Harare — Twitter and Facebook are popular social media platforms, with Facebook being the more popular of the two. As popular as they are, social media platforms can be tools for change or can give more opportunities for the vulnerable to be further victimised, exploited or harassed.
Tinopona Katsande, a performer and disc jockey based in Zimbabwe used Twitter to name and shame her boyfriend, Brian Munjodzi, who bashed her for asking him to do the dishes. She went on to post photos of her bruised face and vowed that she wanted to speak out about abuse and educate other abused women to emulate her brave stance. The case is before the courts and whatever verdict the magistrate comes up with, Munjodzi's reputation will never be the same.
Katsande's twitter posts sent social and online media sites abuzz in Zimbabwe and the diaspora. Katsande has 1371 followers on Twitter. Three images were posted on the NewsDay, a daily independent newspaper, facebook page, two of Katsande's swollen face and one of Munjodzi, the perpetrator. The first picture of Katsande attracted 630 comments, 272 likes and 79 shares. The second picture of Katsande had 664 comments, 117 likes and 63 shares. Munjodzi's picture received 325 comments, 35 shares and 53 likes.
Katsande's outcry on twitter ironically became a site for contesting discourses of patriarchy and gender equality which continue to play out in a country which appears less than ready to promote an equitable society. Zimbabwe is a polarised and conservative nation and the majority of citizens who said their views about Katsande's ordeal blamed the "victim" for the abuse rather than empathising with her.
One male commented, "Calm down about these equal rights. We are in Africa, you Zimbabwean. Do not adopt the European ways of living. You are not the first one to be disciplined. You have learnt from your mistakes..."
GBV is still rampant in Zimbabwe and preliminary findings from a research carried out by Gender Links in 2012 show that 69% of women in the country have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Thirty three percent women said that they have been physically abuse by their intimate partner in their lifetime. Despite these daring statistics, the attitudes of Zimbabweans towards GBV leave a lot to be desired.
From the comments made on Katsande's case society can disclaim a utopian concept that the Internet is an unproblematic environment. For some, the Internet has provided a platform for abusers to exploit and harass women.
The fact that the Internet is uncontrolled means that readers can post comments some of which do not challenge the status quo.
Throughout the discussions women and men on the platform insinuate that Katsande may have done something more than asking her boyfriend to do the dishes to be beaten. However, even if there is a story behind, it cannot be justification for Katsande to be beaten. Comments on Munjodzi's picture praised him for beating Katsande because she is "loud mouthed" and must be disciplined.
Women who commented on the issue didn't sympathise with her. One woman said, "You [Katsande] should keep quiet about some of these things. How many women are being beaten in their homes but do not take to Facebook? If I were your man I would leave you because you are just telling everyone your business." These comments demonstrate that women have normalised gender violence, are convinced that it is the way things are supposed to be and it cannot be changed. Further, GBV is still relegated to the realms of the household and perceived as a sensitive issue that women should not speak to anyone about.
There is also a misunderstanding about what gender equality means. Suggestions by the public are that gender equality is a foreign agenda that has come to erode African ideals, in particular patriarchal values. A male reader commented that, "if this is what your aunts taught you, to make a man do the dishes, you shall forever be battered. Leave this equal rights business. If they preach equal rights, they should also give you the balls."
However, human rights and indeed women's rights are universal and should be enjoyed by all women no matter which context women find themselves in.
In this case, government and civil society need to restrategise their efforts on educating citizens about gender equality. What has surfaced from this case is that people are still ignorant about gender issues.
It is high time women realise that there is nothing right about being abused and perpetrators should be brought to book. The power is in speaking out and setting an example for other women not to suffer in silence.
Social media can facilitate the speaking out process for women who have been abused. It is a participatory public sphere where discussions are more inclusive and interactive. Citizens share ideas and these technologies provide information and extend the role of the public in the social arena. Social media is therefore a powerful tool that must also be used to get citizens to openly debate pertinent issues. Activists should engage in these discussions and use them to educate citizens about gender equality and most of all about GBV, which has become a cancer in our society.
Katsande is a brave and courageous woman who chose to speak out, and educate "elite" women who have the means and access to social media, that violence knows no class, religion nor tribe. Few women from the middle-class speak out about abuse. They can use social media to speak out and share their stories of abuse.
Tarisai Nyamweda is the Media Programme Officer at Gender Links. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.