SMALL THOUGHTS AROUND....Violence against women and ICTs
One of the difficulties faced by women's rights advocates is the reluctance of some participants to see the internet as a political issue; unable to see that this refusal is in itself a political act. The lack of adequate resources, information or analysis that explores communications and technology policies that prevent, minimise or address harm to women is a material challenge faced by advocates working on violence against women.
Confronting violence with technology in 12 countriesOver the next two months, GenderIT.org will be publishing a series of papers that provide a snapshot and baseline on the law and policy on ICTs and violence against women (VAW) in 12 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. The papers are part of the Association for Progressive Communications Women's Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP) project that connects ICTs, VAW and Millennium Development Goal Three (MDG3). This project is entitled, “Strengthening women’s strategic use of ICTs to combat violence against women and girls”, and is supported by the Dutch government’s MDG3 Fund to empower women and promote gender equality.
This two and a half year project, initiated in January 2009, aims to help women participants negotiate the fraught terrain of ICTs where freedoms go hand in hand with growing privacy and security concerns. Through a multifaceted approach, it aims to facilitate discussion and partnership between women's rights advocates, representatives from the ICT sector and policy makers towards solutions and policies that can address the intersection between VAW and ICT.
Understanding the issue
Each of the participating countries illustrates different challenges and opportunities for how ICTs impact on VAW, either in worsening the problem, for example through the use of ICTs in trafficking, or in providing a space where women can collaborate and network against violence. In Argentina, around half the population has access to the internet, a figure that hides large disparities. For example, three-quarters of those over 50 don't know what a web browser is. In Brazil, like in many countries participating in the project, mobile phones are the most widely used gateway to new technologies. However, legislation on communications and VAW is primarily focussed on representations and portrayal of women through broadcasting laws.
The problems faced by women in Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia are made worse by the conflict in those societies. Yet, statistics from Colombia show, 91% of the VAW occurs at the hands of their spouses, partners or boyfriends. Congo is emerging from armed conflict, with new challenges for women in a country that is heavily militarised, with the military and ex-combatants perpetrating sexual violence in post-conflict areas. In all three countries, women are more likely to suffer sexual violence and rape in the conflict areas, with rape seen as a weapon of war, but legislation and the ability to implement laws on VAW are inadequate to deal with the violence that women face. Little is explored on the potential benefits of ICT to counter such violence, for example in the creation of rapid support networks, documentation or information exchange.
The gap between legislation and implementation is particularly stark in South Africa. The country has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, but a woman is killed every six hours - the highest rate of femicide anywhere in the world. Even in legislation, there are tensions between the guarantees of freedom of expression and the perceived need to protect women and children from pornography, and between privacy and the right to information. Likewise, in Uganda, despite a national gender policy and ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) , almost a quarter of women report that their first sexual encounter was forced. As with many countries, there is little information available on the intersection between VAW and ICTs. Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence shows that mobile phones are both enabling greater control and monitoring of women by their partners as well as providing women with new spaces to forestall domestic violence.
The invisibility of VAW is highlighted in the paper from Pakistan. The high cost to women of reporting VAW, in terms of loss of social support, income and kinship structures, is also examined. In contrast, domestic violence and rape-homicide cases have a comparatively high profile in Malaysia, due to advocacy from the women's movement. However, the lack of legislation on privacy and poor guarantees for freedom of expression are having an impact on the exercise of women's human rights and to the development of comprehensive measures to eliminate VAW.
Privacy and the unauthorised use of images of women is a concern in all countries. In Cambodia, where internet access is limited, there is widespread use of cheap pornographic VCDs made using images originally filmed for private use, but subsequently used to control women through humiliation and shaming. Despite calls for the mainstreaming of gender concerns in all government ministries, there is little evidence that this has been applied in ICT policy. Mexico and Philippines reports echo the majority of country reviews, noting that ICT policy is largely driven by e-commerce and e-governance issues, and not seen in a human rights and harm minimisation framework, despite sound legislation to protect women's human rights.
In all 12 countries, the themes of privacy, freedom of expression and the enforcement of legislation form a sobering backdrop to some startling and innovative ways in which women are using technology to advance their rights and empower women. Abstracts for all twelve country papers are available in this issue of Gender-Centred. Papers will be uploaded over the next two months in their original languages of English, Spanish, or Portuguese.
Take Back the Tech!
APC WNSP’s Take Back the Tech (TBTT) campaign to end violence against women, now in its fourth year and growing increasingly stronger, offers a strong platform and community for project activities, able to spotlight concerns that emerge around ICT and VAW in each of the countries. Country coordinators, who will all run their own local TBTT campaigns, hope to use Take Back the Tech’s fun and creative appeal to reach out to adolescent girls and young women.
Ultimately, the project aims to help create a global community of women and adolescent girls who are critically taking up ICT tools and using them to change what the UN Millennium Project has called a global epidemic of violence. To build on this effort, GenderIT would like to invite your participation to identify and connect policy and legislative concerns in the field of ICT and VAW, as part of GenderIT's initiative to Take Back The Tech! Watch out for our announcement and join us on 25th November - International Day for the elimination of all forms of violence against women.