Do you know about Online Gender-Based Violence? Well, for some this is hard to even imagine, for others, it awakens trauma that has long been silenced while for many it is a dreadful uncertainty that they endeavor to be conscious about each time they use a tech gadget.
Online Gender-Based Violence is any act of violence committed or abetted by the use of ICT tools like laptops, phones, the internet, email, and social media. This act is directed towards someone against their will on the basis of Gender.
On Thursday 8th October 2020, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) conducted a Twitter chat under the Theme: “Tackling Gender-Based Violence in the Cyber Space” with the hashtags #StopOnlineGBVUG #AskforConsent. The aim of the Twitter conversation was to enable WOUGNET’s partners and internet users especially women and girls to share their online experiences and understand the mechanism to report cases of online violence. The chat also intended towards effectuating policy advocacy to compel law enforcement officers to address gender-based online violence.
For years now, WOUGNET has been advocating for Women’s Rights Online through conducting digital security training and sharing online safety tips with her members and beneficiaries who are mainly women and girls. The organization also reviews ICT policies from a gender perspective, engenders the policies, and produces policy briefs that are presented and shared with like-minded Civil Society Organizations and policy makers. WOUGNET continuously empowers women and young girls through smart media technology by identifying, developing, and amplifying the mechanism for tackling online gender-based violence in Uganda.
The #StopOnlineGBVUG Twitter conversation was very successful and attracted a number of policy makers, ICT Advocacy Organizations, Women’s Rights Organizations, internet users, and the general human rights defenders in the digital age. The conversation registered a reach of 17 Million, 335 thousand interactions, and 239 mentions.
Caption: Results from the chat #StopOnlineGBVUG
The majority of the participants were knowledgeable about Online GBV as they shared their views and recommendations to curb this act. They shared the different forms of online GBV which included; Cyberstalking, sexual harassment, Non-Consensual intimate imagery commonly referred to as revenge porn, trolling among others. A participant shared the forms of Online GBV through a tweet as;
“Sexist speech on a social media platform like Twitter or Facebook - Repeated harassment -Sharing and/or dissemination of private information like photographs and videos...”
A number of recommendations were shared by participants and these centered on different actors for instance; civil society organizations, policymakers, the police, Key ministries and internet users. Among the recommendations was the need for more research that is evidence-based, creating awareness on Online Gender-Based Violence, equipping people with online safety skills, enforcing of laws, and encouraging data protection. One of the netizens during the tweet chat suggested the need to;
“Strengthen GBV advocacy, data protection efforts and legal approaches, invest more in further research, and training of law enforcement personnel to handle gender-sensitive matters, the curriculum in schools, awareness on how to report, etc.”
The role of the government was emphasized by a number of participants in the chat. They recognize the role the government is playing in formulating and passing laws and policies to guide the use of ICTs however, there is still a significant gap to be bridged in implementation, enforcement, and encouraging freedom of internet users. One participant tweeted;
“The government should rigorously oversee and enforce the rules banning technology-assisted violence against women and girls if the internet is to become respectful and empowering space for women.”
The attitude of internet users has emphasized especially the lack of trust in the system and reporting channels. This causes many victims to fear reporting to the police because of the approach that may be taken in analyzing the case. Many remain silent and this affects them mentally so participants raised the need for psychosocial support to victims in recovering from online GBV in Uganda.
“While some laws could support survivors of online GBV in Uganda. These are largely underutilized for various reasons e.g. stigma, data privacy concerns, backlash etc as all too often, this is what the public sees when legal action is pursued.” a tweet read.
There is still a need to create more awareness on Online GBV through the different online media platforms, conduct digital security training, and put the constitutional digital laws into practice especially by law enforcers. Innovations should be sought and encouraged to have official platforms to report online GBV as it is for offline GBV. According to research by Policy, 72.9% of online GBV in Uganda takes place on Facebook, 38.1% on WhatsApp, and 4.7% on Instagram. Online GBV is real and has far-reaching impacts, it should not be normalized because it infringes on women’s rights online and hinders the SDG development Agenda of Leaving No Woman Behind.
Patricia Nyasuna – Program Officer Gender & ICT Policy Advocacy (WOUGNET)
1. Digital experiences of women from across five African countries here: https://ogbv.pollicy.org
2. Abuse and harassment driving Girls Off Facebook, Instagram and Twitter https://plan-international.org/news/2020-10-05-abuse-and-harassment-driving-girls-facebook-instagram-and-twitter
3. Your guide to online safety https://medium.com/pollicy/your-guide-to-online-safety-while-working-remotely-d4909334733c