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Mobile Phone Use in Zambia May Be Enabling Violence Against Women

BY Julia Wetherell | Friday, January 4 2013

The exponential growth of mobile tech in Africa is widely considered to have empowered people, with access to information and services that would have been far harder to come by in decades past. Yet a study in Zambia has revealed that, in a country where men often have the upper hand in society, mobile phone use may actually reinforce patterns of violence against women.

Through interviews, written questionnaires, and focus groups, both in the capital region of Lusaka and more rural areas in the southern and eastern provinces of the country, researchers examined the mobile habits of Zambian men and women. While mobile phone use is extremely widespread among women, economic disparity along gender lines often means that men are in control when it comes to purchasing devices and data plans. Social and psychological factors also come into play: where mobile tech gives women greater freedom to communicate, men may resort to violence to undermine that freedom.

[For] some women, possession of a mobile phone meant being answerable to their spouses, it meant being at the mercy of their husbands who decided whether they could continue to have a mobile phone or not, it meant physical and verbal abuse and mobile phone inspections to see who had called their numbers, why and what relation there was between the caller and the spouse.

As mobile use continues to grow in Zambia, this research illuminates an underside to the social implications of rapidly evolving IT. Technology can empower, but awareness and policy changes may be necessary to grant women full freedom of communication.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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