Guest Blog: Gender, Gender-Based Violence and Information Communication Technologies: A Hippocratic Approach

When​ ​it​ ​comes​ ​to​ ​women’s​ ​economic and social empowerment, information communication technology​ (ICT) is often considered a great equalizer. It is true that ICTs can provide women​ ​and​ ​underrepresented​ ​populations​​ ​access to​ ​financial services,​ ​new​ ​market opportunities, life-enhancing​ ​services and greater​ ​security.​ However, technology is ultimately just a tool that magnifies and mirrors the world we live in-the good, the bad and the ugly. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign, provides us with a time to reflect on how technology may mitigate, exacerbate, or reveal gender-based violence. ​ ​

While data are limited,​​ some​ ​startling​ ​figures have emerged:

  • In​ ​Kampala,​ ​Uganda,​ ​45 percent​ ​of​ ​female​ ​internet​ ​users ​​reported​ ​experiencing online​ ​threats.1
  • Research​ ​in​ ​Argentina​ ​shows​ ​that​ ​a​ ​woman’s​ ​mobile​ ​phone​ ​is​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​first​ ​items​ ​to​ ​be destroyed​ ​by​ ​a​ ​violent​ ​partner.2
  • In​ ​74 percent​ ​of​ ​countries​ ​included​ ​in​ ​the​ ​World​ ​Wide​ ​Web​ ​Foundation’s​ ​Web​ ​Index3​, ​ ​law enforcement​ ​agencies​ ​and​ legal systems​ ​are​ ​failing​ ​to​ ​take​ ​appropriate​ ​action on cases which reported​ ICTs​ were ​used​ ​to​ ​commit​ ​acts​ ​of​ ​gender-based​ ​violence.4

Despite the relative lack of​ ​data, we are beginning to understand​ ​common, shared​ ​risks facing women using ICTs:

  • Mobile​ ​phones are valuable—​carrying​ ​a​ ​phone in public​ ​spaces can increase a woman’s likelihood of being a target for​ ​theft​ ​and​ ​bodily​ ​harm.
  • Whether​ ​accessing​ ​the​ ​internet​ ​through​ ​a​ ​mobile​ ​phone​ ​or​ ​computer,​ ​women​ ​are often​ ​more vulnerable to​ ​online​ ​threats​ ​and​ ​harassment.
  • In​ ​patriarchal​ ​societies,​ ​where​ ​women’s​ ​mobile​ ​phone​ ​ownership​ ​is​ ​associated​ ​with assumptions​ ​about​ ​a​ ​woman’s​ ​freedom​ ​to​ ​make​ ​her​ ​own​ ​choices—​in​ ​particular, to enter romantic​ ​relationships—​the​ ​presence​ ​of​ ​a​ ​mobile​ ​phone​ ​may threaten traditional​ ​household power​ ​dynamics​ ​and​ ​expectations,​ ​leading​ ​to​ ​domestic​ ​violence.
  • Women are often encouraged by well-meaning service providers or NGO staff to ​keep​ ​their​ digital financial services ​accounts​ ​‘discreet’​ ​by not​ ​telling ​their​ ​husband​ ​or​ ​other family​ ​members​ ​about​ ​them,​ ​or​ ​sharing ​their​ ​PIN​ ​number. While this discretion​ ​might​​ ​mean​ ​the​ ​woman​ ​can maintain​ ​independent​ ​financial​ ​resources, it may come at a high cost if they are discovered, such as increased instances of gender-based violence.

In​ ​all​ ​technological​ ​interventions, it is best practice to first​ ​understand​ ​the​ ​market​ ​and​ ​cultural​ ​context. USAID’s Gender​ ​&​ ​ICT​ ​Survey​​ Toolkit​ helps development professionals better understand the dynamics surrounding technology and gender-based violence.​ ​This toolkit​ ​covers​ ​behavioral​ ​themes​ ​such​ ​as control,​ ​ownership​ ​and​ ​perceptions,​ ​and​ ​can​ ​help​ ​facilitate​ ​an​ ​in-depth​ ​examination​ ​of the​ ​relationship​ ​women​ ​and​ ​girls​ ​have​ ​with​ ​ICTs.​ It​ ​is​ ​the​ ​development​ ​community’s​ ​responsibility​ ​to understand​ ​how​ ​women​ ​may​ ​be​ ​positively​ ​or​ ​negatively​ ​impacted by ICT​ ​interventions​ ​before implementation. We must first do no harm.

At USAID, we are working to help women fulfill their full potential by removing barriers that deny women access to the internet. Just last month, USAID announced the WomenConnect Challenge, which beginning early 2018, will accept innovative, comprehensive proposals to help close the digital gender divide.​

The​ ​​Gender​ ​&​ ​ICT​ ​Survey​ ​Toolkit​​ ​is​ ​brought​ ​to​ ​you​ ​by the​ ​Digital​ ​Inclusion​ ​team​ ​at​ ​USAID​ ​and​ ​the​ ​mSTAR project​ ​at​ ​FHI​ ​360. 

1​ ​Women’s​ ​Rights​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Internet​ ​in​ ​Uganda,​ ​2015

2​ ​Association​ ​for​ ​Progressive​ ​Communications

3​ ​

4​ ​Women’s​ ​Rights​ ​Online:​ ​Translating​ ​Access​ ​into​ ​Empowerment,​ ​2015

Stay in touch and learn more:
#16Days #EndGBV

Guest blog post by Erica Gendell, USAID, U.S. Global Development Lab & Catherine Highet, FHI 360, mSTAR Project r-Based Violence and Information Communication Technologies: A Hippocratic Approach