Feminist reflection on internet policies

Changing the way you see ICT

Uganda: Violence against Women and Information Communication Technologies

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Uganda’s national constitution guarantees freedom of expressioni, provides for gender equalityi and affirmative action for women and outlaws discrimination based on sex. But enacting laws is slow and on going. The National Gender Policyi recommends gender mainstreamingi as a strategy for addressing gender imbalances. Uganda also has a National Equal Opportunities Policy. It has ratified CEDAW and the Beijing Platform. Of a total population of over 32 million people, there are an estimated 8 million mobile subscribers in Uganda and 2 million PC interneti users but no gender-disaggregated statistics are available.

Violence against women: Traditional and extended family systems may provide checks and balances that ensure women’s security of tenure but they can also threaten women’s safety and security. Cultural practices include female genital mutilation, early marriage, widow inheritance, forceful property grabbing from widows and orphans. Domestic violence prevalence is estimated at 57% and sexual violence at 61%. The majority of the violence against womeni is committed by an intimate partner. Twenty-four percent of women say their first sexual intercourse was forced against their will. Paying bride price, which is still widely practiced in Uganda, is used to legitimise domestic violence against women. Ongoing military violence in Northern Uganda sees women experiencing rape and related social and health diseases.

VAW and ICTs: Privacyi invasion through SMS stalking and monitoring and control by spouses is growing. Men control women’s use of mobile phones and give or withhold permission to their wives to use them, when and how. The link between mobile phones and killing of women are not incidents in isolation. Some women have acquired two SIM cards to forestall domestic violence. This is a sign of women’s empowermenti as telephones provide a means through which to break male control by opening contacts to the outside world. Women use mobiles to contact police officers in the event of domestic violence. Women’s organisations use the internet in combination with TV, radio, newspapers and other print media to highlight VAW. Sexual minorities have a presence on the internet to articulate their concerns members and raise awareness.

Uganda’s ICT policy emphasises private-sector-led growth. This implies that governmenti theoretically plays only a regulatory role leaving actual ICT development to private firms. Uganda’s National ICT Policyi has gender provisions but the absence of a gender sensitive monitoring and evaluationi mechanism makes it difficult to implement such provisions. The Rural Communications Development Policy providing for the establishment of the Rural ICT Access Fund is totally gender blind.

Information on the intersection of VAW and ICT is still scanty though there are emerging sources and anecdotes. Three draft laws relating to ICTs pay limited attention to gender in general and do not address gender-based violence. Cybercrimei laws are just being proposed, with the Computer Misuse Bill criminalising child pornographyi but ignoring adult pornography. There is more focus on child protection online than on issues of violence against women.

Recommendations

For civil society: carry out ICT policy advocacyi to ensure that all national ICT-related policies respond to gender needs; promote strategic usei of ICTs to combat VAW in educational institutions; forge a strong public-private partnership around issues of VAW; promote use of mobile phones in reporting VAW and providing safety and services; train domestic violence advocates in the use of technology; conduct deep and nuanced research into connection between VAW and ICTs

For government: support reports including provision of toll free call; explore working with law enforcement agencies to track people that use ICTs to perpetuate VAW while ensuring that surveillancei will not be used to abuse freedoms and women’s privacy in particular; recognise that VAW is anchored within the broader societal systems that privilege men over women; put in place ways of enabling women to acquire the technologies they need and use them as they wish.

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