Using Tech to Empower Women in South Africa (and beyond)

APC website image feminist techOn a trip to South Africa towards the end of the year I was fortunate enough to come across several organisations which are using tech to empower and connect women across South Africa and beyond.




The Association for Progressive Communications is a member organisation which has a large Women’s Rights focus.  They’re involved in a tech-mediated violence against women programme and advocacy work, mainly around internet freedom, freedom of expression, the Right2Know campaign (Secrecy Bill) and women’s rights.

Their FLOW project provides secure online communications for women’s rights activists and defenders with the slogan ‘Violence is not our culture’.  They are looking at how to take activism online, working closely with Tactical Tech and Frontline Defenders.

In the DRC and Congo they are involved in the ATTI funded Afrikatti project which aims to hold governments accountable for gender based violence focusing mainly on legal and health provision.  They are mapping issues and comparing them to government promises for use in advocacy.

The Triangle Project, an LGBT organisation with a focus on black lesbians from poor communities is beginning to explore the ways in which they can utilise bulk SMS to inform their members of relevant events, send out health promotion messages and help mobilise and support their needs.

SWEAT (1)I also met with Ntokozo Yingwana from SWEAT (Sexual Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce) who undertake fantastic work with sex workers.  In terms of tech, they have been involved in the following programmes:

  • Running digital story telling workshops with sex workers
  • SMS campaigns on things like safe sex, HIV and pregnancy
  • Abuse alerts-if a sex worker experiences abuse, they sent a report to SWEAT who alerts other sex workers in the vicinity
  • A free helpline with ‘Please call me texts’

They are currently exploring the potential of producing a map of where abuses among their members are taking place (using Ushahidi) to help with project planning and advocacy.  The map will also show them which areas and police stations to target.  Sex workers would also be able to report abuse, include photos which could be used as evidence later and automated alerts could be sent to sex workers at risk.  SWEAT have found that sex workers are often arrested and then driven around for ages and are sometimes abused (one person was even murdered by police).  SWEAT is often unable to locate victims to get them urgently needed help.  If SMS’s could be geo-located, this would help them locate sex workers and could also help them collect an evidence base when prosecution is necessary.

Womens Net (1)I also met with the inspiring Women’s Net team.  They are a politicised and feminist movement which largely functions through member organisations.  Their current focus is on Girl’s net, a multi-media programme which trains 12-21 year olds on identity, freedom of expression, self-esteem development and other critical issues impacting upon their lives.  They train the young people in blog writing, uploading photos and videos, social media, content creation and digital storytelling.  They have found the girls speaking out on a range of issues including boyfriend issues, safe sex and menstruation.  They are currently developing a Mobisite to connect the girls more effectively.

It’s inspiring to see such a wide range of interventions targeting a diverse set of women and we’ll be following them closely to see how tech can be used to strengthen their offline already well-established offline activities.