Uniting Physically Abused Bolivian Women Anonymously
Dec 09 2008, Bolivia [BO]
The Ondas Libres (Free Waves) project in Bolivia unites female victims of domestic violence in an online network. Being anonymous in this network, they feel secure about opening up and discussing their problems with other victims through computer programmes such as Skype and via email.
Machismo and shyness
The problems of domestic violence are normally silenced by the prevailing ‘machismo’, a form of sexism or male chauvinism. Problems are also silenced by the passivity of the women who find themselves unable to react and break free from the cycle of violence. In general, these women tend to be isolated and do not participate in any functional organisation in the area. This is mostly because their working day is twice or three times as long as a normal one, which leaves them little time for other activities.
Another problem is that these women are normally shy and inhibited due to the violent environment created at home by their husbands. As a consequence of this, their participation is always individual. Moreover, existing institutions assigned to address problems of domestic violence often fail and do not reach the target group.
In addition, due to the long distances, it is also very hard to unite women. The abused women often live far away from other women with the same problems and getting in touch with them is very hard.
New ways of capacity development
Because of all the problems, conventional methods of capacity development to fight domestic violence against women have proven to be insufficient. The situation calls for new innovative solutions to address the problems in Bolivia.
Casa de la Mujer, a womens' movement in Bolivia with political influence that lobbies for womens' rights and the right for women to live without violence, is the owner of the Ondas Libres programme. With innovative technologies they introduce new ways of developing the capacity of the target group. It makes it possible to address problems where conventional methods fail. Moreover, the use of new communication technologies such as internet and email saves time, bridges physical distances and allows the women to participate anonymously. The programme, therefore, shows how innovative ICTs can be used to help empower female victims of domestic violence.
The idea of the programme is to promote the unification of women victims of domestic violence by providing them with access to a virtual platform. In addition, an online consulting service will also be made available to women at risk from all socio-economic and educational classes and who need to get legal support.
Targetting 360 women
Ondas Libres’ general objective is to build the capacity of female victims of domestic and familial violence in Bolivia through the use of innovative ICT methods. This empowers women to participate proactively in the fight against domestic violence.
Specific objectives are:
- Exchange experiences – The women are able to exchange experiences through an online platform on domestic violence.
- Break barriers – The women feel more inclined to talk about their experiences online with peers.
- Consult – The women are able to use the online legal consulting service on domestic violence.
- Make ICT available - ICT applications are made readily available and easily accessible to female victims of domestic violence.
The programme targets 360 victims of domestic violence in three of the poorest districts in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Pampa de la Isla, Villa Primero de Mayo and Plan Tres Mil.
Results so far
Since the start of the project in 2001, the 360 women have been trained in several computer techniques. First they learned how to log on and off, use the mouse, CDs, diskettes and USB. They learned how to store files, manage folders, and much more. Then the women were taught how to use the internet, messenger (an online chat programme) and email. After mastering these skills, they were also taught how to use weblogs (interactive online diaries) and calling programmes for the computer such as Skype. Through email and a webpage the women now have access to legal counselling services and psychological guidance as well as the online consulting service.
In 2008, the project upgraded and improved the legal services it provided on the website. It also disseminated stories through the Radio Alternativa radio station which reached 150,000 listeners every day. In addition, three public discussion events were held and ten victims’ stories were presented, both on the radio and the weblogs.
It was easier than expected to find a small number of victims who were prepared to share their experiences via the radio and the weblogs. It has proved harder, however, to find a larger group of women from low-income urban districts to participate on a regular basis when sessions are organised in public (tele)centres. Therefore, the project envisions setting up telecentres in the districts and having them run by women’s organisations.
In general, the women who participate in the program have indicated that using online tools such as the online legal services and weblogs is useful, but complicated. Although they were able to learn about online tools, it requires many more training courses for participants during regular basic ICT training sessions.