Women’s voices through technology

This is a blog post I prepared for Women’s Net in collaboration with Fanisa Masia. I’m reposting it here. Following the Jules High School Case, Women’s Net organized a seminar to advocate for the end of violence against women through technology.

On 17 August, Women’s Net hosted a public seminar in partnership with Media Monitoring Africa titled: “When Technology Hurts: How Technology is changing Experiences of Violence”. Women’sNet has been doing work looking at the role that technology play in women’s rights and gender equality; and has observed in the past years a growing trend where technology is implicated in acts of violence, especially in perpetrating violence against women. The seminar was aimed at getting different stakeholders to draw on opportunities where they have used technology in the fight against gender-based violence as a start point to challenge the problem. The participants were invited to comment and discuss the issues faced by women in regards to technology with the four panellists: Anne Shongwe, Director of Afroes, Nhlanhla Mokoena, executive director of POWA, William Bird of Media Monitoring Africa, and Kate Skinner of the Right to Know (R2K) Campaign. Participants in attendance and those who were not able to attend were invited to join the tweet-up commenting and reporting on the event using the hash tag #TechVAW. The #TechVAW topic was a Twitter trend in the Johannesburg area by the end of the seminar, making it one of the most popular issues of the day on the social network.

A main concern raised by participants, online and offline, was the education of learners against gender based violence through technology. Some participants called for better education campaigns in schools since users of social media platforms, where cyber-bullying often occurs through the distribution of videos and pictures are mostly used by young users. Anne Shongwe presented the Moraba Game, a game distributed on mobile phones where users are asked to identify what GBV is and to take action against it.

Another issue identified both by Kate Skinner and William Bird was the coverage of mainstream media of GBV. Bird, commenting on a recent story that broke in the Sowetan about a correctional officer and a police woman having sex: “Without technology, video of two officers would never have ended up online. There is interchange between media and technology”. Skinner urged women’s rights organisations to become content producers in the digital broadcasting era.

Finally, Nhlanhla Mokoena brought the reflection on the uses of technology for and against VAW. In a practical note she reported that many cases of cyber-stalking, where mobile phones are used to track women’s whereabouts and intimidate them, are causing growing concerns. Mokoena encouraged women to archive mobile messages to use as evidence when reporting violence to police. She also emphasised that it was important that women be present in ICT spaces so that their voices be heard.

Throughout the discussions and debates that where raised in the seminar, participants agreed that the response to violence against women through technology should be education, not restrictions or censorship.

Lebo Marishane, Women’sNet co-director asked a very critical question in her closing remarks. She asked “where are women in ICTs?” She urged that we constantly be innovating, but also get involved in the politics of ICTs. Delegates took a personal pledge saying “I don’t create or forward violence” a key message from the seminar that will be carried as a campaign with multiple stakeholder going forward.

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