A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the “what” behind the recently launched SuzyKnew website (www.suzyknew.com): what it is and how it seems like all my life I’ve been enjoying working in and writing about sex (and love!) Today, I want to explain why I think SuzyKnew can reach women in developing countries and encourage them to take charge of their sexual health and pleasure, attracting both modern and traditional women.
Well – it was about two years ago when I explained to friends and colleagues that I wanted to launch a website where women from different countries could go to have fun – you know like sexual and erotic fun! – and at the same time get accurate up-to-date facts on sexual and reproductive health.
“That’s a stupid idea. The internet is used by only the wealthy few in developing countries. Just keep it in the US.” most said. “Women in the developing world don’t use the internet – especially traditional women,” others quipped.
But, I didn’t let the statements discourage me. I wasn’t convinced that women in the developing world weren’t accessing the internet. Why? Between 2005 – 2009, I had to travel to 2 or 3 countries a month for my work in reproductive health and afterwards, I started living in Africa to manage public health projects. I visited health centers in remote districts and often had to use the local internet café for work. Off dirt roads in crumbling buildings, I would find women-run internet cafes in the peri-urban areas of Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda. In urban Jo’burg and Manila, I would see teenage girls laughing together at internet cafes, and in Phnom Penh and Kiev, the internet was a way of life for women, as it was for women in hijab in Kuala Lumpor. From their faces, I could tell that the time spent on the internet was one that gave them freedom from their day-to-day routine and an opening into a world and information beyond what they knew.
Looking at the data back in 2009 to determine whether to launch and which countries to focus on, I saw while the internet was not widely used in Africa, its growth was phenomenal. Top 5 internet using countries in Africa included Nigeria and South Africa. Nigeria’s user growth was 5,400% at the time. Turkey and Russia, countries with burgeoning “women power” and strong and growing contraceptive use, ranked in the top 8 countries with the largest number of internet users. However, when looking at the per capita number of physicians globally, the lack of physicians in Africa was glaring and convinced me to start my efforts to improve access to sexual and reproductive health information in Nigeria and South Africa, in addition to the US and UK. I included the Philippines, another country with rapid internet user growth, when a young woman from the Philippines agreed to be my volunteer intern and cultivate a Filipina following.
Jump forward to the spring of 2011, a peaceful democratic revolution emerged in Tunisia to cause its leader to depart and then spread to Egypt. Everyone gave credit to Facebook, Twitter and other social media as the spark for and catalyst of these uprisings. While many were surprised at the role of the internet I felt vindicated. I felt especially vindicated when CNN showed over and over again a woman in niqab, completely veiled from head to toe with only her eyes peeking out, jump in front of the camera and aggressively argue her views on Mubarak. She was clearly enjoying herself in this liberation. This woman in her forcefulness showed what I was trying to explain: women will and do use information from the internet to shape and change their lives. Women – including traditional women – want to have better lives, better health and more fun.
Today when I talk about SuzyKnew, how I advertise on Facebook and how the site can make a difference in women’s lives in many countries, fewer people debate me. I am grateful that change has come to Tunisia and Egypt and is coming to many more countries. I am also grateful that this change is helping the world see that the internet can improve women’s political lives as well as sexual and reproductive health – and erotic fun!
Take a look at www.suzyknew.com: Your Place for Sex, Sizzle, and GOOD sense and sign up to get monthly newsletters!
Denise L Harrison is the founder and CEO of SuzyKnew. She resides in Durham, NC with her cat King Alfred, and when she is not working on SuzyKnew she works on global reproductive health and HIV/AIDS issues.