Girl Child Network was originally founded in a classroomin Zimbabwe. At that time, Betty Makoni, its CEO, was not necessarily thinking of many girls being impacted by her work. Through her vision and action, that house in Zimbabwe has now become houses all over the world. Internationally, young girls seek GCN’s help or are able to help each other. A girl that has been raped in Zimbabwe or anywhere in the world can now reach out and connect with GCN’s staff and volunteers instantly via the internet. People worldwide may learn of her story and know that it is not remote and distant. We connect with her in some way, no matter where we are, no matter what we are doing. Her experience of rape touches us, making us want to move, to do whatever we can to stop these violent crimes. That child’s rape is our child’s rape. Her online village then becomes ours.
Each day, from the smallest town in Zimbabwe to cities as large as London and New York people meet and connect online. Some of the dialogue is fun, playful, to pass the time, but others use the web as a place to share ideas and skills to work on humanitarian issues. Facebook and other social network sites are often scoffed at by people. Yet, those people do not realize that these are places where news and updates are disseminated rapidly and can reach hundreds, if not thousands of people in seconds.
Recently, we saw how the internet played an active role in the struggles for democracy in Egypt and Tunisia. The understanding that these movements were propelled, in part, by the internet inspired those of us who are activists. It was amazing for us to realize how vital online networking and communicating can be in getting people to act. The Internet’s speed makes us as humanitarians move that much quicker, buoying our momentum. The internet has a spontaneousness about it, the click of a key, that word of mouth does not always carry. Indeed if we have difficulty moving, we have the opportunity to take action through our computers, to say “no” immediately, in a way that we never had before.
The internet makes us want to extend ourselves to people we might not normally interact or work with. Based in New York, I connect with activists in India and across Africa, their struggles are bought that much closer to me. I understand their movements in a much deeper way than I would if I had never communicated with them. No longer are we activists in a vacuum, but we see that there is a significant space for us to exchange online both about how we work and about the causes we most care about. The internet inspires us when we learn of the work of other people, it enables us to be mentors or mentees, friends or colleagues working together to ensure that one child in a rural village is healed and helped after being raped. Whenever we feel powerless as a people, we can look to the tools that we hold in our hands. Just as bad information, lies and propaganda can be rapidly disseminated online, so too we can spread the “truth” and “justice” about a situation.
As a team of staff and volunteers connected to GCN from many places in the world, we gather virtually online to fuel, encourage and give feedback to each other’s work. We use the immediacy of the internet to unite across distances, to inspire and to empower each other as women and girls. When we understand that every few seconds a girl or indeed woman is raped or violated, we realize that the internet gives us an immediacy that other tools don’t. We can speak the truth NOW, we can act NOW. Activism can’t wait.