Can social media help end violence against women and girls?

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On 27th April, in South Africa, Karabo Mokoena was murdered and her body burnt. The alleged attacker was her partner. Karabo was a part-time business student who dreamt of opening an NGO for children and abused women. Just a couple of weeks earlier, in Argentina, Micaela García was murdered after leaving a nightclub – the main suspect a serial rapist on parole. Micaela had been a campaigner in the Ni Una Menos movement against femicide.

Sadly, the extreme violence is not what makes these cases unusual. In Argentina, a woman is murdered every 30 hours and in South Africa, intimate partner violence, at 56%, is now the leading cause of death of women homicide victims.

What is unusual is in both cases significant numbers of ordinary people went onto twitter to express their anger not only at the perpetrators but at the broader structures and systems that make this abuse “normal”. 

Exposing violence

Following Karabo’s murder, many women shared their own stories of abuse under the hashtag #MenAreTrash.

The hashtag offended some. But many commented it was a phrase to expose how violence is rooted in gender inequality. It enabled women to share the violence experienced at the hands of male partners, acquaintances and strangers.

Put together under one thread, it was overwhelmingly clear that cases of violence against women and girls are not isolated, but part of a broader and connected pattern. This violence is happening because our cultures let it happen. Societies’ silence and inaction over abuse creates an environment where it is normal and acceptable. 

Fighting injustice

In Argentina, after Micaela’s murder, women and men took to the streets and to twitter to demand justice using the #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less) and #JusticiaParaMicaela. The protests were driven in part because the media had reported Micaela’s murderer had been released from prison against recommendations.

A couple of weeks later, in Mexico, a public prosecutor tweeted that Lesvy Berlín Osorio, who was strangled with a telephone cord on a university campus, was to blame for her own murder. He tweeted "She was an alcoholic and a bad student," and "She had left home and was living with her boyfriend." Women took to twitter using #SiMeMatan (which translates to 'If They Kill Me') to challenge “survivor-blame” and to explain how, if they were murdered, their personal lives would be used against them.

Challenging norms

One of the root causes of violence against women and girls are discriminatory social norms. These are shared expectations within a group of how a certain person should behave. For example, a social norm related to violence is that a man believes that his community considers it normal and acceptable for him to physically discipline his wife.  

In challenging discriminatory social norms, current evidence shows that communications campaigns are not effective by themselves, but that they can be effective when combined with other interventions. A key component of social norm change is providing space for debate and deliberation. Social media could be a key forum for providing debate and deliberation at scale. We need more evidence to show whether this could work.

Influence

Social media can also provide a platform for key influencers (celebrities, politicians, sports-people) to publically challenge violence. For instance, in South Africa a number of high-profile individuals endorsed the #MenAreTrash, including high profile men.

We also know that tweets can be important influencing strategies. In Argentina, President Macri reacted to the offline and online protests by suggesting the judge who released the main suspect should be removed from his post. In Mexico, following #SiMeMatan, the prosecutor's office was moved to make public assurances that their investigations were not biased.

Solidarity

Social media can also show cross-border solidarity. While this blog highlights cases from Argentina, Mexico and South Africa, violence against women and girls happens in every country. Social media can be a useful way to expose abuse wherever it happens, and for women and men across the world to come together and say “Enough!”

Doubters may point to the phenomenon of ‘clicktivism’, where the only engagement people have with a campaign is online, and so safely incognito. As noted above, in terms of challenging social norms, social media is unlikely to be effective by itself. In Argentina and Mexico, the twitter hashtag was accompanied by protests/marches.

Join the fight

Social media is one way we can all challenge violence – for instance, to follow our Enough campaign hashtag (#SayEnough) or follow women’s rights organizations and women’s rights defenders and get involved with their respective twitter campaigns.

But also importantly, we all need to get engaged offline too – if it is safe to do so, talk to your friends, family and colleagues about gender inequality and violence, find out if Oxfam is running our Enough campaign in your country (if so get involved!) and join local women’s rights groups and their campaigns.

By acting together, both online and offline, we can end violence against women and girls.

This entry was posted by Bethan Cansfield, Head of Oxfam's ENOUGH Campaign to End Violence Against Women and Girls, on 31 May 2017.

Photo: Tika Darlami's daughter Tulsa, 22, receives a text message on her phone. Tika Darlami (45) is a community leader who sits on the village's school management committee and forest user committee as well as attending community discussion groups to support women facing issues such as domestic violence. This is all the more impressive as Tika lives in Gumi, a rural village in the Surkhet district of Nepal where women's opportunities are limited by social norms that can keep them tied to the household, low levels of literacy, and lack of awareness of their rights. Five years ago Tika herself rarely left her own house, not even to buy food locally. Today, thanks to Oxfam's Raising her Voice project and the extraordinary efforts of the women themselves, she is recognized everywhere in the village. Credit: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam

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