The 10 March event, entitled ‘Harnessing information and digital technology to fight gender-based violence’, brought together Lutheran leaders from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, who are on the frontlines of the struggle for gender equality and women’s empowerment in their local churches and national or regional contexts.
LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Anne Burghardt opened the discussion by recalling that “at least one out of every three women worldwide will experience gender-based violence at least once in [her] lifetime,” making it “one of the greatest violations of women and girl’s human rights.” That’s why protection against these new forms of online violence and harassment “must be at the core of agreements coming out of this year’s CSW” which is dedicated to innovation, technological change and education.
Protection against online violence and harassment “must be at the core of agreements coming out of this year’s CSW.”
– LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Anne Burghardt
Digital innovation, the LWF leader continued, must be especially mindful of the “dire” situation of many women and girls in the global south, who have severely limited access to technology, as the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare. “When education shifted to online platforms,” Burghardt observed, “millions of girls were left behind.” At the same time, she insisted, technological progress must be mindful of the climate crisis and “learn from indigenous knowledge” to become more sustainable and “end the reckless extraction of natural resources.”
Panelist Miriam Alum, a social protection advisor for LWF Uganda, shared examples of her work with refugee women and children from South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While her country has received global recognition for its reception of refugees, she said many women and girls “have been left behind” and fail to complete secondary school education. Costs of schooling, poor internet connectivity and high rates of teenage pregnancy all contribute to dropout for girls.
On the positive side, she noted how technology has facilitated more efficient cash transfers via mobile phones, free helplines for survivors of violence and a geographic information system, set up by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This has enabled the mapping of vulnerable women’s locations and the provision of timely services, such as ambulances to take pregnant women to hospital or professional support for those facing domestic violence and abuse.
Tackling stereotypes and patriarchal norms
Similar challenges and opportunities were described by Ameera Khamees, director of LWF Jordan, who also works with Palestinian, Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Statistics show that 89 percent of households own at least one mobile phone and the internet reach in her county is around 90 percent. Numbers of female graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are significantly higher than men, yet she pointed to a “striking gap for women between education and employment.”
The lack of employment opportunities for women in what are traditionally seen as “men’s jobs” is "always about stereotypes and patriarchal norms,” Khamees said. To counter these attitudes, LWF has piloted an ‘innovation lab’ for teenagers, encouraging both girls and boys to find digital solutions to problems that people in their communities are facing, such as software to support those with disabilities. Older women are also supported with business skills training, while younger children are offered workshops where they (and their parents) can learn about the responsible use of internet and social media.