Argentina: Strategic use of ICT as a response to violence against women

Having
worked for 14 years on the issue of violence against women and
information and communication technologies, APC WNSP held a workshop
in Buenos Aires on “Strengthening
women in the strategic use of information and communication
technologies in order to combat violence against women and girls”
to
acquaint women and their organisations with technological tools. The
workshop is one of the initiatives of the APC WNSP's MDG3 project
Take
Back the Tech! to eliminate violence against women
taking place
in 12 countries. In connection with the workshop, we hope to explain
the status of public policies aimed at promoting the access, use and
acceptance of ICT in Argentina to fight against violence towards
women, delving further into some of the aspects of this issue such as
privacy and security.


Privacy
and technology, a double-edged sword for women


Information
and communication technologies (ICT) currently constitute both a
medium for exercising violence against women as well as contributing
to eradicating it.



The
Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence
against Women (Belém do Pará, 1994) 1
defines violence against women as "any
act or conduct, based on gender, which causes death, injury, or
physical, sexual or psychological pain to women, both in public and
private scope."

The clear statement of "both
in public and private"
generates controversy in regard to violence against women in relation
to information and communication technologies. Where does the public
end and private begin in these spaces?



Quoting
Kathleen Maltzahn,
“Privacy has always been a double-edged sword for women. (…)
Today, the internet is one clear place that privacy can be realised
and used for women’s individual and collective development. On the
other hand, the concept of private space has long been a barrier to
scrutiny of violence against women. Too often police ignore male
violence with the off-hand appraisal that it was ‘just a domestic’,
that is, a private matter beyond state intervention. (…) Feminists
have argued that rather than being an individual man’s domain, the
state has a responsibility for so-called ‘private’ actions, and
should be ultimately accountable for continuing violence against
women and children.”




Where
should the line be drawn? When a former partner sends threatening or
harassing messages to your personal account, are they still a private
matter between two people? When you take a picture of yourself with
your cell phone and you send it by MMS to a friend, does it become
public because you no longer have control over how the image might
continue circulating? 2



This
can be seen clearly in social networking sites such as Facebook,
Orkut, MySpace, or Hi5 which erase the line between the public and
private and place what is traditionally considered “private” into
question.



As
Dafne Sabanes Plou, WNSP Latin America Coordinator, explained, “in
terms of privacy and security, issues that concern the women’s and
feminist movements, for example, are the use of internet and
information and communication technology to prevent violence against
women, advising the survivors of this violence, offering
opportunities for accompaniment and filing complaints that are
presented. The lack of privacy and secure use of the network can be a
significant stumbling block to women’s use of technologies to make
their situations known and to receive appropriate support.”




Let's
illustrate this with two cases that occurred recently in Argentina.
One occurred in 2009 but was made public this year, where a 14 years
old girl was abused by three adult men in a town called General
Villegas. During the despicable act one of the men videotaped the
images on his cell phone, then the video traveled from phone to phone
until it reached YouTube, causing the authorities to intervene 3.
The community came out to defend three men, arguing that the girl was
a “slut”.



Another
case in which ICT has played a crucial role in giving category
"public" to a private matter is the case of Las Heras.
Silvia Luna killed a work colleague after the colleague released a
video of Luna being unfaithful to her fiance, who then refused to
marry her.



The
indistinct boundaries between public and private can result in
impotence of the courts to cases of violence online against women or
in the adoption of excessively protectionist laws that undermine the
exercise of certain rights of women such as the right to information
or the right to privacy.



Are
laws enough?



The
legal system should cover all forms of violence against women,
including violence that is exercised through ICT. Since this violence
occurs virtually, there is a legal 'no man's land', where imprecise
internet jurisdiction continues to present challenges to protecting
the rights of women online.



During
2009 in Argentina, two federal laws were approved which place limits
on how the media represents women and girls. On March 2009 the Law
of Comprehensive Protection to Prevent, Sanction, and Eradicate
Violence against Women
was approved. This law defines “media
violence” for the first time, as one of the ways through which
violence is expressed. It is defined as: “the
broadcast of stereotyped images through any means of communication
which promotes the exploitation of women, insults, discriminates,
humiliates or attacks the dignity of women, or the use of women,
adolescents or girls in pornographic messages or images constituting
patterns that create violence against women.”



On
October 2009, the Law
of Audiovisual Communication Services
was passed.
In section 9 on Communications Media it establishes the duty of the
media: “To
promote a balanced and varied image of women and men in the
communication media.”

However, these measures are currently aimed at regulating images in
the traditional media such as television, radio, and audiovisual
productions, but do not specifically refer to digital communications
where violence can acquire new forms. In Atschull’s view the
process of access and use of the new technologies is so rapid that it
is producing a “legal vacuum.”



Gustavo
Tanús, an attorney specialising in legal matters linked to privacy
and information technology, believes that Argentina’s current laws
have specific sections that are useful for confronting cases of
harassment, invasion and violence against people’s privacy which
can also be applied to cases of aggression against women. He stated
it thus: “Today a threat or harassment carried out by e-mail or
telephone receives the same treatment; the problem is proving it.”



He
says that Law
26.388 on Computer Crimes
fills some gaps that appeared as ICT
expanded. “Is
electronic mail equivalent to traditional mail? Yes, and it is
covered by the Law on Computer Crimes, the key is to act quickly,
preserve the evidence, and do discovery in the courts to ask the
company providing the service for the information, that there be a
notary public present certifying the content, and print it out. The
content is so volatile that tomorrow they remove them and it’s
over. So we need certified proof to demonstrate it,”
he
says.



With
respect to this complex convergence of law and violence against women
intersecting with ICT, Mercedes Velázquez, University of Buenos
Aires expert in legal framework issues in knowledge-based society,
emphasised:
“The means of showing violence are just as reprehensible on the
internet as outside of it but there is no code that sanctions
internet violence. Creating false identities is punishable if, for
example, it contributes to committing fraud. On the other hand,
without this connotation it could signify a violation of the terms of
use of the site where it occurs, and therefore, be punishable by
expulsion from the group or loss of the right to participate in it.”




Regarding
the space given in the digital agenda to the debate on violence
against women, the specialist categorically stated that “the
digital agenda does not deal with these issues.”
It was evident
that there are still no clear prospects directed at resolving
violence against women using ICT. To date there has been no apparent
desire to legislate and accept these issues as a public matter.



Online
safety: knowledge as the key



The
strategic use of ICT goes hand-in-hand with awareness of rights. In
this vein, the “Strengthening women in the strategic use of
information and communication technologies in order to combat
violence against women and girls” workshop yielded, according to
the organisers, important data on the capacity for use, access to
infrastructure, and evaluation of the technological tools available
in each region. In the words of Carola Caride, one of the
coordinators of the activity: “there
were a variety of concerns, but they revealed the lack of security
regarding text messages on cell phones and harassment by husbands or
boyfriends using them. Other women residents of urban centres
referred to this access as an unlimited circulation of pornography.”



Norma
Santa Cruz works in the Women Growing/Being Organisation
(Organización Cre-Siendo) in Ciudad Evita in Greater Buenos Aires.
She highlights that the privacy problem is a frequent complaint in
the day center, not only in the digital realm but also in daily life.
Norma explained that in her neighbourhood “it’s
very common not only for women’s intimate spaces but everyone
else’s to be invaded, too. Most of the time it’s because there is
little physical space for privacy in the homes.”



According
to Norma, women’s perceptions of ICT is one of some “distancing”,
though women's desire to learn about technology is evident
“especially
the computer since it is a novelty.”

The most widespread technology among this population is the cell
phone.
“They all have one and it’s not the same as with computers,”

Santa Cruz added. Cell phones are one of the most accessible
technologies of recent times for women and girls, but just like the
internet, they have often become an ideal platform to track, observe,
control, and threaten women.



In
this organisation they are also working on a course for basic ICT use
which will be open to all women, and will include the problem of
security and prevention of violence for adolescents. In the workshop
they plan to give an overview on the use of computers, as well as
teach in a way that includes prevention and getting the most out of
their use. Peralta defined the priorities as follows: “we will
train in the use of social networks, handling and awareness-raising
about the use of images.”



Monique
Atschull of the Women in Equality Foundation (Fundación Mujeres en
Igualdad) emphasised the need to create
awareness and work on prevention for women who see their intimacy in
danger due to the theft of private images, or have their e-mail or
instant message service password stolen. “We give talks in
schools, insisting that adolescents must be careful with what they
reveal and protecting intimacy,”
Atschull explained.



It
is essential to emphasise the way in which training in ICT can raise
awareness on the possibilities they provide to confront violence
against women, working on pivotal points such as privacy and
information security.



Florencia
Goldsman
holds a degree in Communication at the University of
Buenos Aires. She has worked for the last 10 years as a journalist
specializing in digital media, culture, education and new
technologies. In 2009, she joined the Take Bach the Tech! campaign as
a contributor and is responsible for @DominemoslasTic in Twitter
where she posts messages and campaigns against violence against women
through ICT.



Flavia
Fascendini
is
a social communicator. Since January 2007, she works as the
GenderIT.org Spanish/Portuguese site editor.

1 www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/tratados/a-61.html


2 “Day 6 Public or private? Draw the line” (Take Back the Tech! campaign, december 2009). www.takebackthetech.net/take-action/2009/11/30-0


3“Sigue la polémica en Villegas por el abuso de una menor”, La Nación Journal (27/05/2010), www.lanacion.com.ar/nota.asp?nota_id=1265520.


Bibliography:

Maltzahn, K. Digital dangers: information & communication technologies and trafficking in women, Association for Women’s Rights in Development and Association for Progressive Communications, 2006.

www.apc.org/en/system/files/digital_dangers_EN_1.pdf


Sabanes Plou, D. Tecnologías de la información y de la comunicación para la inclusión y la participación en la sociedad de la información y del conocimiento, Barcelona: Institut de Drets Humans de Catalunya, Serie Derechos Humanos Emergentes 6, 2010.

www.idhc.org/esp/161_propies.asp

Responses to this post

JOHANNESBURG (Esther Nasikye and Sally-Jean Shackleton for GenderIT.org) – While women’s rights activists have been at the forefront of making the private crimes that occur at home – domestic violence, marital rape – public, new technologies are making the private public in ways that disenfranchise, alienate and violate women. Esther Nasikye and Sally-Jean Shackleton explore how ICTs, privacy and domestic violence in South Africa are exposing problems in both policy and practice.
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