South Africa: Privacy and domestic violence online and off

A young man distributed explicit
pictures and videos of his ex-girlfriend to her clients. The pictures
were taken with her consent, while they were dating. In March 2007,
he was charged with Crimen Injuria1
(impairing her dignity) and sentenced to a fine of 4000 South African
Rand (USD 525) or 20 months in prison. This same man also sent SMS
death threats to the ex-girlfriend - “You’re going to die in
my hands; you know how I get when I am angry.”
This is just one
of the stories recorded in the August (2008) issue of the Women’sNet
quarterly magazine, Intersections2


In the past, women's rights activists
have been at the forefront of making the private public. Conceiving
of the home as a private place has traditionally served men,
particularly as perpetrators of domestic violence. For many people,
home is a private place. Yet, universally, women are at more risk in
the places where they are supposed to feel most safe, particularly
within their own homes. They are also at risk from the people whom
they are supposed to feel safest with - husbands, fathers, brothers,
uncles - all of whom are found in the 'home' environment. For many
women, violence has become a part of everyday life. According to the
Tshwaranang “Violence Against Women Fact Sheet”3,
8.8 per 100,000 women 14 years and older are killed in South Africa.
A woman is killed every six hours by her intimate partner, arguably
the highest rate anywhere in the world. Domestic violence affects one
in two women in some parts of South Africa. Only one in nine women
report cases of abuse. Underlying this problem, is that in many an
African culture, it is customary that what happens in the home stays
within the confines of the home.


Now, however, what happens in the
home is being made public in a very different manner. So what happens
today when “private issues” are made public?




Is domestic violence a private
issue or a public issue?


According to
Lebogang Marishane, the Information and Media Manager at Women'sNet,
South Africa is largely a patriarchal society. “Women
and girls are still assumed to be passive and oppressed. They still
have no say on anything to do with their sexuality,”

she explains. Whereas systems are in place to handle cases of
domestic violence, survivors are not keen to report cases as they
feel that there will be no justice for them. Understandably so, as
South African newspapers are full of reports about justice delayed
and justice denied. A complainant in one case had to endure 25
postponements and an almost five year wait for justice, in a case
being supported by activists from the One
in Nine Campaign
.


Domestic violence has far-reaching
social and economic impacts. Non-intervention leaves women and
children unprotected from violence and abuse. Communities must take
up responsibility to provide protection and see it as a crime, a
denial of basic rights, not a ‘private matter.’


In South
Africa, it has always been treated as a private matter. Even when
women go to report these cases, they are sometimes told by the police
to go and sort it out with their husbands,”
Lebogang
explains. In contrast to this practice, the Domestic Violence Act4
in South Africa recognizes that domestic violence is not a private
matter but is a serious crime against society. The definition of
domestic violence includes not only married women and children, but
unmarried women who are involved in relationships or living with
their partners, people in same-sex relationships, mothers and their
sons, and other people who share a living space.


Patriarchy contributes to why women
don’t report cases of domestic violence. “This cycle often
goes on and women hide their scars for fear of stigma as society
often views women who are abused as having done something wrong to
deserve it,”
Lebogang explains. “This is due to the status
that men are given in society, that as head of households they still
hold the power to control and discipline their wives, which often
translates into violence against women.”


According to the South African
Constitution’s Bill of Rights5,
everyone has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to
have their person or home searched; their property searched; their
possessions seized; or the privacy of their communications infringed.
Many feminists argue that the right to privacy has limits, especially
since the realm to which women are relegated – the home – is
considered a private space, yet this is the space in which they are
also most vulnerable to abuse6
and even murder. The ‘home’ is the place where, traditionally,
women live under male dominance and the heads of households.




From policy to practice


The Domestic Violence Act7
(1998) recognizes that controlling or abusive behavior that harms the
health, safety or well being of a woman, and that emotional, verbal,
psychological abuse together with other forms of abuse directed at
women, deny women their basic human rights. However the level of
awareness about the Domestic Violence Act remains low among the
populace and even the police fail to adhere to its tenets.


In 2009, the
Centre for the
Study of Violence and Reconciliation
reported to parliament that
the South African Police failed to adhere to the requirement
stipulated in the Act that every six months they should submit a
report on any domestic violence incidents reported to them8.


Even
when women are aware that there is legal recourse for them, they
seldom act on this, and seldom seek help. In one study of 9429
cases reported within a specific area in Mpumalanga, only 63 resulted
in criminal charges and only 12 women were given a Protection Order,
as allowed for under the Domestic Violence Act.


So, while the Domestic Violence Act
makes provision for Protection Orders (making domestic violence a
matter of public record) and also requires the police to record
domestic violence incidents, these good policies and practices remain
paper promises.


There is legislation currently being
considered that may offer some recourse, such as the Protection from
Harassment Bill10
tabled in parliament in February 2010. This Bill extends protection
to behavior that is defined as harassment.




ICT involvement


According to the
South
African Country report on Violence Against Women and Information and
Communication Technologies
written by Shareen Essof, privacy is
not restricted to the physical realm. “It
has relevance in the digital world. If we have to extend it to that
realm, a definition of privacy is an individual’s right to: control
the information collected about them, control how that information is
used and control who has access to the information and the ability to
access that personal information.”


Information and
Communication Technologies are implicated as both a tool to address
violence and a tool for perpetrating violence. Through the use of
ICTs to amplify women's voices, Women'sNet has managed to create a
space where women can speak out about violence against women. Child
Line
, a counselling service for children and young people in
South Africa, has created a counselling space on a popular cell phone
chat service called MXit
(with over 12 million, mostly young, users). In spite of these spaces
being threatened by censorship and closure for their openness, these
organisations are creating more positive spaces online for children
to be assisted.


Women’sNet and Child Line use a
more positive aspect of the privacy/ information balance – tipping
the scales in favour of providing positive and affirmative spaces for
sharing information and engaging with the issues.


ICTs in some instances have been used
to perpetuate violence, violating the privacy of women. According to
the South African Country report, technology is developing faster
than South African society can fully comprehend its uses and
implications. “There is little understanding of the strategic
use of ICTs to support combating violence against women as well as
recognition of new avenues for perpetuating violence.”


ICT policy in South Africa is
complicated, but in general, the use of ICTs as a weapon for
perpetrating violence against women is not included or acknowledged.
The Prevention of Harassment Bill does include unwanted electronic
mail and cell phone calls and SMS’ as harassment, but does not
mention the use of technology as a tool for surveillance – a common
strategy for abusive men who try to control their partners. The
government has to come up with laws that comprehensively deal with
the right to privacy. But how do you balance laws restricting the use
of personal information with freedom of expression which is equally
important to survivors of VAW?




Balancing the right to privacy and
freedom of expression


The balance between the right to
privacy and the right to freedom of expression and access to
information is a fine one. Few feminists are in favour of the state
controlling what information can be accessed, but recognise that free
flow of all information can erode women’s rights, for example
through sensationalised reporting or the publication of images both
online and in print media that misrepresent women.


Yet, feminists are also not in the
same camp as conservative groups who would censor information that
they find offensive – including information on reproductive rights
and gay and lesbian rights. An example of these different approaches
is in the debates surrounding pornography on the internet. A recent
Bill drafted by the Justice Alliance of South Africa (JASA)11
and presented to the Department of Home Affairs, suggests that all
pornography be banned on the internet and on cell phones – claiming
that women and children should be ‘protected’ from this material.


This protectionist approach is very
unlikely to find favour among feminists who acknowledge women’s
autonomy and freedom, but some more conservative feminists might find
unlikely allies in their fight to ban sexually explicit materials
which they define as demeaning women. Most feminists would agree that
the right to privacy is often invoked to protect individuals and
institutions such as ‘the family’. This needs to be open to
interrogation and scrutiny on how women and girl children are treated
and ‘protected’ by those institutions.




How much privacy can there be
online?


Social networking, through websites
such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Meetup and LinkedIn, present
security issues for victims of stalking. A profile on a social
network might include information such as your email address, phone
number, general (or even specific) address information, birthday,
legal name, names of family members, and even minute-to-minute
updates on your location. This could be very good information for one
to connect with like-minded people but could also act as a source of
information for perpetrators of violence.


According to Shereen Essof,
Technological advances mean that women must be prepared to deal
with new avenues for violence and need to be equally prepared to
reclaim technology to further their own social justice struggles
including of combating violence and overthrowing patriarchy.”


Online privacy is very difficult. The
government needs to help protect victims through strong cyber
policies and education. According to the country paper, some domestic
violence perpetrators in South Africa have used tools like spyware
and global positioning systems to track and control their partner’s
movements by tracking their internet use and telephone
communications.


The Promotion of Access to
Information Act (2002) acknowledges the need to educate citizens on
their rights, to enable them to participate in decision making that
affects their lives. One of the action points in the country paper
underscores the need for awareness raising around the intersections
and interconnectedness of communications technology and violence
against women.


However, as Essof notes “despite
a commitment within the constitution of South Africa to gender parity
and an even firmer commitment to gender equality within the national
policy framework for women’s empowerment, policies take a gender
neutral approach assuming that equal benefits will automatically
accrue to women.”
This is not the case. Women do not have the
necessary skills and knowledge to function in an information society.


Users of technologies are therefore
encouraged to learn about protecting their own computers and internet
access to ensure their online activities remain private. Many women
don’t have any form of protection when it comes to circulation of
content against them on the internet or through mobile phones. The
Take Back the Tech Project has been instrumental in this regard.
Women are trained on how to ensure privacy especially on social
networking sites.




Moving Beyond Privacy: Taking back
the Tech


In 2009, the
Association of Progressive Communications Women’s Networking and
Support Program (APC WNSP) in partnership with Women’sNet started
in South Africa a project ' Take
Back the Tech! to end violence against women
' to help women
amplify their voices through the use of ICTs to fight violence.
Implemented in 12 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the
project encourages women to use cyber space to share their problems
and linkup with like-minded people to solve problems. This two and a
half year initiative is supported by the Dutch government’s MDG3
Fund
.


The project negotiates the fraught
terrain of ICTs where freedoms of expression and information go hand
in hand with growing privacy and security concerns. This acknowledges
the complexities of the debate on rights and freedoms and that there
is a difference in calling for the protection of privacy associated
with individual rights and freedoms, than calling for the same rights
to hide abuse and exploitation.
Women’sNet works with
organizations that are in direct contact with survivors of violence
against women and provides platforms for women to profile their
voices, tell their stories and thus share content with others who
have gone through similar experiences,”
Marishane explains.
These voices are often used as advocacy tools. As in the case
of digital stories, they can be used as education instruments or
advocacy tools.”


According to Marishane, “the
project has been received very well within the gender sector in South
Africa and beyond. It is now seen as a tool to document women's
stories and is
widely used as it provides women with a sense
of anonymity while they tell their stories in their own voices and
use images that they can control and manipulate.”


The country paper
underscores the need to have content online that is for women and
managed by women and that is what the Tech
Back the Tech campaign
emphasizes. According to Marishane,
creating spaces for women that are controlled by women themselves
will ensure that we can better influence content posted about and by
women online. “Online spaces provide a
sense of anonymity, and with proper guidance women can document their
stories while remaining anonymous,”

she says. However with digital dangers looming online, women also
need to be educated about security issues.


They need to be empowered
with skills to be able to navigate their way through the online
spaces without compromising their security. It is important however
to ensure that women have a presence online and that content that is
relevant to them is made available,”
she says. That is what
Tech Back the Tech campaign encourages through for example the
digital story telling.



Esther Nasikye is a strong believer in the notion that with more access to ICTs and the internet, to share and access information, transformational development in Africa will be realized faster than imagined. Esther was a community content facilitator with telecentre.org (Now telecentre.org Foundation) in East and Southern Africa. She is a trained citizen journalist and founder of ChangeWaves, a civil society organization in Uganda, East Africa that was established to support organizations, women, men and young people to access and share knowledge through ICTs for the sustainable development of Uganda and Africa. She is passionate about the use of ICTs to rid society of the core causes of under-development – gender inequalities and gender inequity.



Sally-Jean Shackleton previously worked with Women'sNet and is currently a consultant doing work related to women's voice and representation with a number of organisations. She is keenly interested in how ICTs shape women's activism and how women's activism shapes ICTs.

1en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimen_injuria, accessed 2 July 2010


2Shackleton, S-J, "Technology: Just another weapon?", Intersections, 1:5 (2008), www.womensnet.org.za/sites/womensnet.org.za/files/publications/intersect...


3Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, "Violence Against Women in South Africa Fact Sheet", tlac.org.za/images/documents/Violence_Against_Women_South_Africa_Fact_Sheet.pdf


4Available from www.info.gov.za/view/DownloadFileAction?id=70651


5Constitution of the Republic of South Africa [No. 108 of 1996 Chapter 2: Bill of Rights (Section 14: the Right to Privacy and Section 32: The Right to Information], www.info.gov.za/documents/constitution/1996/a108-96.pdf


6Kelly, Kristen Anne, Domestic Violence and the Politics of Privacy (USA:Cornell University: 2003)


7Domestic Violence Act [No. 116 of 1998], www.info.gov.za/view/DownloadFileAction?id=70651


8Parliamentary Monitoring Group, Domestic Violence Act implementation: 10 year review by Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre & Gender Advocacy Programme; RAPCAN on impact of legislation in preventing violence against children, 9 September 2009, www.pmg.org.za/report/20090909-tshwaranang-legal-advocacy-centre-outcome...


9Vetten, Lisa, Implementing the Domestic Violence Act 1999-2009, Presentationto Parliament September 2009. www.pmg.org.za/files/docs/090909tlac-edit.pdf


10Government Gazette No. 32922, Protection from Harassment Bill, 1 February 2010 1 2010. us-cdn.creamermedia.co.za/assets/articles/attachments/25700_100208b1-10.pdf


11Justice Alliance of South Africa, The Internet and Cell Phone Pornography Bill, May 2010, www.jasa.za.net/download/pl-2010%20Internet%20Porn%20Bill.pdf

Responses to this post

To James Pinto and all Women Network in the World <br />The good note from Soth African on Vioence Against Women and ICT it’s bring good experiences to me, working on Women and Girls Right , that Cambodia have alot of media open and democray on protion, but no more Fund related to supporting to Women Local NGOwork with EVAW-G ICT more, and rural remote Cambodia and urban lack of literacy to know more if no explain on Afftected and impated of these cases n promotion awreness and the protection.<br />Ihopw Funding Agencis should thing to Cambodia on EVAW and Migration traficcking cross ASEAN Countroes., <br />I’ Hoy Sochivanny Director of Positive Chnage for Camboddia(PCC) is Women Organization and representation of CSOs to present the statement from ACSC/APF 3 days on 28-30 March for ASEAN submIt 2012. and meet Asean LEADERS.on April -3, 2012. My Mail address is sochivannyh@hotmail.com <br />If you waht to see the statemnt , I send you and all African and South ASIa Women Net.
Posted on 05/19/2012 - 03:54 | Reply
good note on domestic violence..love to know that..thanks
Posted on 08/25/2010 - 12:59 | Reply

Add new comment