Half of the WorldViolence against women and Information Communication Technologies (ICT):New challenges to VAW [Archives:2005/847/Community]

June 2 2005

By Nisha
In the recent years, ICT has emerged as a major medium of spreading notions of masculinity and 'manliness'. And these notions are so deeply connected to the display sexual power over women, multiple partners to demonstrate virility and many more such deeply held notions. Even if we ignore the pornographic material on internet and look and generally at the kind of messages that are being communicated through information technologies, there's a huge amount of subtle material that stress aggressiveness and dominance and lack of responsibility in sexual relationships as 'manly' qualities or traits.

But the use of ICT, especially Internet, to disseminate messages of pervert sexuality, violent sex with women and children, bestiality and so on. In many parts of the world, for example in India, it is not uncommon to find a load of flesh on the computer screen when you click on a webpage saved on the desktop in an internet cafe. I have come across websites that explicitly promote rape and encourage sexual violence against children. The messages and sites are not general. They are targeted at men. What Internet has done is made these messages and sites easily accessible to anyone who could afford to pay Rs 10-15 per hour, a price far cheaper than a pornographic magazine or a book. In addition, the video and webcam images offer much more perverse excitement that a still pictutre. The cost effectiveness of this medium in disseminating violent sexual messages and images and its easy access are the kind of challenges that are extremely hard to meet.

Issues like trafficking in women have acquired a worse dimension. Now along with the trafficking of women in person, we have to deal with trafficking in images – usually taken under force and through violence.

Among other main challenges to moving forward on gender equality and ending violence against women (VAW), are deeply entrenched negative attitudes and stereotypes about women, which are institutionalized in the various systems. This makes it extremely difficult to engage in preventing and countering the messages of VAW and sexual violence against children in equal proportion and with more intensity. Breaking down the barrier created by the decision makers or power holders in the ICT business who put business before ethics and rights of women, and disadvantages that anti-VAW activists face in one way or another, requires tackling deeply entrenched values, norms and attitudes that work against women. It also requires changes in national and international ICT policies. These policies are more or less gender neutral and have so far treated ICT only as a medium of business and education. It has also heightened the challenges in increasing women's access and participation in expression and decision-making in ICT. It is no longer just a matter of women's numerical equality in communication and representation of women's basic needs and their solutions. There's a need to broaden and redefine advocacy related to gender and ICT to address VAW through ICT.

Traditionally, communication has been an extremely sensitive and critical for advocacy and action against VAW. However, male monopoly over access and technical training, gendered segregation of ICT jobs, language of ICT education, training and services, etc have practically kept women out from decision-making and wide-scale use. This implies that the anti-VAW advocates remain at the mercy of the power holders despite a boom in ICT which has space to address women's concerns, new manifestations of VAW and to promote women's rights. As a result, at the mass advocacy level, grassroots activists have not been able maximize their advocacy efforts through the use of new ICTs.

Transnational advocates and advocates backed by institutions have been more successful in using ICT. And a significant aspect of this engagement is that new ICTs have provided a space for researchers, activists and policy makers to exchange understanding, information, experiences and approaches. Anti-VAW researchers have also used new ICTs extensively and engaged in collaborative research. Similarly, gender and development professional working with international NGOs and other institutions have widely used ICTs for cross-sectoral integration of anti-VAW efforts.

Now the question is: is it possible to look at ICTs to prevent VAW. There's no choice but to look at ICTs as one of mediums to end VAW. New ICTs are being used by activists and women's organizations to promote their initiatives, forge linkages, build networks and exchange information. Perhaps it is not possible to use ICT in equal measure to counter VAW being inflicted through ICT, but ICTs must be used as a critical tool in fostering awareness and action on VAW. Such usage of ICT must be supported by advocacy for policies that recognize and address challenges arising from ICT as a tool to perpetrate VAW. This kind of engagement today may create a situation when VAW coming thorugh ICTs could be prevented.

What also need to be empahsized is that VAW communication and information sharing through ICT should strive to be more inclusive and representative. Role of men in ending VAW, promotion of men's groups who are challenging stereotypes and addressing men's roles and responsibilities in sexual relationships, positive sexuality, sexual rights, sexuality education, etc are some of the issues having a strong link to VAW which need to be taken up through new ICTs.