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Hands-on: FTX participants learn how to protect themselves using cyber tools. Photographs by Kara Santos

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Hands-on: FTX participants learn how to protect themselves using cyber tools. Photographs by Kara Santos


Women Wisen Up in a Wired World

By Kara Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 15:24:00 11/13/2010

Filed Under: Women, Internet, Computing & Information Technology, Telecommunications Equipment, Social networking

?MY friend was standing in a crowded public train during rush hour one day, when she noticed a man surreptitiously taking a photo of her cleavage with his mobile phone,? shares Anamaine Asinas, a researcher at Women and Gender Institute (WAGI).

?She was shocked, but she had the presence of mind to take out her own phone to take a photo of the man?s face to warn her friends. She even sent the photo to the public train authorities,? Asinas adds.

The incident, common enough in the Metro, illustrates how digital technology has been perverted as a tool for sexual harassment and violence against women, and how women are fighting back. Though modern technology may have made women?s lives easier, it has also led to a range of cases involving electronic violence against women or ?eVAW.?

Cyber and mobile harassment, cyber stalking, involuntary cyber prostitution, online child pornography and unauthorized recording, reproduction and distribution of images and videos, are among the forms of eVAW, according to a recent forum on Violence Against Women (VAW) and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) organized by the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA).

The forum observed how some male students are using their mobile phones to capture risqu photos of women wearing mini-skirts and later sharing these voyeuristic shots with their peers.

Walk around a busy sidewalk in Manila and you?d likely come across pirated DVDs of sex scandals involving celebrities and university students. There have been cases of such revealing videos being leaked and made public by repair technicians who open mobile phones being serviced in their shops.

At the height of a sex scandal involving a popular starlet and a cosmetic surgeon, the video of their bedroom antics became one of the most downloaded online, with shared links and video files saved on mobile phones being casually passed around.

FMA says cases like these have evolved in part due to modern innovations like mobile phones equipped with still and video cameras, as well as the popularity of social networking sites.

An estimated 60 million of the country?s 90 million population own mobile phones, according to the 2008 National Telecommunications Commission, making the spread of SMS, images and videos via phones inevitable.

The Philippines also leads the world in terms of social networking engagement, with 83 percent of the population, mostly aged 18-24, creating social networking profiles. This, according to a 2008 study by global media agency Universal McCann, which also reveals that Filipinos are among the top photo uploaders and web video viewers in the world.

But groups like FMA believe that if technology is part of the problem, it can also be made part of the solution.

The group?s ?Feminist Technology Exchange? (FTX), held in September at the University of the Philippines Center for Women Studies (CWS), aims to teach women how to protect themselves online and how to use ICTs strategically in their work.

?It?s the nature of the Internet that users open up their identity, which then becomes fertile ground for possible exploitation and violence against women,? contends Cheekay Cinco, FTX trainer. Cinco says it?s important to empower women, especially those who have limited exposure to technology, to take control of it.

One of the issues highlighted in the session was the security and privacy risks inherent in social networking, as perpetrators have used these sites to track the movement of, and harvest information about, women.

Lorna Mandin, officer-in-charge of the Integrated Gender Development Division of the City Mayor?s Office in Davao, the largest capital city located in Mindanao, agrees that women need to know more about technology.

?There are very few people working on gender issues in the regions who have a good understanding of how ICTs work,? Mandin says. ?Meanwhile, ICT experts have no knowledge of gender concerns.?

Mandin handles cases of discrimination and violence against women and children in the city, and knows first-hand how modern technology is sometimes being used against women. ?You have no control over the Internet, and the technology itself can be abused,? she says, adding how experts can manipulate images of women and circulate these online.

Fellow participant Tess Fernandez, who heads the non-government organization Lihok Pilipina, sees the value of understanding the threats posed by modern times. ?We need to know how to use computer technology since child pornography is now being done online and there are websites being used to lure women into trafficking and prostitution,? she says.

Fernandez?s group provides support services for women, including microfinance and crisis intervention in the Visayas. The group also deals with cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Despite its risks, she acknowledges that the Internet can be very useful for women?s groups. ?It?s less expensive for us to communicate online in terms of advocacy, campaigns and networking, and in dealing with cases coming from far-flung regions,? Fernandez explains.

Indeed, the FMA points out that a lot of women?s NGOs that previously could not afford to have professional websites designed and maintained, can now do so with the help of free online tools and web blogs like Multiply, Blogspot and WordPress. Communications between women?s groups are also made easier with the help of instant messaging and internet call programs like Yahoo Messenger and Skype.

Facebook, which has over 16 million users in the Philippines according to latest site statistics, has become a popular tool for advocacy, with women?s groups setting up accounts to reach out to the tech-savvy youth. The Philippines ranks 8th in the world in terms of number of Facebook users.

Meanwhile, Mandin plans to bring what she learned in the FTX to the policy level by incorporating ICT in the city?s Women and Development Code, which focuses on gender-sensitive projects and activities.

The FTX, which is being implemented in 12 countries globally by the Association of Progressive Communications Women?s Networking Support Program (APC WNSP), has proven successful in other countries.

Following the FTX in their country, AIDS Rights Congo created blogs to document the stigma and discrimination of people infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS. Other groups are using popular social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to spread information on how to keep women and girls safe online. The global campaign is supported by the Dutch government?s MDG3 Fund, which aims to promote gender equality and empower women.

As FMA?s Cinco puts it, ?It?s not just about installing the software on your computer to keep you safe. We want to change the behavior of women using the Net and empower them to use technology to make a difference.? Women?s Feature Service

Copyright 2015 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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