South Africa and online pornography: Bill sets off alarm bells in women's movement

By Sally-Jean Shackleton Publisher: APCNews     JOHANNESBURG,

A draft Bill proposing a ban on sexual content on the internet and cellphones submitted to the South African Department of Home Affairs in May 2010 claims to have the best interests of women and children in mind but has set alarm bells ringing in the women’s movement. “The Bill equates women with children –taking a protectionist approach to the rights of women— and promotes state censorship,” says Sally-Jean Shackleton, director of Women’sNet, a feminist technology organisation based in Johannesburg.

The Bill was drafted by Justice Alliance of South Africa (JASA), an anti-gay, anti-choice organisation. The countries mentioned by JASA as having enacted similar legislation to the proposal Bill – Yemen and the United Arab Emirates – both censor LGBT as well as political content that they deem undesirable.

Taking into consideration the social context within which laws operate in South Africa, where violence against lesbian women and transgender people is common, “a law focusing on sexual content is likely to see content that focuses on lesbian sexuality or even women’s sexuality as deviant and undesirable” says Shackleton.

“The Law Reform Commission in South Africa, tasked with investigating internet pornography should consider freeing up funds from the Universal Access Fund to promote positive content by women and for women,” says Shackleton. “That way we tip the balance of content in favour of more positive representations of women and more diversity.”

“The Law Reform Commission’s investigation at the very least must be framed by considering that children and women are not the same entity. Children are a separate category of people that require very different legislative approaches than those addressing women,” Shackleton concludes.

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Sally-Jean Shackleton is director of APC member Women’sNet, South African partner in the Association for Progressive Communication’s Take Back the Tech! To end violence against women initiative which is talking place in twelve countries worldwide and supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS).

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