Implicating mobile phones in violence against women: What’s gender got to do with it?

This paper gives an analysis of women and men’s differential access and use of the mobile phone and how through it gender stereotypes are reinforced. During a four year study in Zambia, it emerged that although there were clear advantages that have come as a result of mobile phones some negative social impacts which reinforce gender stereotypes and power relations and subsequently result in violence against women have remained largely un-documented. The paper therefore makes the case that despite the clear advantage of the mobile phone; it is also providing a new focal point for social conflict and violence in relationships.

Research methodology

This research adopted a mixed method approach. The approach saw the employment of questionnaires, face-to-face semi-structured interviews, a focus group discussion and documentary analysis. These research methods were used and applied at three site locations, namely Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, Southern Province, namely the town of Kalomo and Eastern Province in the town of Katete. The decision to adopt a mixed method approach was taken because it allows for complementarity of techniques where one or the other might be insufficient. Together, these approaches provided a more robust understanding of the topic than either one could have done on its own.


This paper has shown that in some instances mobile phones can and do threaten gender relations through the violence directed by men to women. They also have the potential to shift and reinforce power relations between men and women; where women can begin to be empowered by the mobile phones, men try and usurp that empowerment. This is usually to maintain the status quo of control and normally the only way to do this is for men to resort to both physical and verbal abuse. The social strife and violence is as such seen to stem from perceived loss of power by men. As a consequence, in order to hold on to that power which they have traditionally enjoyed, men resort to control in an abusive and violent way. This is seen when men demand that their wives answer the calls they receive in their presence but do the opposite when they themselves receive calls on their mobile phones. What it also tells women is that despite technologies like mobile phones, they have to remember who is in control and who it is that has the power to make decisions. In most situations this type of control seemed to work because women accepted such demands on their
person if only to keep the peace. Women were also fearful of divorce because with divorce came the fear of humiliation and ridicule by society including a loss of financial security that came with being married.

The point of this paper was largely twofold, to shed light on the social and economic impact of the mobile phone in as far as gender is concerned as well as to shed light on an aspect that has received little to no attention in the advent of mobile phone research. It was intended to show that with the advantages that have come as a result of mobile phone use, which granted are many, also come disadvantages. For instance, the shifting differential gender power relations as a result of mobile phones threaten to reinforce gender inequalities rather than narrow them. And it is these disadvantages that need further understanding and highlighting for new technologies like the mobile phone to become much more effective, tangible and useful by and to both men and women whenever they have the ability and choose to use it. As the Zambian ICT policy suggests, there can be no development without women’s equal participation in ICTs. But the question is, how can there be equal participation if women are threatened, beaten, intimidated and controlled in how, when and where they use their mobile phones. Development in relation to ICTs which include mobile phones means equal rights and it means equal opportunities in the potentials resulting rather than violence when men fear that they may lose the power they have traditionally enjoyed.

If women’s development and empowerment is to be a reality for many Zambian women as a result of new technologies like the mobile phone, it is imperative that instances like gender violence and conflict be a thing of the past. This is because any conflict that is based on the powerful and the powerless has the potential to threaten the freedom to have adequate access and use to technologies and as a result women’s relationship to new technology will remain undeveloped and their economic, social and cultural standing remain unchanged. Whether these findings are generalisable to other parts of Africa or further afield is not
clear as this phenomenon is just beginning to be researched in as far as mobile phones and violence are concerned. As such this will remain food for thought for future research.

Table of contents

Implicating mobile phones in violence against women: What’s gender got to do with it?

1. Introduction

2. Research Methodology
2.1 Questionnaires
2.2 Focus group discussion
2.3 Interviews

3. Demographic Data

4. The Mobile Phone: More than an instrument of social and economic development

5. Findings
5.1 Mobile phone access and use
5.2 Financial Economic Power

6. Getting in deeper with interview revelations
6.1 Impact of financial inequality
6.2 Gender conflict – Spousal social strife

7. Discussion

8. Conclusion

9. Limitations in the study

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