I’ve recently started to volunteer with Women’s Net, a South African organisation ” that works to advance gender equality and justice in South Africa, through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)”. I first got to know the organisation online as a member of the APC (Association for Progressive Communication), and I was particularly interested by their digital story telling project. My initial thought when I offered the organisation my time was basically to get out of the house a little more while waiting to return officially to school benches (I’ll be starting soon a MA in media studies) but also to get familiar with women’s organisations and their use of technology in the region. While helping out, I hope to also gather information for the purpose of my thesis.
One of the first issues I’ve been working on for Women’s Net has been to research the policy environment in regards to technology around the Jules High School case. I took a particular interest in the case since Jules High is located not far from where I stay, and because the story involves the use of ICT in distributing violence and bullying. What is most interesting about this story is not necessarily the outcome (the girl eventually said the sex was consensual), but how students used web platforms (Facebook and a website called Outoilet, mainly) to distribute videos of the “alleged” rape to their fellow students.
In 2001 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released, “Scared at school”, an extensive report that examined sexual violence committed against girls in South African schools. It found that many were subjected to some form of violence — rape, abuse, harassment and assault — and that this was “an inevitable part of the school environment”. The report also cited a study in the Gauteng area which found that eight in 10 young men believed women were responsible for causing sexual violence and three in 10 thought women who were raped had “asked for it”. (source: peacewomen.org)
In South Africa, many laws and policies are already in place to address the distribution and production of child pornography or to prevent harassment, but to this date aren’t addressing the increasingly viral effect that social media platforms now do offer. Those platforms can allow users to distribute and publish content that can do arm to one’s reputation and can be considered as cyber-bullying.
There have been calls from many women’s organisations to implement a stronger focus on ICT as a tool used to perpetrate gender-based violence but also as a tool to prevent this violence in the Protection from Harassment bill. Though their suggested changes to this bill would be welcome in terms of fighting violence against women, Information activists also expressed some serious concerns with other proposed changes to the bill that would prevent journalists obtaining information because they could be accused of harassment.
Media organisations like the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) have been increasingly concerned about modifications to acts and bills that while providing protection for women and children from the production and the distribution of pornography have also affected freedom of expression and access to information. While women’s organisation should be concerned about policy changes that would protect women more efficiently against gender-based violence using ICTs, they should also bare in mind the important consequences that these changes in policies are having in terms of censorship and access to information.