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Women Fight for Rights with Cell Phones
Mobile technology offers a convenient way to access help from the outside world
Masimba Biriwasha (simplebiri)     Print Article 
Published 2007-01-12 01:00 (KST)   
Women testing mobile phones
©2007 Anil Naidoo
According to the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union, the number of mobile phone lines in Africa rose from 15.6 to 135 million between 2000 and 2005. A decade after mobile technology took off in Africa, the technology is infiltrating the continent at a rate that will bring greater development initiatives.

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The unprecedented prevalence of mobile phones on the continent has resulted in several innovative uses of mobile technology that analysts predict will help propel a quantum leap in the social and economic development of the continent.

For the first time, even poor rural people have access to simple mobile technologies that can enable them to fight for their own rights in a significant manner.

In South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, a project is helping rural women use mobile phones to report on violations of their human rights as well as to assert other constitutional rights.

The UmNyango Project, which is implementing this initiative, was established by Fahamu, a pan-African organization based in Cape Town, Nairobi, Dakar and Oxford. UmNyango literally means doorway.

In the case of the UmNyaNgo Project, simple, low cost technology represents gateway opportunities for the rural poor, especially marginalized women and children.

"Our project targets mainly rural women and children. We see them as two of the most vulnerable groups in South Africa," said Anil Naidoo, the project team leader and managing director of Indiba-Africa Development Alliance. "Men will have a significant role to play -- you can't deal with issues of domestic violence without involving men."

Mr Anil Naidoo, Project Team Leader
©2007 Anil Naidoo

The UmNyango Project will use SMS technology for rural women and men to access information and report on incidences of violence against women and children, as well as violations of women's right to land.

Through simple text messaging, women will be able to report any violation of their constitutional rights.

The project will also enable women to produce their own radio programs. The programs will be made available to local community radio stations, and distributed over the internet as "podcasts."

"This is the first time in KwaZulu Natal that we know of, where SMS technology has been used to directly empower women in this way. What makes the project unique is that women will be able to assert their constitutional rights using accessible and sustainable technology," said Anil Naidoo.

The women will be trained in on how to send and receive SMS information and other technical aspects of how to utilize mobile phones for the purposes of this project The language medium will be in the local indigenous language, IsiZulu.

"We have successfully tested the use of SMS technology for rural women farmers in KwaZulu Natal to access agricultural extension information. There is every indication that this technology will also work for rural women reporting on human rights abuse, including domestic violence," said Anil Naidoo, Project Team Leader.

Fahamu, the organization behind this initiative, has already won international awards for its ground-breaking use of new media to support the pan African campaign on the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa.

"We are using this technology to enhance what mechanisms already exist. The technology cannot replace importance of face to face communication," said Naidoo. "Accordingly, the SMS platform will complement the network of rural legal advice centers that form part of the UmNyango Project. Very importantly though, the SMS platform allows women to anonymously report on gender-based violence without fear of reprisal. We hope that women will be able to assert their constitutional rights through this project."

Violence forces women into silence. And silence is the breeding ground of domestic violence, if unbroken; it can have fatal consequences, especially for the affected women. The mobile technology offers a convenient outlet for women to access help from the outside world.

Traditional leaders in the areas where the project is operating have offered their full support.

"It's a bridge for women to protect themselves," said Naidoo. "And the traditional leaders fully understand the need to enhance our 12-year old democracy."

Clickatell, a company that provides global mobile messaging services, has donated free SMS credits so that relevant information on human rights may be transmitted to rural women and men.

Patrick Lawson, managing director of Clickatell SA, said: "We are proud to be able to contribute to the promotion of women's human rights."
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Masimba Biriwasha

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