Hashtag activism: popularizing feminist analysis of violence against women in the Horn, East and Southern Africa

Maureen Kangere, Jean Kemitare and Lori Michau Feminist Media Studies, 2017; Read the full paper online

Social media is ushering in a new era of mobilising for social change and it is a promising tool for spreading feminist discourse. Earlier this year, the Women’s March, initially planned for Washington DC to protest against growing conservatism, sparked activism around the world. A global wave of awareness and action on violence against women (VAW) is emerging from campaigns such as #EverydaySexism, #UrgentAction4Women, and #EndFGM (female genital mutilation), opening new opportunities for feminist movement building.

As a case study for how social media is changing feminist activism, this paper shares the journey of the Gender-based Violence (GBV) Prevention Network in the Horn, East and Southern Africa (HESA). The authors are activists working with Raising Voices, a non-profit organisation in Kampala, Uganda that coordinates the GBV Prevention Network. The Network encourages a feminist analysis on violence against women in Africa through community mobilisation and advocacy.

While it is still a work in progress, the Network is learning the opportunities and challenges of using social media for feminist consciousness-raising and action. The opportunities include:

  • Claiming feminist ideas as African and not a foreign import
  • Building solidarity
  • Repeated exposure to ideas
  • Strengthening offline organising

While there are many opportunities, limitations of social media as a frontier for feminist activism in HESA must also be identified and overcome. The challenges include:

  • Internet access and online safety
  • Oversimplifying feminism
  • Competing priorities
  • Lack of attribution and accountability

In our experience, social media has great potential in bringing feminist ideas to ever-widening circles, leading to new socialization processes around gender hierarchies and power in intimate partner relationships. 

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