The 2006 UN Secretary General report and in-depth study on all
forms of violence against women [1] recognized the new forms of
violence against women that have developed with the advent of the
new information and communication technologies (ICTs). It called on
Member States to acknowledge the evolving nature of violence
against women and respond to new forms as they are recognized.

With increasing access to ICTs, the cases of cyber violence
against women and girls are also increasing. However, the
statistics on this issue are very uneven if not sketchy. The
weakness in data collection may also be linked to the fact that
most of the existing laws and policies on ICTs do not cover cyber
violence against women. According to article "Cyber crime against
women in India" by Debarati Halder [2], India's IT Act 2000 does
not mention any crime specifically against women and children. The
Convention on Cybercrime [3] adopted by the Council of Europe on
November 8, 2001 and was signed by other countries including South
Africa, addresses the issue of child pornography but is silent on
violence against women.

Even as these gaps in policies are being pointed out, gender and
ICT activists as well as women's organizations working on the issue
of violence against women are quick to underscore the need to
ensure a proper balance between the interests of law enforcement
and respect for fundamental human rights. Such rights also include
the right to freedom of expression and the rights concerning the
respect for privacy. However, given the free and boundary-less
nature of ICTs, the lines are often blurred and finding the right
balance between becomes an extremely difficult task.

GenderIT writer Mavic Cabrera-Balleza spoke with two women
activists who are at the forefront of advocacy on violence against
women at the national and international levels. She probed on new
analytical frameworks of violence against women taking into account
cyber violence and the challenges and dilemmas women activists
confront as they struggle to address this relatively new dimension
of gender injustice.

Following is Mavic's conversation with Lesley Ann Foster,
founder and Executive Director of Masimanye Women's Support Network
in South Africa and Charlotte Bunch, founder and Executive Director
of the Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University
in New Jersey, USA.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza (MCB): Please tell us about your work
on violence against women.

Lesley Ann Foster (LAF): "" target="blank">The Masimananye
Women's Support Centre
works on violence against women, HIV and
AIDS and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We work on the
intersectionality of these issues. The sexual and reproductive
health and rights of women and girls are seriously undermined by
gender-based violence. Unsafe abortions, unwanted pregnancy, HIV
infection and other sexually transmitted illnesses threaten the
health and well being of women and girls in many communities.
Studies have shown that one in five women who are victims of sexual
abuse will contract a sexually transmitted infection and many of
these go on to become infected with HIV.

Masimanyane conducts primary prevention programmes through
awareness-raising and we engage in advocacy work on those three
issues. An important part of Masimanyane's work is building the
leadership capacity of women so that they become community
advocates working at the local level to provide support to
survivors and to influence government policies and monitor the
implementation of government programmes. We provide counseling and
paralegal services to women who have been subjected to violence,
those who are living with HIV/AIDS and are in need of reproductive
health services. Masimanye is a Xhosa word which means "let's
support one another."

Charlotte Bunch (CB): "" target="blank">The Center for
Women's Global Leadership's
focus on violence against women
comes out of our earliest days in the beginning of the 1990s when
we were advocating for women's rights as human rights. We felt that
violence against women needed to be understood as a human rights
issue both because of the seriousness of the issue and the fact
that making it understood as a matter of human rights will give
women more access to justice nationally and to the international
machinery of the human rights system. We also wanted the world to
see violence against women as a real crime and a major global
problem. That's the framework in which we've been working on
violence against women—not at the ground level but at the global
advocacy level. In terms of our advocacy, the first leadership
institute that we held on women, violence and human rights in 1991
came up with the idea of the 16 days of activism against gender
violence as a way to link violence and women's human rights. Our
main work now is to continue to coordinate that effort through the
16 days campaign which is in its 18th year. We also continue to
think of new ways to portray human rights perspectives on violence
against women at the international level through the Human Rights
Council (HRC), the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), and
other UN mechanisms that might apply to these issues.

MCB: In recent years, we have seen a new dimension of
violence against women… Women's groups and individuals have
reported cases of e-mail harassment, "flaming" (online verbal
abuse), cyber-stalking, online prostitution and pornogrpahy. How
are your organizations addressing violence against women

CB: We're not experts on this issue, but we have been
concerned about the fact that the very tool we use to make our
issues known can also be used by groups engaged in activities that
violate women's rights. Even as women try to master communications
and media as a way to expose this violence and use the internet as
a tool to expose it, sometimes it gets turned around and used by
people who want to titillate sexuality with violence. The new media
extends the access to women that men have, particularly young women
who may be vulnerable, and creates new forms of abuse that are not
necessarily different in character but require new responses.

LAF: We focus on providing information and education on
cybercrimes to schools and other community institutions and fora.
We warn young people about the dangers that exist in the new
technologies. We also provide support to those who fall victim to
these crimes. We have worked with the police to track down men who
have used the internet and cell phone technology to harass young

MCB: What kind of new analytical framework and approaches to
gender justice advocacy should be considered if we are to
effectively address cyber violence?

LAF: Any form of violence against women is reprehensible.
We need to monitor our governments and ensure that they adhere to
their obligations in respect of women. It is a government
imperative to ensure the safety and security of all its citizens.
The whole geopolitical environment is changing. There are also
technological changes taking place. There is massive
digitalization. These have brought about new forms of violence.
Cybercrimes against women is increasing because more people are
gaining access to the information and communication technologies.
Women and particularly girls are targeted for cybercrime because of
their vulnerability. There is a new level of cultural violence
against women that is becoming more prominent because of

In the women's movement, we started with domestic abuse and then
proceeded to identify other forms of sexual violence. The
boundaries of violence against women are enlarging with new forms
of violence becoming evident in all regions of the world. We have a
growing crisis which affects all women across the globe. Violence
against women has been normalized in many societies in the sense
that there is insufficient outrage at the violence perpetrated
against women. Communities are not responsive enough.

CB: I think the analytical job is to understand that
violence is always about controlling and exploiting women and using
women's bodies; new forms of violence are adaptations of this
theme. For example, you take a phenomenon like acid burning—we
never had acid burning until recently, but we certainly had men
disfiguring women's bodies in different ways as a result of being
angry at or wanting to control women. Once the technology of acid
burning was exposed by the media, other men then used this
technique. Those of us who have been working on the issue of
violence against women fear that media reporting can lead to more
men using that technique. I think that's a good illustration—it's
not that the media created the problem of violence—that's been
going on for centuries. This is the double edged sword of exposure
of violence through the media. We have to keep trying to use the
media for the benefit of women by way of trying to reach women to
warm them about the kinds of violence they might encounter just as
we warn women about trafficking—to understand the difference
between a real job, a real opportunity and an exploitative
situation. Certainly, we can work to expose these things but I'm
not sure if we can control them ultimately anymore than we can
control what happens to women in other spheres. What we can
definitely do is to try to empower women to understand better what
can happen online and create some legal redress for women once it
does happen.

MCB: In terms of policies, how do you think we can address
the issue of cyber violence against women?

CB: This is actually one of the most difficult areas of
women's rights issues because we are always seeking to balance the
rights of any individual to their self expression and the need to
protect people from exploitation. It's what makes the issue of
pornography so difficult, and it makes developing good, effective
policy difficult also. I do believe that we need some amount of
government policy in these areas. When the internet is being used
for abuse and violence, there must be some kind of legal redress.
Where the right to information and the fear of government
interference comes in is not so much when you see that violence has
occurred, but when you try to figure out how are you going to
protect against that. For example, if you learn that women are
being abused through a particular website, I think the government
should be able to investigate what's going on in that website and
should be able to close it down and prosecute people if they're
engaged in violence against women. I'm not sure, however, that I
want the government to have the right to surveillance in general,
without a reason to be suspicious. I think it is very different to
say that "if you hear about violence, the government should
investigate and intervene" from having a law where the government
can do surveillance without any provocation, without having some
reason to think that something illegal is going on. That's where
the line gets crossed and that makes policy difficult. While you do
want to say that governments have the right to intervene and
prosecute violence when it happens online, but it should not become
an open door so that the government can have surveillance over the
internet or all media no matter what. Governments do have to be
in-charge of justice, which means having some power to intervene
when violations have occurred.

The other problem is who gets to decide what's violence. On the
freedom of expression side, I would lean towards that there has to
be some demonstrable violence in order to intervene. I would also
lean toward the definition from the people who are affected. What
this illustrates is that there is no one perfect line. For example,
the US Supreme Court said about pornography, that the standard is
what the community thinks. But there is no one community; there are
many communities and I think the protection of minority viewpoints
is important. If anybody who is engaged in a violent situation,
whether it's somebody having a video made of them or stalking them
from internet contact, and she feels violated, then that needs to
be taken into consideration. I don't think there's a perfect
answer. Where you're dealing entirely in consensual sexual matters,
I would be reluctant to have the government intervene, but if any
party feels it's not consensual, then you have to investigate
whether it's violence.

LAF: Cyber violence is more difficult to police because
people do it in the privacy of their homes. People can use the
internet and email facilities wherever they find themselves and in
this way hide what they do. It can be anonymous and therefore more

MCB: In 2006, the New York State Office of Cyber Security and
Critical Infrastructure partnered with "" target="blank">the Alliance of
Guardian Angels
, a volunteer organization of unarmed citizen
crime patrollers. It was awarded a grant of US$200,000 to promote
online safety in New York communities and in classrooms [4]. In
2002, South Africa adopted the Electronic Communication Transaction
(ECT) Act,25 of 2002 which has a section on cybercrime. What can
you say about such policy initiatives?

LAF: Yes, there are some policies in place in South
Africa. There is also the access to information law — which allows
for monitoring of internet usage and monitoring of cell phone
messaging. As a result, there have been number of pornographic
rings that have been shut down. There was an outcry against it
because of violations of privacy. It became controversial because
it is prying on people's private information.

CB: What's interesting in this (New York State and
Guardian Angels partnership) is that this is another example of
funding that's being made available to men to protect women from
violence. I think the really critical issue here for the women's
movement is how do we ensure that efforts like this are empowering
women—not just protecting women, which after all has been the name
of the game for many centuries. How do we ensure that women have
something to say about how these programs are shaped, and women who
have been victims of such violence are part of that. I think there
is a role for men in challenging violence against women, such as
men teaching women self defense or trainings in schools aimed at
teaching women how to recognize violence on the web and how to
recognize the dangers that may be there and to know what they can
do about it. As long as men are engaged in the old fear and
protection racket, it is fine to be teaching women how they can
maneuver in the world more safely but not teaching them to watch
out and be afraid and therefore not to do things. The key function
of violence against women is control— to make women not do things.
We need to ensure that whatever work is done to teach women about
the danger of violence doesn't reinforce the very purpose of that
violence, which is to make them afraid to do something in the first
place. This is the line we're always struggling with—on the one
hand we want to protect all young women and girls. I experience
this with my nieces and daughters of my friends. I want to ensure
that no evil things happen to them, but I don't want them to be
constrained by protection. I want them to learn to protect
themselves, to fight for themselves. It is absolutely crucial that
there be a feminist analysis about this kind of protection work and
that it be done in an empowering way.

We should empower women so that they don't get victimized or
have to participate in anything that they don't want to do and that
they have the right to report anything that they see or experience
that they think is objectionable. Whether the court rules that it
is objectionable or not, at least there should be a place they can
take their feelings and ideas about it. I think those are the kinds
of policies we need to shape—policies that are empowering women to
deal with violence rather than protecting them from the

MCB: What are your recommendations to women's groups working
on the ground in terms of addressing these issues? How can we work
collectively to address cyber violence?

CB: Working at the policy level must always be informed
by what's going on at the ground, and especially those of us at the
global policy level need to be talking to people working locally.
One of our goals in the 16 days of activism is to hear back from
people what they are finding on the ground. We're very excited when
we heard that some of you have been focusing the 16 days around
media violence. It hasn't been our focus, but we could include in
the 16 days some reflection about this. For example, we could have
a section on the 16 days website about discussions on this issue,
including this article. We could include information about who is
talking about this and try to get that discussion going.

In spaces like the CSW and the HRC, we could initiate discussion
about online violence and what policies we want from governments.
There will be another resolution this fall from the General
Assembly about what governments are doing to follow up on the
Secretary General's 2006 study on violence against women. This
issue could be highlighted with some statement on what governments
need to do to take this further as an emerging issue. We need to
know whether people on the ground think that would be useful.

LAF: Put in place measures to protect women. Work in
communities to bring awareness of the scale and price of violence
in terms of the well being of the young women. We need to examine
the issue of power because violence is about power—the
militarization and the war on terrorism—all of those aspects of
society contribute to a culture of violence. If you look at the
media it is all about violence which is ultimately about power and
domination. Violence against women has to be seen within this

MCB: Is there anything else you'd want to tell our readers on
the issue of cyber violence?

LAF: We need to continue our vigilance and resistance to
all forms of violence against women. We need to share information
on the strategies which work and apply them in all situations where
they are effective. We need to ensure that we have policies in
place which protect women and we need to monitor our governments
and ensure that they fulfill their obligations to women.

CB: All of the dilemmas that we encounter in working on
violence against women also come up in this area. We're always
struggling to balance women's agency and women's victimization.
When you work on violence against women, you know that women are
victims, and at the same time, we don't want to work on it in a way
that reinforces being victims. We want to address it in a way that
empowers women to have more agency to take control of their
situation. You can't do one only of these, but we need to continue
thinking about how to resolve that dilemma. Each step forward
reveals something to be looked at and violence against women online
is certainly an illustration of that.



[1]United Nations. 2006. In-depth study on all forms of violence
against women. Report of the Secretary-General. Retrieved on August
10, 2008 from

[2]Halder, D. Cyber crime against women in India. Retrieved on
August 10, 2008 from

[3]Council of Europe. 2001. Convention on Cybercrime. Retrieved
on August 8, 2008 from

[4]2006. Governor Announces Partnership with Guardian Angels to
Promote Online Safety. Retrieved on August 10, 2008 from

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