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Connecting women through technology and strengthening responses to violence against rural women

Discrimination Sex Discrimination

Connecting women through technology and strengthening responses to violence against rural women

Networking Rural Women, Parallel Event
Commission on the Status of Women, 56th Session, Boss Room, 8th Floor, Church Centre United Nations, New York

Elizabeth Broderick

Sex Discrimination Commissioner

2 March 2012


Thank you to the National Rural Women’s Coalition for the invitation to participate in and open this exciting and innovative session.

Let me begin by acknowledging official guests, members of the National Rural women's Coalition and the many women and men joining us via the web from Australia, Uganda, New Guinea, New Zealand, Canada and the Pacific and elsewhere in the world.

Wherever I go as Sex Discrimination Commissioner, whether it’s Fitzroy Valley in Western Australia, the UN Headquarters in New York or my offices in Sydney, my iPhone or iPad are never far behind.

While I love the convenience of technology, what excites me most is its potential to expand networks and empower women—the ability to use technology, just like we are doing right now, to bridge the gap created by physical distance.  It is truly amazing the windows that technology can open for communication, networking, education and empowerment.

We only need to look to the warm words of Minister Collins, brought to us care of a pre-recorded video message, or to the many of you who are joining us this morning via computers in your lounge rooms, studies and kitchens to see that.

And, I think, we are still just beginning to realise the true potential of technology for strengthening networks amongst women and improving women’s lives, particularly in rural areas.  Think legal assistance for a survivor of domestic violence living in a remote area, delivered via skype in the privacy and security of a neighbour’s home.  Think computers in every women's shelter across the world connected to a safe space to share.  Think using Facebook as a way of bringing women together and enabling them to tell their stories about how they have overcome the challenges of living in a rural area following a natural disaster.

One of the critical issues affecting rural women I want to talk about today is the issue of domestic and family violence – specifically the challenges victims and survivors face in rural contexts and the role of technology in empowering victims and survivors in rural and remote areas.

Violence against women

Violence against women occurs everywhere in the world. 

It is not limited to particular communities or by national boundaries.  Nor is it limited by culture, context or time. Violence affects young women, women of reproductive age and older women.  It affects women living in urban and rural areas.  It also affects educated women and illiterate women as well as women of all races and abilities.  And it pays little regard to a woman’s social or economic standing.

Violence against women has no boundaries.  And by this I don't just mean in the physical world.  Increasingly we are seeing violence against women in the online world.  To give you an example, one used by Kathleen Maltzahn and NGO Advocate against human trafficking.

A 19-year-old is filmed by her 30-year-old lover while they have sex.  They break up and years later, without her consent, the video hits the Internet.  Suddenly the woman's image is crossing the world, making some people a lot of money in the process.  Is this trafficking? The woman herself has not been transported across any international boundaries - but her image has.[1]

It is estimated that as many as one in three women on the planet has experienced physical violence in their lifetime - that’s one billion women.[2]

These statistics are echoed in Australia, where, we know, one in three women over the age of 15 years has experienced violence.[3]  Over forty per cent of these women experienced violence at the hands of a current or former partner.[4]  And more than one woman is killed every week by her current or former partner, often after a history of domestic violence.[5]

Enough is enough. 

We must stand up against violence against women.  We must demand an end to this insidious practice, the culture of patriarchy that underpins it and the culture of impunity that allows it continue in all regions of the world.

Raising awareness of the barriers rural women face when experiencing domestic or family violence

Now to the specific issues faced by victims of DV in rural areas.

The right to live free from violence is not dependent on where a woman lives and our response should NOT be either. The challenges include:

  • geographical isolation, for instance physical distance from shelters and health services, law enforcement and other services as well as limited communication and technology infrastructure;
  • limited education and employment opportunities for victims and survivors that would assist them in leaving situations of violence;
  • higher levels of socio-economic disadvantage;
  • difficulties in implementing prevention programmes aimed at challenging discriminatory social and cultural norms and gender stereotypes that facilitate and condone violence against women.[6]

So what are the tools that are available to us to help empower rural women and to ensure that responses to domestic and family violence address the realities of rural life effectively?

Technology must be near the top of the list.

We live in a moment where we have the opportunity to shape the development and use of these technologies for the good of ourselves, our communities and our children.

Let me explain with a couple of examples. 

Primary prevention

The first example concerns the use of technology to provide ongoing and widespread training on primary prevention. 

With the introduction in Australia of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children[7], there has been a much-needed shift toward primary prevention. 

Consider the focus of the Plan on transforming young people’s attitudes towards violence and its promotion of respectful relationships. Or its emphasis on increasing education and training on domestic and family violence.

One of the projects implemented under the Plan is a social marketing campaign (‘The Line’[8]) aimed at young people to develop healthy, respectful relationships.  It’s a great example of using technology to interact and engage with young people who could be otherwise isolated for a range of reasons, including their geographic location.

Just last year here at CSW I attended a parallel event that showcased inspiring technological initiatives for addressing violence against women, including: GenderIT.org’s campaign ‘Don’t forward violence!’ [9] - the idea of the campaign is that people make a pledge ‘I will not forward any message, video or photograph of someone being humiliated or violated, or that violates another person’s right to privacy’;  there was also a South American campaign, called ‘Keep your chats exactly that’[10]; and a program from Mexico to prevent online violence against girls. 

In Uganda, women in villages are using mobile phones to send messages and their stories direct to Parliamentarians.[11] And the list goes on.

Technology can help us to develop and implement primary prevention initiatives in rural and remote areas, including in parts of the world that primary prevention may not otherwise reach.  It can help us to challenge the discriminatory social and cultural norms and gender stereotypes that foster and condone gender-based violence against women.

Just think of the possibilities of using today’s format, webinars, to provide ongoing training to law enforcement officers or local health professionals on domestic and family violence.

The second example I want to mention concerns the use of technology to ensure victims and survivors of domestic and family violence have effective access to legal and health services. 

The impact of limited infrastructure and resources on rural populations is well known.  Increases in the cost of living, coupled with reduced resources following the global financial crisis have exacerbated conditions in many rural areas.

Consider the simple example of the exponential increases in the cost of petrol these past ten years.  I think it’s fair to say that there are few people who haven’t been affected by this. 

But consider the impact for a victim or survivor in a rural area.  The otherwise simple task of seeking medical care following a violent incident is made difficult when a survivor can no longer afford the petrol needed to drive the 45 minutes to the nearest medical centre and public transport options are limited or non-existent. 

Technology can allow a woman to speak directly with a doctor without ever needing a single drop of petrol.

Of course, there will be occasions where there is no substitution for meeting a doctor face-to-face.  But this may not always be the case.

To conclude,violence against women limits the capacity of women to participate in public life and undermines their full development and advancement. 

Supporting the empowerment of rural women does not mean simply looking to rural women to shoulder the burden. This is something we need government, community and the private sector to all be working on together.

In the Australian context, for example, we must ensure that
- there is adequate funding to support the implementation of Australia’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children[12] – particularly in rural areas;

  • an independent monitoring and evaluation framework is put in place around the implementation of the National Plan;

    • there are sufficient service including:

      • prevention programs delivered in rural areas;
      • accessible and appropriate counselling services, shelters, refuges, accommodation, health care, legal services and other support services;
      • additional services and supports provided in post-disaster situations; and
      • specific services and support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, culturally and linguistically diverse women and women with disability,

Collectively, we need to think about how we can direct our new frontiers - the Internet, social media, webcasting - to be the forces for good, the forces for change that we know they can be.

Thank you to the National Rural Women's Coalition for setting us on that path.


[1] K Maltzahn, ‘Digital Dangers: Information and Communication Technologies and Trafficking in Women’ (2006), APC ‘Issue Papers’ Series 2006, p1. At http://www.apc.org/en/pubs/issue/gender/all/digital-dangers-information-communication-technolo (viewed 22 March 2012).
[2] High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘High Commissioner speaks out against domestic violence and ‘honour killing’ on occasion of International Women's Day’, 10 March 2010. At http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=9869&LangID=E (viewed 22 March 2012).
[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4906.0 Personal Safety, Australia (Reissue 2005), p19. At http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/4906.02005%20(Reissue)?OpenDocument  (viewed 22 March 2012).
[4]Australian Bureau of Statistics, n3, p30.
[5] J Mouzos and C Rushforth, ‘Family Homicide in Australia’, Australian Institute of Criminology trends & issues in crime and criminal justice, No. 255 (2003), p2. 
[6] T.K. Logan & Robert Walker, ‘Civil Protective Orders Effective Stopping or Reducing Partner Violence: Challenges Remain in Rural Areas with Access and Enforcement’, Carsey Institute Policy Brief No. 18, (2011) p1; L R Pruitt, ‘Toward a Feminist Theory of the Rural’, Utah Law Review, (2007), p443-453; M Alston, ‘Violence against Women in a Rural Context’, , Australian Social Work 50(1), (1997), p 20.
[7] FaHCISA, National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children 2010-202 (2011). At
http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/women/progserv/violence/nationalplan/Pages/default.aspx
(viewed 22 March 2012).
[8] FaHCSIA, ‘The Line’ Website. At http://www.theline.gov.au/  (viewed 22 March 2012).
[9] GenderIT.org, ‘Don’t forward violence Campaign’ Website. At  www.takebackthetech.net  (viewed 22 March 2012).
[10]Women’sNet, ‘Keep Your Chats Exactly That’ Website. At http://www.womensnet.org.za/campaign/keep-your-chats-exactly  (viewed 22 March 2012).
[11] Aramanzan Madanda, Berna Ngolobe and Goretti Zavuga Amuriat, Uganda: Violence against Women and Information Communication Technologies. At http://www.genderit.org/content/uganda-violence-against-women-and-information-communication-technologies (viewed 21 March 2012).
[12] FaHCSIA, n7.