored that I met a lot of politicians, African leaders, community leaders, tribal leaders, where we raise the voice of helping and standing by our girls. Because in the AU campaign I learned that making a change in Africa, cannot come from the top level. It has to come from the real grassroots, from the people themselves. So working in AU, helped me to get closer to our community and to understand the real problem of African women, which is mainly education and poverty. And we need to eradicate poverty and harmful habits in the continent. As I told you earlier, I’m an author and Pan-African tech woman. And I like this presentation because I’m raising and fighting against digital illiteracy in the continent, and I believe that learning technology and having access to the Internet is our right. It should be our right in Africa. We Africans have to eradicate digital illiteracy and all the African women have the right to get access to technology, to learn coding, Web development, to help themselves, and to empower themselves in this field because I believe that there are no male scientists and female scientists. That’s why I choose the path of being an author and tech woman because these two fields have been in the hands of men. like in my country, when I say I’m an author, they laugh because we don’t have so many women who are authors, and generally, these fields are connected to guys. So you know, I made it, and I think art and technology when they come together, they make a lot of chances. It’s my leverage to say who I am and to design my project and to make it really, really like I’m a Tunisian based now in Mauritania and I worked before in Ethiopian in Mali and several African countries. But thanks to technology because I applied to the Internet, I made connections through the Internet. Now I’m talking to you and then doing a lot to make this happen. And I think if we connect our artistic projects by using the Internet, it will help us as artists to reach our community and to share our arts and really to make the Africa we want.

R: Wow! You are truly amazing. If this is a little about you, I am wondering how much you have got inside of you. Maha: Thank you. You are kind!  R: What inspired you to choose a tech career? Maha: Because to make a change, you have to be brave and you have to sustain. And you have to have a real passion for it. Like I’m from North Africa, I’m a Muslim. So you know the complexity of being Muslim like our families they would not allow you to do a lot of things. We are people who are living under the duality of Halal and Haram. So we have to be brave. R: What inspired you to choose a tech career? Maha: What inspired you to choose a tech career? Bravery! I am telling you from the first like I always believe that there are no male scientists or female scientists. I said that I want to make it because technology is not a simple thing. It’s leverage! It’s the way you can make think. If you want to build the house, you have to bring engineers and guys who will make the design and others who are going to fabricate it for you, you know? So making it a tech career like you, you are going to be the ones who are doing the basics of building a house. Okay, so for me, being in tech, means being autonomous and independent because when I started to make my tech career, Uh, since I was in Tunisia, I studied computer science, and actually, I studied two things. Firstly, I study French literature. Then I studied as a technician superior in computer science, where later on when I moved to the African Union, I got the scholarship to study in China, and I specialized in artificial intelligence. R: You were right, women have to be brave to gain their freedom Maha: Deeply speaking, tech women around the world, especially South African ladies did a lot. They are the ones who started the Afri Seek and they started to raise their voices. They started to make projects about women in tech and talking about digital rights and organizing training which I attended with them in 2015 in the African Union Commission and these ladies who taught me how to take back the tick. Really As they said, the technology now is rallied by men, and they are in and do the technology. We are seeing another image of women because, in some way the technology is implementing this, the women stereotype so we need to take space in the digital world. We have to make changes, changes through the digital world. I want to tell you that through the digital, I made a lot of changes. I changed the idea about Muslim women because saying like nowadays I’m an expert with the project round by the European Union, and I was pleased that they shared my pictures and my Arabic name and it’s clear that they come from the north of Africa. And if you see someone coming from a country that is considered poor or underdeveloped, I think we are telling them that STEM has no color, sTEM has no gender, and that this comes only through technology because technology facilitates learning. Artificial Intelligence is not white science, it is for everyone. With determination and passion for learning, we can gain the autonomy of an IT career and be in control of its tools. Another factor to be considered is that through technology information will be well spread, anyone from the world can know about you. These days, I am working from Africa to Africa Hackathon. I have attended several Hackathons where I represent Africa in the fields of digital marketing, digital economy and during this Hackathon, I work on financial solutions during the breakout session. R: OMG, this is awesome! I love how you leverage technology to bridge the gap and support women. I’m a tech aficionado and have participated in a hackathon where we build a weather station. So I can relate to everything you said. I relish how you are advocating for more women in tech. Maha: Thanks! R: What would you describe as your greatest achievement? Maha: First of all, I told you that I’m here in Mauritania. I work as a project coordinator in the Woman in Sciences Project, where we advocate for giving more spaces to women in science and our advocacy work starts with ladies in high school. The little woman, we start with them. We challenged them. We encourage them to go and study sciences and we give them training. We showed them how to help. What’s the philosophy of artificial intelligence? How computer science is working. What is decoding? This is Web development. I’m always working through the Internet through my blood’s social region through a hackathon. They give them proper definitions of these new technology concepts. What are Neurosciences? What is AI? What is machine learning? What is science is all of these new concepts. We have to give them a definition first. Second, when I give training in Tunisia, I always say that people don’t understand it. Not because our women or our people, are stupid or they don’t know, but because this knowledge is written in English. So we have to translate this knowledge into our local language to make it understandable. In my case, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Algeria are French-speaking countries. We speak French and for my generation, all of the people speak Arabic. And Arabic, I don’t want to say that it’s not the language of new sciences, but in general the AI, new technology is made by white people and all of the knowledge about it comes in English. So I have to make sure that I translate the right concept and I translate the right words for them. So I find myself working at two levels. First, teaching, and second is translating this knowledge So to bridge the gap in technology with the local language, It’s not that easy. We have to give them examples that are close to them. We have to understand them and their problems and relate them to their problems. Like in Africa, we have an electricity problem. With people, they don’t have access to electricity, they don’t have access to water. And worldwide now is moving to like very are leaving in the digital age. Like I studied in China for three years. I studied there and I know how difficult it is and I know the gap between us and Chinese. I see Chinese, their pay, the Chinese, they’re using Wechat, they have their witch act. They have PayPal. They have everything. They are living in the age of the digital economy properly. Everything is a digital list, but we still like for Muslims, for North African, we still talk like if it is halal or haram. If we use Bitcoins, which is like we feel that we are some somehow I want to say. But let’s say we are out of history like we were living the individuality of Halal and haram and people they’re doing. They’re creating the machines they are doing rather than machine learning. One of my greatest achievements is that I signed my second book with Self’s Alfa Publishing House in Egypt. My first achievement is working in the African Union. The second achievement is being accepted into the Tianjin University of Science and Technology in China. And there I have to mention that I worked with you in Africa, China and that I was proactive in enhancing the relations. The dialogue between Africa and China and they deliver a very famous speech in the Chinese National Official magazine. They wrote some What about me? I remember the day the magazine China Africa Magazine. They talked about my speech in the event of Africa China dialogue and I was pleased and happy that wow, my voice was raised by the Chinese platform, which is like its pride for all of us as African. I attended several meetings. I deliver many speeches. I got prizes. When I got back to Tunisia, I worked for the Arab Institute for Human Rights in Tunisia. You know, I work against racism. My work mainly was to stand by the sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia and to write about their problems and how they’re facing marginalization, racism, and poverty. And my last achievement, I consider it as an achievement, was in December 2020 when my paper was published in the American George Journal of Engineering, one of the best prestigious journals in the world. It was about the impact of artificial intelligence on surveillance cameras. I analyze facial recognition growth and how artificial intelligence is helping the face recognition system. This was one of my hard pieces of research because I spent a lot of time winning it, and I felt pride. And that’s why I realized I saw that science has no colour. I’m there in one of the prestigious journals in the world. And like my paper is everywhere, like the Google scholars.

R: This is amazing, keep the good work going Maha: Thank you! R: What has been your biggest challenge? And how did it work out? Maha: I think patriarchy is what is my major challenge? Because I’m in my 34 and people keep asking me, why you didn’t get married. Why are you single? Why are you overweight? Why? You don’t look slim. Why are you so curvy? and I want to say like, is it someone’s business? If I am overweight or if I’m still single, it’s my choice. My major challenge is how to make a choice and how to assume your choice. Because of the patriarchal mentality, people want to control your body. People that make decisions based on your choices. They get involved in your own business and they want to decide on your behalf. Okay, all in the name of the patriarchy.

So, this is my biggest challenge: how to convince my family and society that I am a human being, Maha is a human being. I have to live as a free woman and a full Tunisia citizen. I am a citizen, whether, I am a Muslim, Arab, or African, I have my rights to practice my freedom of faults, to say what I think, assume it, choose my destiny, this is my challenge really, to live as a citizen in this world. 

R: Patriarchy is a major problem for women. A lot of people give unsolicited advice and guidance. I’m glad you choose to listen to yourself only and become the author of your life. Democracy and human rights are for all – this is apt! Maha: Yes, dear R: How do you unwind/relax? Maha: I relax when I listen to our indigenous music and read our old stories. I relax when I listen to old music, I mean the local North Africa country music, indigenous community music. When listening I realize how we are brave, how our ancestors were creative, brave, and they could resist, preserve, and protect the continent for us. I resource myself from old-time history and I get relaxed and feel my peace. R: Yesss! Music is very powerful and history reminds us of who we are.Who has been your role model?


Maha: My role models are all of the brave women I have ever met. Women are my mothers. Women all over history, all over the world, from all the continent. In Tunisia, people like Saida Manoubia, Radhia Haddad, and other feminist women are my model. Whenever I listen to them, read their books, see them on TV, I see that they are sacrificing for us and I have to work for myself to deserve their sacrifice. I don’t have one role model, all of them are my role models.

R: Amazing! What will be your message to our audience? Maha: My message to your audience which my audience too. My message to all women especially African women is never giving up your fight. Be brave and don’t stop chasing your dreams, that’s all. Bravery, passion, love, authenticity, are our factors to realize our dreams, to be who we would like to be. No one has the right to make choices for us. No!! We are brave, we are smart, we can do it and we’ll make it Insha Allah. R: OMG, Ms Maha Jouini! You are so amazing and I love how you answer the questions. Your answers were very insightful, you are so inspiring and have helped rekindle a renewed passion in my profession and you also gave me a new sense of pride as a woman. And I believe everybody who reads this, will also be inspired in the same way because you are full of energy and vibrant. And I love how you are using technology to change the narrative about African women. That was da bomb, I love it. Thanks so much for your time and speech. It was inspiring, I must say. So I appreciate you and I wish you continued success. Maha: Oh, thanks so much! You are kind.

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