Violence Against Women [VAW] Online: How do we want the Internet to change for us?


On December 3 2015, women living in South Africa came together to talk about their experiences of violence online. The day was conceptualized as part of confronting and unpacking 16 Days of Activism against Violence Against Women, which is commemorated annually between 25 November ad 10 December. The space was hosted by the Coalition of African Lesbians [CAL] and the Association for Progressive Communications [APC].

The day was spent looking at how violence against women manifests online for women living in South Africa, and how women respond to this violence. Some conclusions that came up were that many women are trolled and bullied out of online spaces, and there’s an assumption that violence experienced online can be deleted or shut down. After some discussion, the group gathered agreed that online spaces replicate offline space, including the violence experienced by women in both spaces.

There were also conversations looking into the legal context in South Africa, with regard to protection that women can claim while seeking recourse for violence experienced online. South Africa has a cyber crimes bill, but this bill doesn’t single out violence experienced by women out, nor does it have specific provisions for this. Jan Moolman from APC did however point out that people experiencing violence online can get restraining orders from the police that require the offending parties to keep their distance from the person reporting the abuse. But this doesn’t translate easily for people, if there isn’t sufficient awareness of this step towards recourse, or if the law enforcement aren’t aware of the reverberating effects that online violence has.

The meeting came up with suggestions for how we can strengthen and build conversations on violence against women online:

  • Develop a strategy that speaks to the challenges that are being experienced by women experiencing violence online
  • Education and deconstruction of conversations around violence online and how to get women involved in the discourse
  • Understand the ‘monster’ that violence against women online is
  • Start drafting and pushing for policies to be drafted that address bullying and violence online
  • Talk about the content that the education around protection of women and children online should look like
  • Be clear about what we are saying and what we are pushing for in the space
  • Have concise and clear descriptions around what our lobbying and advocacy work is
  • Multi-pronged approaches to address the violations and abuses experienced by women and children online
  • Citizen education and activism around the law
  • We need to be developing technology that works for women
  • We need better peer communication
  • We need to recognise the power that we have as women in technology to influence the change that we wish to happen
  • We need to create spaces for such conversations to build awareness
  • Build a community of responses
  • Challenge injustices and question structures within and around the internet directly: write letters
  • Men need to interrogate the privilege that they garner from patriarchy and not create competition for women when trying to access resources that are needed for spaces and initiatives that wold shift the discourse around violence against women
  • We need to flood the internet with feminist content
  • We need to make feminist porn.
  • Feminist beehive [support for women who are being trolled and abused online]
  • Radical feminist support online-consistent, and not only during attacks

It was a amazing space providing an alternative conversation about violence against women, looking at online spaces, but also coming up with suggestions on how women in South Africa can tackle this issue.

Big thanks to the Association for Progressive Communications, HOLAAfrica and Underground Citizens for making this space possible.

And…on this day, #EndCyberVAW was a trending topic in South Africa!


-Sheena Gimase Magenya

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