Today I challenged ideas around pornophobia and morality among Congolese media practitioners.
I’m just back from a cyberdialogue organized in my country around ICT and violence against women. As my organization Si Jeunesse Savait is implementing a 2-year project on the topic, I felt like it was really the place to be today. I put aside planning for next year. That could wait. Sharing the experience of what we were doing with women in our project and learning from others about what they think should be the way forward in DRC was worth the change in plans. The online discussion, organized by Genderlinks as part of the 16 Days of Activism, was to be shared with all francophone connecting to the dialogue.
But let me tell you that the debate between most of the people I met online today was really far from meeting my expectation of a great exchange around privacy, freedom of expression and data protection in our context.
Everything started with this question: What is our society missing economically when women are left out of technology development? Here we all agreed that it was like trying to clap with one hand, we miss the innovation, creativity and all the beautiful things that women could contribute. I added that the market was losing money and the state, instead of investing in new things, was slowing down. I said a special budget is needed to care for women who are lagging behind in technology, that technology will help us to overcome some challenges we have in the country such as a lack of good education. Not taking women into account would be detrimental for the future of a whole generation.
So far everything was good.
Then we addressed the real problems women face when going on the internet. This was the question not to ask, as everybody talked about women as if they were children. They talked about the need to “protect” women form harmful content, to spare them from internet trafficking. Someone gave an example of women looking for a fiancé on internet and ending with “pimps” who pay their ticket to Europe to traffick them. Then one person added that we should advocate for a law to ban pornography and punish those internet providers who even accept hosting a website with such explicit content.
From here I was the only one to say, you can’t do this, it is not the solution, women should have control over their own body, women are not children. But I was alone. It feels bad. It feels like trying to shout when drowning so I stopped. I quit the virtual world to wait for them in the real one.
As most of them where talking about things they could not imagine if they were really “native” internet users, I thought that a face-to-face conversation around censorship VS privacy, freedom of expression VS surveillance and communication rights in general was something that could be saved for lunch time.
Most of them, media practitioners I have known for years, were in favor of a certain type of morals in what content we allow internet to broadcast. If not for us, at least for children's sake. And this especially got me started. Women are not children. They have the right to access whatever information they need for their lives. This can be around sexuality and goes as far as pornography.
One practitioner asked for DRC to come up with a law that would forbid internet service providers hosting websites where pornography is shown. However, this can't be taken seriously as one cannot suppose that everything we view in our country is hosted in our country. Therefore people are asking for censorship. They want a “big brother” to say what is good for us and what is not. So who has the right to determine this for everybody? And much moreso in today's world: yesterday it was documents that pictured same-sex orientation, today it is pornography, tomorrow it could be anything else.
Then a woman asked me what I was thinking about morality. Should we just let people view things they don’t want to do? In the name of freedom of expression should we let people say and write and portray everything they want? I answered that currently there are many ways to make sure that you are viewing only things you want to. But when it comes to pornography, it is an online industry that people look for willingly, that millions of people are viewing for their own pleasure and that is one of the most prosperous industries in the world so we shouldn't hide from the truth: there are people out there who are consciously going to websites with adult content and like to have new and fresh information everyday.
But what I like as an activist is the ability to make people hear different voices. Most of the time it shifts their most radical views, to just have access to second voices. I did it today. I was alone among 10 other people but I could see that most of them where ready to reconsider what they'd always swallowed hook, line and sinker for years. A suggestion to organize a day of exchange to deepen the issue was put on the table. It will be a good opportunity for us to talk about the 5th world Internet Governance Forum which was held in Vilnius (Lithuania).