In the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic chatrooms are increasingly growing as the mode of communication, accessing information, as a place to leave messages for our children, to make contact with people, to announce family news, to exchange photos and music, to apply for jobs, to chat with friends and with strangers, to learn and to teach. All this made possible by the Internet.
The COVID-19 GBV ONLINE CHATROOM is operated on the WhatsApp platform which requires an internet connection to send and receive messages. If you are connected to wi-fi this is not a problem, but when you are out and about, the app uses your mobile data connection, which entails purchasing. We have seen many of the voluntary participants from most rural areas leave this chatroom due to unaffordability and competing priorities of sustainability. This s is typical case with what many see in the internet, there are two sides to the Internet coin. There is the brighter side, hailed by those who can afford to buy the data and stay connected to the world and access COVID-19 real time information or updates. And there is the dark side of those who will never access any life-changing information in competition to accessing their next meal.
We appeal to government to not only make data cost a basic need, to also consider providing basic connectivity gadgets, as game changing interventions, if we are serious about closing the digital divide; in the most rural and far-flung areas. Hosting this chatroom for 17 weeks now; has brought a new light to the challenge’s women face daily, which is now a quadruple intersection of poverty, abuse of unpaid house chores, gender-based violence and access to information. We have seen women having to take care of the sick during the COVID-19 lockdown period and eventually having to bury them, because of lack of information. Had they have had access to information via WhatsApp they would have applied better care, with some of the health tips received through the provided hotlines from our government.
For 17 weeks, from the start of May 2020, we have seen the greater need for accessing the internet and thus WhatsApp for rural women and specifically from week 14 to 17 we have had a sharp focus on toxic masculinity and its effect on Gender Based Violence and Femicide.
This focus is an implementation of Pillar 2 of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on GBVF, with an aim of highlighting and making Citizens aware by being engaged with a visible national communication and behavior change campaign, promoting positive masculinities and end normalization of gender-based violence in society; through peacebuilding initiatives.
To this end we have not received any negative feedback from the chatroom, and that does not make us complacent at all; it can only mean that the conversation bar is set quite high for the LOPECO Team.
- Remoneilwe Diale