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Peter Kuthan / AZFA
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« on: November 26 2010 »

By Rosebell Kagumire

KAMPALA, Nov 25 (IPS) – The rapid growth of the ICT market in Uganda
has been greeted with optimism over its potential to boost the
country’s development. But less attention is being paid to the
increase in gender based violence due to the use of information and
communications technology.

Uganda has one of the fastest-growing ICT markets in the East Africa
region, with mobile phone use in particular expanding quickly. Mobile
phone penetration stood at 32.8 percent with 10.7 million subscribers
in 2009. According to a recent report by Pyramid Research, the numbers
should double to 20.9 million in 2015. The increase in mobile
subscription is expected to also increase internet access. Presently
just 1 in 10 Ugandans has access to the internet.

But the rapid adoption of mobiles has also seen a rise in invasion of
privacy through SMS stalking, monitoring and control of partners’

Anecdotal reports are backed by a new study, which found that the
majority of ICT users have had conflicts within their families.

The study, by Aramanzan Madanda from Makerere University’s Department
of Gender and Women Studies, found that about 46 percent of people had
problems with spouses in relation to use of mobile phones and 16
percent reported having conflicts over use of computers.

These conflicts arose over issues of freedom and control. According to
the research, conducted in two districts of Iganga and Mayuge from
2007-2010, the majority of victims of violence are women.

“Women reported physical violence while most men report psychological
violence,” said Madanda, who also sits on the Uganda women’s caucus on
ICT, hosted by Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET).

The research shows that communities are having difficulties coming to
terms with the power of technology to bring about freedom for women.

“Traditionally, in Busoga (one of the study sites), a woman must seek
her spouse’s consent to go anywhere, whether to visit a relative or go
to the market,” Madanda explained. “But now women can be directly in
touch with relatives and other people without their husband’s consent
and since men have lost that power to control the women some turn to

Women often have to tell men who they are calling and who called them.

“And because of low literacy levels among 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.

The intrusion of women’s privacy using ICTs has also been exacerbated
by women’s economic dependence on men.

The research found that the majority of people who have mobile phones
are men. Eighty-eight percent of original buyers were men, while only
44 percent of the women had bought their phones. This means about 56
percent of women who own phones got them from someone else, usually
from the husband or partner.

“The freedom lies in the purchasing power,” says Madanda.

Madanda’s study forms part of a growing awareness and acknowledgement
of the darker side of the ICT boom in Uganda. In April, Uganda enacted
the Domestic Violence Act, which for the first time acknowledges the
link between the use of ICTs and domestic violence.

Under the law, repeated sending of abusive messages and calls to
another person is regarded as an offense that can fetch a two-year
jail term.

But of concern are Ugandan cyber laws, which pay limited attention to
gender in general and none at all to gender-based violence.

“Only the Electronic Signatures Bill has one direct reference to
females in section 86 (4), which is in respect to a search warrant for
suspected offenders,” says a report by Goretti Zavuga Amuriat of

The report says Uganda’s cyber laws are pre-occupied with
e-government, e-commerce and data protection and the bills remain
quite oblivious to the social and gender context.

“Most actors in the ICT industries are preoccupied with expansion and
profit without much emphasis on the ramifications on gender based
violence resulting from adoption,” said Madanda.

WOUGNET has trained women and rights advocates on how to use ICTs and
also how to minimize the negative effects.

Through a programme aimed at strengthening women’s strategic use of
ICTs to combat violence against women and girls, activists, service
providers and women rights advocates have been given practical skills
to ensure privacy.

“There have been successes. The women we trained now use mobile phones
to report cases on domestic violence and other violence against women,
although the ICTs available to most women in the fight against VAW are
still very limited,” said Maureen Agena, a New Media trainer with

Through campaigns like Take Back the Tech, the organisation has been
successful in raising awareness of violence against women in Uganda
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

So ICTs can create jobs, reduce isolation of women but they still have
a limitation as a tool for women’s empowerment. We still have
attitudes towards women’s freedom. The poorest of the poor are women
and they haven’t been reached with ICT in Uganda,” says Madanda.

[Copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) 2010. Stories reproduced in print
or web must acknowledge IPS and the author, and may not be sold to
other organizations]

* Inter Press Service is providing special coverage of the 16 Days of
Activism Against Gender Violence which is commemorated during Nov 25
and  Dec 10, to reinforce the call to eliminate all forms of violence
against women. Visit the IPS Gender Wire for updates,

Related content:

RIGHTS: Getting Harassment on the Map,

RIGHTS-PAKISTAN: For Women, Cyber Crimes Are All Too Real,

LATIN AMERICA: Violence Against Women Linked to HIV Risk,

Teaching Virtual Resistance to Violence,

MEXICO: Sexist Violence Invisible in War on Drugs,

UGANDA: Sexual Crimes Go Unpunished,

No Rest for the Weary – Women Declare War on Gender Violence,

source: Inter Press Service (IPS) Africa

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