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Communications of the ACM

Global computing

Online Social Networks and Global Women's Empowerment

Online Social Networks and Global Women's Empowerment, illustration

Credit: Alicia Kubista / Andrij Borys Associates

Social networks like Facebook hold promise for women regarding personal growth and social emancipation that physical spaces do not offer, yet virtual and physical spaces are intertwined in intricate ways. Explorations into new forms of selfhood and social life that emerge in and through social networks will be inevitably brought into relationship with traditional dispositions and practices that may be hostile to that change. When online discourses represent a challenge to `traditional' gender relations, the way in which Facebook management mediates online disputes can have profound offline consequences for sexual and social emancipation.

In this regard, the story Kiss Brian Abraham tells about Zambian women creating Facebook groups to initiate conversations about sex is pertinent.1 Zambia's culture of male hegemony is defined by the supremacy of Cisgender heterosexual masculinity; Christian principles of women's chastity have merged with traditional understandings of women's submissiveness to men to frame female sexuality as a means to satisfying husbands' needs and not as a woman's human right. Furthermore, in the time that these Facebook pages in Zambia were created (2010–2013), women were attacked and stripped naked in the streets by mobs of male assailants who were citing Christian and cultural principles whilst claiming that the women were wearing sexually provocative clothing.1


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