Logging on to empower women

March 04, 2010

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For a society to progress, human rights have to be guaranteed, with the assurance that rights are maintained without gender bias or discrimination. Gender-based violence reflects and reinforces injustices and compromises the health, dignity, and liberty of its victims. Such violence covers a wide range of human rights violations, including harassment, domestic violence, sexual abuse of children, rape, sexual assault, human trafficking, and indenture. The impact of any one of these abuses can leave psychological scars, or, in extreme instances, prove fatal. Violence against women has been called the most pervasive yet least recognised form of human rights abuse in the world.

I recently wrote about a collaborative campaign focused on promoting information and communications technology to end violence against women. Since then, the campaign has evolved into a strategic program aimed at combating violence.

Bytes for all, in collaboration with P@SHA, is implementing a two-year project titled “Strengthening Women’s Strategic Use of Information and Communications Technologies to Combat Violence against Women and Girls.” The ultimate goal of the project is to help create a global community of women from diverse professions and fields of expertise who will critically take up ICT tools for use in combating violence against women.

In a two-day workshop organised by P@sha and Bytes for all, a few of us gathered to discuss ways in which ICT tools could be used to tackle one of our most crucial problems. To facilitate brainstorming, Tahira Abdullah made a fiery presentation that provided a holistic view of violence and discrimination against women – a reality check meant to assist us in analysing the systemic loopholes that have been prevented female emancipation.

The recent passing of the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Bill has renewed debate and a sense of purpose amongst the activist community. But, as Abdullah puts it, we must never be too eager to celebrate. She points out that this bill too is legally ambiguous, and that it remains unclear whether the government’s intent is to tackle the issue or silence the resistance. In such a context, for the sake of vigilance, collaborative tools to help enumerate, highlight, and advocate a campaign for women’s rights are crucial.

The most obvious ways to promote the use of collaborative online tools is by training NGO employees and activists to use technology. But reaching out to ordinary women remains the biggest challenge. Most of these women are subjected to violence on a daily basis and have little or no access to any means of communication. In such situations, the use of ICT tools remains limited to spreading awareness or motivation to resist abuse. But we can not undermine the power of advocacy tools in motivating women to speak up against violence.

ICT could very well serve as a means of connecting women across the country and providing them with the reassurance that they are not alone. The wide dissemination of stories of women with courage could help motivate other victims to come forward and fight for their rights. Take, for example, the case of Mai Jori Jamali, a peasant farmer hailing from Ghulam Muhammad Jamali village in Baluchistan (pictured here).

Jamali filed papers on an Awami National Party (ANP) ticket to contest by-elections for a vacant seat of the Baluchistan Assembly. Although illiterate, she helps her husband with farming chores while looking after her nine children. Reportedly, ANP leader Ramzan Memon has said, “Mai Jori will prove that politics, even election politics, is possible without money and high-level patronisation. She will lead the long march by foot from village to village as part of an election campaign against Pajeros and high-level influence.”

Jamali hails from the area notorious for an honour killing case reported in 2008 that led to three teenaged girls and two women being buried alive. Not surprisingly, then, Jamali highlights the plea of Baloch women. Her unwavering strength is both inspirational and motivating for women who have been repressed for decades. Her story has been brought to the forefront by bloggers such as Teeth Maestro and Adil Najam while it has received little or no coverage in the mainstream media. This, then, is a perfect example of how new media technologies can promote the cause of women’s rights.

Regardless of the results of the elections, we must salute Jamali’s courageous stance against the traditional taboos that haunt women in Baluchistan. Her courage would help strengthen the resistance against heinous customs and traditions that sabotage the rights of women. To that end, the impact of her struggle must be amplified and used to motivate many other women who live under the same circumstances but lack motivation. This is where advocacy, activism, and the use of ICT tools can play a vital role in bringing such inspirational stories to the forefront. Spreading awareness and mobilising women to demand their rights will be the cornerstone of gender equality.

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Sana Saleem is a Features Editor at BEE magazine and blogs at Global Voices, Pro-Pakistan her personal blog Mystified Justice. She tweets at twitter.com/sanasaleem.

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