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ICTs and Violence against Women
| 10 January 2007

ICTs are both a weapon in the fight against violence against women and an enabling tool for perpetrators. This article briefly examines the dynamics of ICTs and violence against women. Article by Kathambi Kinoti.

New information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as the internet, multimedia and wireless technologies are transforming economic and social interactions as well as cultures. In terms of women’s rights, the ICT phenomenon can be analyzed on two levels; representation and communication [1]

a) Representation: Digital technologies have an impact on the portrayal of gender roles and relations. While the media may tend to perpetuate gender stereotypes, the internet has allowed for a diversity of input from across the social spectrum. Nevertheless, women’s presence on the internet is less visible than men’s and technological advances are regarded as being facilitated by the more ’tech-savvy’ men. ICTs can and do facilitate both the perpetuation of gender stereotypes and the positive transformation of gender roles.

b) Communication: ICTs are typically convenient, fast and simple to use, and by reducing the time and distance between people influence change in social relations. They have been used by NGOs to disseminate information and to offer other forms of support to survivors of violence against women as well as people and organizations working to combat it.

ICT facilitation of violence against women

ICTs are used in numerous ways to perpetrate violence against women. They have a big role to play in the commodification and objectification of women’s bodies and sexualities. Like anyone else traffickers in women use ICTs to improve the efficiency with which they carry out their activities. It is relatively easy to recruit victims quickly over the internet. They can also take advantage of the borderlessness of the internet to evade individual countries’ legislative restrictions. In one case, in order to evade Japan’s strict pornography laws, Japanese women were taken to Hawaii and performed live strip shows that were broadcast via the internet back to Japan. They also engaged in live sex chats with men in Japan. [2]

In many cases pictures of nude or semi-nude pictures of women have been broadcast over the internet without the prior consent or knowledge of these women. National and international anti-trafficking laws do not usually adequately address the issue of ’virtual’ trafficking of women’s images but typically confine their ambit to the trafficking of women’s physical person. Domestic violence perpetrators have used tools like spy ware and global positioning systems (GPS) to track and control their partners’ movements by tracking their internet use and telephone communications.

ICTs also enable sexual predators to exploit women and especially children anonymously. Chat rooms and instant messaging are some of the safe spaces for predators especially since they neither archive messages nor keep log files of communication. Cyber stalking and digital voyeurism are other violations typical of the IT age.

There is a proliferation of video games that not only perpetuate gender stereotypes, but also glorify rape, torture and other human rights abuses carried out by the player. These games are readily available to adolescents and young adults and undoubtedly influence their world view.

’Take back the Tech’

The Association for Progressive Communication’s Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC-WNSP)is urging everyone, especially ’grrls’ and women to ’Take back the Tech.’ The campaign is being held to mark this year’s 16 days of Activism against Gender Based Violence. ’Take back the Tech,’ which is an echo of the ’Take back the Night’ call asks women to take control of ICTs and consciously use them to change power relations between men and women, and particularly to use ICTs for activism to combat violence against women. The campaign challenges the misconception that the ICT revolution has been pioneered by men alone. It urges a reclamation of women’s critical participation in and contribution to ICTs. It asserts the right to move freely within online spaces without harassment or threats to women’s safety. The campaign has four broad goals:

  1. To raise awareness about the way ICTs are connected to violence against women.
  2. To provide simple strategies on how incidences of violence against women can be minimized online.
  3. 3. To generate a discourse around the connections between ICTs and violence against women in online and offline spaces.
  4. To build a community that will continue to strategize around eliminating violence against women through and in ICT spaces.

Reclamation of safe use of ICTs that respects women’s rights is bound to raise questions about freedom of expression and the rights to information and privacy particularly in the case of those benefiting from the use of women’s images. Discourse in this areas is still limited but bound to give rise to strenuous debate.

Women taking back the tech

As in other arenas women need to assert their presence and their right to be present in dignity on the ICT plane. As Jac sm Kee says, ’there is an urgent need for women’s rights activists and advocates to claim a material stake in the arena of ICTs or risk being spoken about, and for, by our well-meaning but less-invested allies in civil society movements, or the State.’ [3]

Women’s rights advocates are already cultivating spaces for the articulation of women’s issues and the advancement of their rights. ICTs are being used by NGOs to disseminate information and alerts on women’s rights issues. There are numerous women bloggers expanding the information, education and awareness-raising space via the internet.

Digital Stories for Transformation is a South African initiative that aims to raise awareness of violence against women, provide innovative training material for trainers, locate violence against lesbian women in the gender-based violence sector, and empower the women participating with skills in using technology for self-expression. The process has also created a safe space for healing. [4] In New Mexico, USA the Domestic Violence Virtual Trial helps judges and court staff learn about issues and challenges in cases of violence against women, and compare rulings with colleagues. [5] In India, hundreds of women have told their stories of sexual harassment in the Blank Noise Project Blogathon [6].

In the words of the APC-WNSP, calling for all users to reclaim control over technology is asking for the right to define access, use and shape ICTs for their potential to transform power relations, towards a vision and reality of equality.

Article by Kathambi Kinoti
Originally published by: AWID Ressource Net

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