Does one need to be a female to advocate the safety of women? Not at all! You do not have to be a die-hard supporter of feminism to call for an end to crime against women. It is simply a decent thing to do as a human. Everyone is obligated to stand against all forms of gender-based violence either in its most subtle or obvious form.
The international community is fanning the hate against all forms of violence against women. In the spirit of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women held on November 25, the United Nations began 16 days of activism against gender-based violence with the theme, “Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!”
Violence in any part of society affects us all. It not only inflicts scars on the next generation, it also threatens to tear down the very fabric of the society. Violence against women is not unconnected to civil oppression, gender inequality and subjugation. Despite modern civilisation, it is sickening to hear about crimes committed against women.
It’s often said that you can tell a lot about the health and stability of a society based on the quality of life for women. I quite agree with this assessment because women are the bedrock of society and are largely responsible for stabilising the home front and increasingly excelling at leadership positions. Yet, around the world, nearly one in three women has been abused at different points in their life. In times of crisis, the numbers skyrocket to epic proportions.
Gender-based violence is an appalling crime and a public health emergency, with far-reaching consequences for millions of women and girls in every corner of the globe, says the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
During COVID-19, violence, sexual assault, and femicide have all increased in the past months across Africa and the globe. A recent survey from the UN Women, based on data from 13 countries since the pandemic, shows that two in three women reported that they or a woman they know experienced some form of violence. Only one in 10 women said that the victims would go to the police for help.
In Nigeria, the National Human Rights Commission claimed to have recorded about 4,000 complaint calls from victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the past nine months. This figure does not include hundreds of victims who, because of fear of stigmatisation and lack of trust in the system, do not pursue justice.
In several parts of Nigeria, laws, and punishments have been introduced to discourage sexual offences and domestic violence. From life imprisonment to chemical castration, attempts are made to curb sexual gender-based crimes women face.
There’s no single quick fix to end violence against women, only people can do that within their cultures, communities, and families. Yet, technology when properly implemented can prove to be a game changer. In this piece, I examine areas where technology can be an invaluable tool in the context of a developing continent like Africa.
In today’s interconnected world, technology- the Internet, social media, and mobile phones- magnify gender inequality and gender-based violence, casting a negative spotlight on stereotypes, misogyny, and harassment of all kinds.
With the proliferation of mobile phones across the world, mobile technology is now playing a central role in the way people (irrespective of their gender) experiencing domestic violence and abuse can access life-saving information and support.
As evidenced in the digital age, rural areas around the world rely on phone technology that is used to provide national hotlines to provide advice, counselling, and support to women and children facing violence.
Across Africa, few innovators have developed mobile applications that can help prevent sexual and domestic violence as well as provide those impacted with much-needed emergency services. For instance, in Lesotho, the Nokaneng app informs users about the different forms of gender-based violence, their rights, and the available support services, safety tools such as a sound alarm and emergency SMS. They serve as a refuge for survivors of gender-based violence.
In Kenya, the ‘Report It! Stop It!’ app allows users (survivors or witnesses) to pin incidents of violence on an interactive map, even adding a description of the incident, time and date, type of harassment, and perpetrator/s when submitting their report if they can do so.
For victims using Helpio, a mobile application developed by a Nigerian female developer, they can gain immediate help as well as access to a network of counsellors like doctors, sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) activists, and legal representatives. Non-victims can also use the app to learn how to protect themselves and their relatives from potential threats.
Since there are still people without access to a smartphone, or access to the Internet, SMS services that help women stay safe are also important.
Digital campaign, awareness
As far as the African tradition is concerned, sexual assault and domestic violence are issues that have much silence, stigma, and taboo surrounding them. Creating enough awareness and understanding about these social issues is a big step towards demystifying gender-based violence.
Social media platforms have been useful to organisations, agencies, and clubs advocating end to violence against women. Digital media continue to spread awareness, tell women’s stories, enlighten and engage the public.
The formative years of children are crucial as they begin to exhibit traits that most often shape the adults they will grow to become. Tackling gender-based violence can be effective when children, both male and female, are educated about the dangers of inflicting and/or tolerating violence. Depending on their age, there are video and mobile games designed to educate players about violence against women.
As one who understands the potentials of technology, I strongly believe that no matter how effective it is, technology cannot be deployed in a vacuum. As such, the onus is on every member of the society to help stop violence against women from happening, bring awareness to the issues surrounding it, and move humanity closer to ending it.
As much as there are existing platforms working against gender violence coupled with government intervention, there is still more to be done. At this point, I would like to reinforce my argument on the power of collaboration mainly in the areas of public, private, and institutional partnerships in creating awareness and viable solutions to gender-based violence.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch