No place for cultural taboo in Cyberspace

Curator's Note

The images of Darfur remind us of the scourge of war in Sudan. But implicitly, they tell the story of the emancipation of the victims of war from the burden of cultural taboos in African communities. The militants might have used rape as a form of torture precisely because it is a taboo among Africans that is rarely mentioned in conversation. However, what is usually kept secret and within the family is now a subject of discourse with millions of online audiences around the world. Evidence of this debate is on ‘Africa Have Your Say’ (AHYS) website, authored and monitored by the BBC World Service for indigenous and diasporan Africans. The embedding of attribution of responsibility into the framing of the social issues has endeared it to the global African diasporas. Subsequently, it provides a forum for the victims of rape in Dafur to exercise their freedom of speech and break the taboo surrounding rape. For instance, one victim recounted the trauma of rape by stating that ‘before it was a big problem and the father or brothers of the girl would kill the person responsible. But now rape has become common because of the fighting...’ (Sudan survivors, 2007). It is widely known that Africans are reticent to question or challenge taboos because they are embedded within their cultural and religious practices. “When something is considered a taboo, it must not be talked about, done, mentioned, touched or looked at” (Madu, 2002:65). But the victims have shown courage to break cultural taboo by telling their stories and warning about the psychological effects of using rape as a weapon of war because ‘previously, the girls would be cast out of society and no young man would marry them. She would be ostracised.... However, ‘society is changing our ideas and they are supporting these women more by letting them live a normal live...’ (Sudan survivors, 2007).


I think what we are witnessing is the development of 'cyberactivism' by the indigenous people who have been victims of atrocities and have not been able, until now, thanks to ICT, to have a conversation with the world about their predicaments. There is evidence of a dialogue between the homeland and diaspora on this issues but the level of engagment is still low because of the challenges of the global digital divide.

I'd be interested to see how much it modifies the behaviors of the male perpetrators. It appears that talking about rape will definitely weaken the social taboo. But to what extent will cyberactivism support the prosecution of rapists? Is this the first step--engaging the diaspora to create a space for dialogue which then leads to further support of larger agendas such as the International Criminal Court? Or, does the power of cyberactivism stop at removing social stigma? The Zapatistas utilized the power of ICT to bring their movement into the international arena. The move helped keep the Zapatistas alive, but it hasn't brought them complete victory. What are the long-term effects of cyberactivism for victims of war-time rape?

I am not sure if indeeed there's "no place for cultural taboo in cyberspace". Nevertheless I see the point being made about the use of Web technologies to talk about an issue that has been silenced. In talking about their victimization, is there a critque of masculinity and patriarchy? It is also interesting to talk about this in terms of the transnational space of the Web both in terms of enabling the building of politics based on shared alliances and solidarity on the one hand and in recasting the discourse of 'rape' by embodying it through the women's voices and narratives. While the Zapatistas might not have won "complete victory" their use of the Internet did inspire several other activist uses of the Web

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