Women Confront VAW using ICTs: Experiences from remote and fishing community in Eastern Uganda
I was privileged to coordinate a project on combating violence against women using ICTs. This project was in partnership with Association for Progressive Communication and Isis-WICCE. As part of the project activities, I conducted training on VAW and ICT with grassroots women in a remote and fishing community of Namaingo located on the shores of lake Victoria. For long fishing communities in Uganda have been marginalized and left out on many development aspects because of their remote locations. Because of this situation, there has been gross violations of human rights and widespread violence against women such as domestic violence, widow in-heritance and property grabbing, defilement among others.
During the training, a 59 year old participant shared an experience of how women in the olden days creatively used local platforms to combat violence against women. She shared that when she was growing up as a young girl, women used to look for a strategic location in the village which was usually an anthill. The woman would stand on top of the anthill and start shouting about the bad behaviors the husband has and she would say “my husband is bad, she beats me when I give meat to the children, he is a glutton, and he abuses me all the time...” This was to let every one in the village hear about her husband’s bad behaviors which would prompt the villagers to gossip about him, musicians would compose songs about his bad behaviors and he would be ashamed and eventually change his behaviors.
Today, technology has provided us with much more advanced platforms compared to an anthill such as mobile telephones, internet, computers where we can make noise about VAW so that the whole world can hear us. Unfortunately, most women lack the technical know-how and resources to access such tools and fully utilize, engage and participate.
This training on how to use ICTs to combat violence against women was an eye opener for the women in this communuty. During the training the women shared their fears, excitements andlearnings; “for me I have always seen a computer.. there is an NGO that gave our group a very big computer but we have never touched it because we feared it. Now that I have got the knowledge and the skills, when I go back, I will use it” said Lyaka Grace.
For Taaka Alice her excitement was beyond and she said “I am very excited to have touched a computer for the first time in my life., I have touched the mouse and I typed my name and my husband’s name and I was able to see them on the screen. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.” And Kintu Solome said “I used to think that computers are only for those people who are educated and are in big offices in Kampala but today I have realized that I can also use a computer”.
With regards to mobile telephony, while most of us assume that everyone who owns a mobile phone can be able to use the basic applications in it, this not a reality. Egesa Rose from Sigulu Islands was awakened on how little she knew after learning about mobile phone applications “I have always had a mobile phone, I have been using it to call and check the time only but it is today that I have learnt that I can use it to send a short message to my people which is even cheaper”
Much as they were excited about the new tools, the training enabled them to understand the linkage between VAW and ICT and how to ICT to overcome VAW. Perusi Onyango an elderly lady lammented that “men buy mobile phones for their wives to control them. If a man calls the wife and she does not answer the call immediately, she will be asked to explain what she was doing and she will be beaten. Remember, at times the wife might be in the garden digging or in the kitchen cooking”.
And for Barbara, her learning was that “much as these telephones have caused violence against women in some circumstances, I have learnt that we can use the same phones to send messages to the men who violate women’s rights to educate them about VAW”.
The women for the first time were able to see and use internet by searching the web and opening up their first email addresses, a group email(firstname.lastname@example.org) and a group blog where they share their stories (http://tumbula.wordpress.com/). To most of them, they imagined that internet was a building in Kampala(the capital city of Uganda) while others thought internet is a human being. This is a reflection of total ignorance or lack of any knowledge of such tools.
After the training, the women ran an SMS campaign using Frontline SMS software. They sent out bulk SMS to different local leaders, clan leaders and the general public condemning acts of violence against women in the community and bringing the perpetrators to court. Mariam Adwori one of the grassroots women activists reported that there was a case of a woman whose husband cut her hands because she went to a political campaign rally without informing him. When we heard about it we sent out messages to the local leaders and the police. The case was handled.”
The SMS campaign on Violence against women in Namayingo has helped to awaken local leaders, clan leaders and the community at large on the issues of violence against women and the messages are sent in the local language.