In the course of human history, technology has been a major determinant in shaping our social culture. From communication to travel, and social customs, technology has played a big role in shaping the human experience by helping us break natural barriers.
The war for equality is a multifaceted fight that demands multifaceted solutions. Economic equality, justice, and social education are battlefronts that need different tactics. Technology is a great weapon in combating the scourge of patriarchy on all three fronts.
One of patriarchy’s enablers is socialization. The conditioning of a group of people to think and behave a certain way by their environment. It’s a passive impartation of ideologies without active or formal education. It’s how the majority of us have come to act and believe in the things we do. We observed the way people around us think, how they behave and started doing the same, often without realizing we are adopting their thought pattern. With one of these ideologies being patriarchy, it was quite easy for it to survive many generations.
The task before the feminist thus becomes the re-education of society. To undo decades of patriarchal mindset in a shorter period than it has existed, we need more efficient tools. Technology, as it is today, has provided a few of them.
Have you ever seen a baby or a little child given an injection? The sight of the needle causes the baby to retreat amidst screams of fear. The doctor or the parent, depending on who is less sadistic, creates a distraction for the child. Something to take the child’s mind off the strange metal introduced to its body. In this temporal safe environment, the child becomes oblivious to the needle going in and out of its body.
When Cambridge Analytica was exposed to have used Facebook to target users to influence their electoral choice, its method was based on the notion that users believed they are in a safe environment; receptive to the information fed to them. Unconscious of the fact their thinking was being manipulated.
WhatsApp would be effective in re-education and unlearning of patriarchal mindsets. With a larger reach than Facebook with over 1 billion active users, the impact of a coordinated effort can be global. WhatsApp’s ‘contacts only’ model creates a stronger feeling of safety among users that would make them more receptive to opposing ideas, like a baby in an injection room.
According to this, there are currently over 98 million internet data users in Nigeria, as of December 2017. The cross-platform nature of WhatsApp and its functionality means at least between 80-90 million of these users would have WhatsApp on their phone. In a patriarchal country like Nigeria, WhatsApp presents a chance to influence the thinking of millions of Nigerians and build a critical mass of people who believe in gender equality. After all, if we could get millions of people to bath with salt through a WhatsApp broadcast, we can get them to think of women as equal beings.
Twitter is already being used for this purpose. Instagram, Telegram and other social media platforms are tools feminists should take advantage of in shaping a gender equal society.
The road to oppression and subjugation is paved with economic power. That is, the ability to become an oppressor and/or keep being one depends on being the one with the money. Freedom is dependent on matching the economic might of the oppressor and there is no century when women can quickly gain economic power than the 21st century through the power of technology.
The shift from a physical strength based work to mental tasks as a result of technological advancements levelled the playing field in job opportunities. The internet also enabled the creation of economic opportunities outside white collar jobs like blogging, program development, e-commerce. The latter particularly more beneficial to women in rural areas who lack the education for white collar jobs.
A Twitter user recently posted a thread about women in Benue who struggled to sell baskets of tomatoes for N50.
This is a town in my LGA called 'Lessel'. Today is their market day and guess what? A basket of tomatoes goes for N150. Come evening time, it will go for as low as N50, and some may not even sell at all. I felt so sad cause some of these women might lose and not gain anything. pic.twitter.com/8zAt9KOWTV
— Claire Ashikô (@Funky_AshKoKo) July 14, 2018
In one tweet, she used technology to create awareness about their product and reached thousands of potential customers. Women in areas such as this can benefit from e-commerce tools, like Quickteller and Paylater in transacting business with anyone in the country. They might be limited by their physical environment but with a smartphone in their hands, they become part of a global market. This is already being practised in China, where women in rural communities are creating products sold on Alibaba and other e-commerce platforms to customers around the globe. Such is what technology can do for the feminist revolution.
A study showed that the majority of women who stayed in abusive relationships did so out of economic dependency on their abuser. We are creatures of choice and the quality of our lives is dependent on the quality of our choices. In combating domestic violence and other forms of female subjugation, our work must involve increasing the quality of choices available to women and that includes their economic strength. In the 21st century, technology is a major arsenal for women in achieving this. How quickly we achieve it is down to our efficient use of technology.
An integral part of a gender-equal world is the administration of justice for inhumane acts committed against women. To achieve this, justice has to be within the reach of women. Women who are victims of gender-based crime need to know they can get justice. We must first, however, educate women and men on identifying sexual harassment and assault.
Ignorance breeds normalization. Some women do not consider certain acts of sexual harassment and assault wrong, which in turn feeds the normalization of these heinous acts. The few who do, overwhelmed by the feeling of helplessness, have accepted it as part of their lives. In educating men and women about these crimes, tools like WhatsApp and other social media platforms come into play. Outside the economic cost of educating women and men through seminars and summits, the audience is limited.
By taking advantage of smartphones, network prompts and social platforms, it’s a lot more difficult to restrict women from learning about sexual assault and a lot harder for men to claim ignorance.
After education, comes the support in getting justice. When gender-based crimes are committed, often without repercussions, it is easy for them to become the norm and, often times, repercussions do not happen because the victim is either afraid of exposing her abuser or she lacks the means, financially or procedurally to do so.
This is where the use of technology can help in bridging this gap. From volunteer social workers and legal teams, technology can bring these teams together with victims. In Nigeria, Twitter is serving this purpose but there is still a dearth of options for women and young girls who are not part of the technological elite that is the Nigerian Twittersphere.
When news broke about a community in Cross-River who sold girls to their creditors, it was a shock to the urban elite. We got reminded of the fact that whatever progress we were making in the cities – it didn’t reach rural areas. We needed to do more.
There are a few organizations who have created platforms that are accessible by anyone anywhere to report gender-based crimes. ProjectAlert is doing good work in helping women navigate cases of domestic violence. Yet, there is still plenty we can do in reducing the gap between women and justice.
Phone applications with anonymous messaging and location detection, Telegram channels, WhatsApp groups, these are technological options feminism can take advantage of in getting justice for crimes against women. Network shortcodes are also a great tool in providing access to justice for women. The girls in Obanliku might not know how to send a tweet but they know how to send their name and location to 33434.
Feminism is up against a patriarchal system that doesn’t intend to go down without a fight. Those in a position of power do not relinquish their power because you say please. They do so by getting outmatched and outgunned.
To outmatch patriarchy, we must accomplish a lot – build economic power, build an army of feminists through education and create an enlightened multitude of women who understand their human rights and are willing to fight for it.
Simply put, we have lots of roads to travel in reaching a gender-equal society and technology can help us get there much faster.