Month: March 2011
The Facebook murders
The wires were abuzz around this time last year. Twenty five year old Paul Bristol flew to London from Trinidad and Tobago to kill his ex-girlfriend, 27-year -old Camille Mathurasingh. He was enraged after seeing a photo of her on Facebook with another man. He stabbed her 20 times in her car in London. It became known as the Facebook murder.
There have been other similar incidents. One recalls the shock that shook Siparia when a mother of four left home for a date with a man she “met” on the internet. It turned out to be a date with death. Her decomposing body was found four days later mangled with the mangrove in the Manzanilla River. The autopsy revealed she had been strangled.
There are increasing reports of similar incidents around the world.
Emma Forrester of the UK changed her Facebook status to single after separating from her husband, Wayne He returned to their family home and hacked her to death with a meat cleaver. He claimed he was provoked when she changed her marital status to ‘single’ on Facebook.
In October last year, a married Zimbabwean man accused his mistress of having an affair after she altered her Facebook account. He whipped her with wire. Both were immigrants to Britain. He told British police that “such savage attacks” were common in his homeland.
Another, a mother-of-two was murdered by her jealous husband after she posted on Facebook that her marriage was over.
Teenager Ashleigh Hall was lured to her death by a convicted serial rapist,Peter Chapham. He had posed as a teenage boy on Facebook. They planned to meet. He collected her from her home in Britain, drove her to a lay-by, tied her up, raped and strangled her. Another schoolgirl met her ex-boyfriend, who was charged with murdering her, on the site.
Also in the UK Mary Griffiths was a Facebook friend of John McFarlane. He broke into her home when she was asleep, beat her and shot her twice with a bolt gun, normally used for stunning animals. He claimed to have been provoked by a message she had posted on Facebook that he was “delusional” if he believed they would ever have a relationship.
In less bloody forms of abuse, a former boyfriend posted nude photos and videos of a Philippine girl in an account he had created under her name. He mailed a copy of the video to her Muslim parents.
UK studies have shown increases in crimes linked to the social networking site – more than 100,000 in the last five years. Murders and rapes were among them bit they also found a range of range of other crimes, from terrorism and gun crimes to pedophilia, fraud, hate crimes, malicious messages, suicides and threats of violence.
Investigators found that offenders sometimes use fake identities and befriend victims scandalously in order to abuse their trust, bully, harass and use their private information for various ill doings.
The incidents have stimulated a raging debate on an off line. Facebook fans have been discussing their occurrences and entering the debating whether Facebook and similar social networking sites are encouraging such crimes, or whether the incidents merely mirror the extent of violence and abuse of women that already exists in societies.
Facebook estimates that more than 700 million Facebook updates are posted each day by its more than 400 million active users who share photos, messages, contact friends and link with others who share similar interests. In many cases, some of these interactions take place with strangers. One UK study found 85 per cent of women on Facebook in that region had been contacted by strangers on Facebook.
The internet has opened up private lives into new avenues of potential violence and has led to a rise in cases of electronic violence against women through cyber harassment, stalking, online pornography, and unauthorised recording, reproduction and distribution of images and videos.
Yet, it is believed to be social, even professional, “suicide” to avoid such sites. Even organisations like End Violence Against Women (EVAW), and the UNIFEM virtual knowledge centre to end violence against women, use the internet with the former also on Facebook.
The Association of Progressive Communications Women’s Networking Support Program (APC WNSP), based in the Philippines, is working to help women around the globe better understand new technology and its potential and impact on their rights and lives.
They too use the internet, among other forums, to communicate their messages, functioning from a belief that persons who understand technology – know how it works, how to use it and change it with technical knowledge have more control over it. Some of the tips they offer to persons to protect privacy on the internet are:
• Do not to disclose too much personal information to social networking or dating site, even such information as place of work, address or telephone number which can become a map to a potential killer.
• Pay attention to the consistency of the information being revealed by online ‘friends’. The more inconsistencies, the greater the chance that the person is lying about themselves.
• Stop all communication with people who are obsessed with trying to pry personal information from you.
• Be on the look-out for warning signs such as the use of foul language, disrespectful remarks, signs of anger for no apparent reason and elusiveness in answering direct questions.
• If one decides on a face-to-face meeting with a strange “friend”, under no circumstances agree to meet with that person at one’s home. Have these meetings in public and tell someone where the meeting would be, with whom and expected time back.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s pitch to her Australian counterpart, Julia Gillard to put a woman’s touch on the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) sets a new tone to these meetings. For the first time, the Commonwealth has a woman as its chair-in office who will transfer the baton to another woman. The ‘chair-in-office’ is assigned to the host country of the previous CHOGM. Persad-Bissessar inherited the post when Patrick Manning was moved from the office of Prime Minister, given that Trinidad and Tobago hosted the 2009 CHOGM; and it will pass to the Australian Prime Minister which hosts the 2011 CHOGM.
It changes the tone of CHOGM meeting because these have historically been male dominated. In fact, in this period in which Persad-Bisessar and Julia Gillard are on the scene, they are among only three women of the fifty-four political leaders of the Commonwealth. The third female political leader in the Commonwealth is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh.
The PM’s call is the kind of woman-to-woman conversation that new development thinkers are encouraging and believe is essential if there is to be progress in the UN’s Millennium Development Goal towards more balanced global development.
It is anticipated that it will also change the tone and impact of women in local politics where the track record has not been altogether encouraging.
A review on interventions in support of women’s participation in electoral processes in the Caribbean between 2007-2008, released by UNIFEM last year, tells that women in politics have not had the impact on their societies as expected.
In the first instance, the review which initially targeted examination of interventions in Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and either St. Lucia or Guyana, had to curb its ambitions and focus only on Trinidad & Tobago and the Put a Woman project of the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women because it was the only one that “provided a substantial enough base for making an assessment.”
To its key question on “whether the significant increase in the number of women Members of Parliament (MPs) in Trinidad & Tobago in 2007 had led to an increase in the representation of women’s interests in Parliament,” the simple answer was, “No”.
It describes the aim of Put a Woman to transform the culture of politics in Trinidad & Tobago by making it more inclusive, beginning with women. This was to be achieved through:
Training women across party lines to understand government at both local and national levels and in gender mainstreaming government decision-making;
Encouraging more young people to take part in the electoral process;
Documenting and publishing information on women in local government in Trinidad and Tobago;
Making the environment conducive for women to effectively participate in the highest levels of decision-making; and
Creating a critical mass of gender-sensitive elected or appointed women representatives who would influence policy in national political bodies.
This translated into actions involving political skills training; revitalization of the Women’s Political Platform; documentation of women in local government; and the establishment of a Women’s Political Participation Fund.
The review identified Put a Woman’s major successes as the reach of the training it provided and the significant increase in the number of women elected to Parliament following the training. With local government elections postponed in 2007 and 2008, the Political Skills Training concentrated on training for the national elections of 2007. It used various approaches to working with women who were potential nominees or candidates along with women working to support them and reached more than 500 women. It updated the Women’s Manifesto; prepared a document on women’s contribution to local government and the establishment of a small Women’s Political Participation Fund which distributed nominal sums as expressions of support to 13 women candidates.
Among the weakness it review identified was the project’s inability to establish a Women’s Political Caucus.
But, it concluded, “more critically, “the project did not lead to increased representation of women’s interests by women Members of Parliament in spite the increase in their numbers and the exposure to ideas and tools which the project had provided.”
It found that women MPs were in the main not raising issues of concern to women, and cited reasons as their failure to work across party lines and with women’s organisations. the problem was one of the quality, not the quantity of women MPs.
But there are other broader underlying factors. These, the review identified as:
The nature of the political party culture in the region;
The sometimes antagonistic differences among women and how this impacts on the aim of creating a critical mass of women in Parliament;
The diminishing space that national governments have for decision-making; and
The possibilities and limits of national and local government.
This was discovered of the political environment in Trinidad and Tobago, but it is also a reflection of the political environment globally. And these are the areas that Persad-Bissessar and Gillard will have to transform in their party systems and in their local and national politics, if they are to make substantive impact on the policies and directions and affect a ripple effect across the Commonwealth.