All too often we view ICT4D projects as a means to empower women and minimize the gender divide, and overlook how technology can exacerbate gender issues, such as violence against women (VAW). While ICTs can decrease/stop VAW, it can also be seen as a facilitator, as technology can provide additional platforms for violent action. In order to understand how technology can exacerbate VAW, it must be understood that VAW does not simply include physical violence, but also psychological, economic, and sexual abuse. The MDG3: Take Back the Tech program, which was a project created in 2009 to strengthen women’s rights activists to use technology tools to prevent technology related VAW, categorizes technological violence into 5 broad categories including online harassment and cyberstalking, intimate partner violence, culturally justified violence against women, rape and sexual assault, and violence targeting communities. There are several ways in which violence is committed with the use of technology:
- Mobile Text Messaging and calling
- Intimate Photos and Blackmail
- Mobile Phone Tracking
- Manipulating Photographic Images
- Use of Internet to Fake Recruit victims
- Violation of Passwords
- Listening and Recording Phone Conversations
- Monitoring Web Browsing
According to a paper from the Association for Progressive Communications, men are misusing mobile phones to harass and threaten their partners, and even track their partner’s phone to know her location at all times. Technology has added another dimension to the issue of privacy, as men try to gain control of their partners by tracking and monitoring their every move. Additionally, in several developing countries husbands are using intimate/pornographic photos of their partners to blackmail them and gain control. Men have even been known to use fake advertisements to lure women into forced marriages, guess partner’s passwords, and disrespect their privacy by listening to phone conversations.
Technology related VAW is a dangerous and growing problem as technology enables violence by allowing anonymity, automation, affordability, action from a distance, and propagation. Technology does not only provide an affordable and detached way to harm women, but has also made it easier for the offender to remain anonymous, to stalk and monitor their partner, and to create damage that can follow their women around forever. While technology is a promising way to improve gender equality, I think we must not ignore the growing and serious issue of how technology can exacerbate VAW. After reading this paper, I question how we can protect women from technology related VAW.