As I write, our online campaign: “respect online, respect offline” which, for 16 days, highlighted violence against women and girls in line with the campaign Take Back the Tech! inviting women and girls to use ICT to denounce violence, has just come to an end. But I realize that our campaign has been disrupted by the violence in my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, even though it has not come near the capital of Kinshasa. You may be wondering how conflict can disrupt a campaign that is online or public events made 2000 miles away from where the violence is taking place.
Well I have an answer. Violence that we, women and girls, suffer when we use information and communication technologies (ICT) is the same as the violence we know offline.
In 2010, three women journalists continued to cover the hideous and cruel sexual violence that women suffered in the region of North Kivu, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The local government was trying to show everyone that the situation was under control, that women’s NGOs “exaggerated” the situation as usual, that the country had entered its development phase and had no need of humanitarian aid, that the rebels and other militias who roamed with impunity were either entering the ranks or were neutralized by multiple forced disarmament operations.These women journalists received death threats via SMS.
In November 2011, when the population monitored the conduct of the general elections using SMS to inform and mobilize, the short messaging service (SMS) was suspended for an indefinite period over the entire country.
In 2012, when M23 rebels (a movement led by a former rebel whose misdeeds against the civilian population have been mysteriously veiled, in the name of peace) took the city of Goma, the first thing they did was to cut all radio signals emitting from the capital Kinshasa.
Therefore it has not been easy, over these years, to lead our campaign as planned. Our sisters from the media were afraid and decided to stop making shows for security reasons. SMS services, the cheapest way for us to mobilise and reach out to our constituency were cut. The media programs we were making in Kinshasa to raise public awareness against violence against women were cut off, not reaching women who were at risk.
Violence against women on the net, social networks or cell phones is just as real as violence offline. It is real for girls who become paranoid because a “hoot” is monitoring their every move, and posting them straight on the net. It is real for children who lose their concentration at school or worse commit suicide because of a Facebook post. This means that violence and perpetrators have adapted to a tool which, we were told was going to help us to fight for our rights and freedoms, to learn, to socialize, Instead it began to scare us, to lock us in and keep us from places where we are not expected.
Read how women around the world ensure that the shame changes sides… how we create a critical mass against violence against women… and beyond that, how to behave as survivors… using all the advantages the technologies give us, including the ability to keep our activity on the net anonymous…
In this last GenderIT.org edition of the year, new writer Jen Thorpe from South Africa shares her article entitled The online world might be scary, but it can be a place where we empower one another. She analyses how other women – and even herself – have faced up to online violence and abuse, as well as profiling the strategies undertaken to become a survivor and not a victim.
In her article Tell me what social network you use and I’ll tell you what your struggle is, the writer Florencia Flores from Argentina explores the connections between violence against women and online platforms, analysing the differential subcultures that emerge in them, and how trolling practices and types of violence vary depending on the platform.
I invite you to go over all articles, feminist talks, resources and announcements featured in this GenderIT.org edition which captures some of the insights and discussions that took place during the 2012 Take Back the Tech! campaign. Let´s make the shame change sides.
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Image: compilation of pictures and banners used during Take Back the Tech! campaign.