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Mahyoro Rural Information Centre (MARIC) explores the use of ICTs to liberate Kamwenge women and girls from the global scourge o

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Byamaka Allan, Coordinator, Mahyoro Rural Information Centre (MARIC)
Mahyoro, Kamwenge District, Uganda

Tackling a recurring challenge of our times, this spans all geographic borders across the globe. This challenge is rather sparked by the dehumanizing behavior of some people in our societies, whose acts of violence against women and children continue to be a source of pain in the lives of countless women and children.Through a dialogue that was organized by Mahyoro Rural Information Centre (MARIC) for all our actors in the domestic violence prevention arena in the sub county of Mahyoro, it was revealed that unfaithfulness, alcoholism and conflict over resources including the little income earned still remains an issue that leads to domestic violence. In Kamwenge cultural attitudes still play a big role in perpetuating domestic violence. Attitudes such as a man must remain the bread winner in the family, subjecting women to do most of the house hold cores, issues of looking at women as sex objects still exist among other factors. These are some of the cultural aspects that still increase rates of domestic violence in the district. Domestic violence also increases women’s risk to HIV and AIDS infection as it hinders the effectiveness of the ABC approach.

Worth noting is that violence against women has been highly reported in poverty stricken households where family heads are unable to provide basic needs, unequal power relations and use of income from harvests, which women work for and at the end men, sale off all the harvest and women are left out of the whole cycle

The socio-economic status of rural women and children, mostly characterized by low income and poverty, has in many instances left them vulnerable to various forms of abuse.
In addition, it has also led to the resounding silence that is killing the inherent resilience of women to act against any form of injustice as witnessed in many revolutions, including our own fight against VAW.

In strengthening women’s capacity to combat VAW using ICT, its worthy to mention upfront that Mahyoro Rural Information Centre (MARIC) remains committed in the global fight against this scourge. This commitment is inspired by the culture of human rights that has become the mainstay of our democracy since 1995. In this regard, this has found expression in our Constitution, but also in line with our resolve to advance the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including the MDG3 of promoting gender equality and empowering women using ICTs.

In our view, it is important to move from a premise that rightfully acknowledges that women and children’s rights are human rights. All our efforts towards sustainable development, while largely concentrated in fighting poverty and creating jobs, must also take into account the participation of women in development arena, including through the use of information and communication technology.

While it is critically important to ensure that women and girl children have access to ICT facilities, this should also be broadened to include their participation in policy processes regulating the use of such facilities. This should be aimed at building the capacity of women activists, abused women and girl children as well as survivors of gender-based violence – to ensure that ICT policies and facilities have a positive impact in women’s rights. In particular, it is important to use technology for awareness and educational campaigns that spread the message against violence on women and children.

For us to make the desired impact, we need to explore various forms of technological platforms. The huge growth in the use of cell phones provides a potential avenue for combating this violence. Cell phones have offered an excellent role in Mahyoro in ways of;
1) Receiving information on what to do after an incident
2) Notifying others of distress through ‘panic button’ services for immediate response
3) Providing ongoing support to survivors of abuse and rape
4) Advocacy messaging
5) Providing counseling and group self-help services and
6) Mobilizing responses

One of the key reasons that often see women subjected to violence is isolation. We believe that when women are in contact with supportive networks of friends, family or neighbors they are much less likely to be attacked. In this regard, cell phones are a tool that many women have access to and that can reduce isolation, linking them to support networks and anti-gender violence services. These supportive networks help overcome the power imbalances that often are the cause of violence against women.

But the rapid adoption of mobiles has also seen a rise in invasion of privacy through SMS stalking, monitoring and control of partners’ whereabouts, the intrusion of women’s privacy using ICTs has also been exacerbated by women’s economic dependence on men. And because of low literacy levels among rural women, they only know how to call. Most don’t know about safety features on phone or have any idea that their partners can view called numbers or read sent messages. They don’t use security codes,” the report says.

In some families, conversations must be on loudspeaker so that everyone knows who called you and what you are talking about. MARIC has trained women and rights Community resource persons (CORPS) or advocates on how to use ICTs and also how to minimize the negative effects.

Through the strengthening women’s strategic use of ICTs to combat violence against women and girls project implemented in collaboration with WOUGNET and with support from the Association for Progressive communications (APC), MARIC has given practical skills in using ICTs to activists, service providers and women rights advocates to ensure privacy while using ICT equipments. Community Resource persons are trained to offer counseling, referral skills and do mediations for victims of violence against women and girls and offer some simple legal aid

“There have been a lot of successes in this innovations. The women we trained now use mobile phones to report cases on domestic violence and other abusive relation ships of violence against women, although the ICTs available to most women in the fight against VAW are still very limited.

Mahyoro Rural Information Centre (MARIC) localized/championed campaigns like Take Back the Tech and we have been successful in raising awareness of violence against women in the rural areas of Kamwenge through use of short message services (SMS). But how to address the violence that arises from use of ICTs remains to be tackled. The majority of mobile phone users are men and illiteracy is still a big challenge. MARIC has partnered with Kabarole Research and Resource centre in using bulk SMS to campaign against such VAW acts.

At the same time, it is also important to put in place stringent and enforceable measures that seek to ensure that technology is not used to perpetuate the very abuse we are fighting against. This includes unscrupulous attempts and advances that seek to lead girl children astray through technological social networks and other sites by exposing them to pornography, among others. We must ensure that there are policies in place to protect girl children against pedophiles who prey on young girls through technology.

I hope this platform will give us time and space to think deeply about various avenues of fighting the scourge of against women and children. This is what we must do to root out fear, helplessness, vulnerability and lo self-esteem in the hearts and minds of the many affected women and girl children.

MARIC’s efforts in fights against VAW using ICTs have been made possible with support from the Association for Progressive communications (APC) and in collaboration with Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET).

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