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Globally, by January 2021, Internet penetration stood at 59.5% with 4.66 billion people using the Internet around the world. This is according to the Digital 2021 Global Overview Report which also states that the number of social media users is now equivalent to more than 53 percent of the world’s total population. Uganda has 12.6 million Internet users with an Internet penetration of 26.2% with 3.40 million social media users as of January 2021. It is therefore not strange to ask oneself about Internet safety, and how many of these people have been able to use the internet without self-censorship as they use the Internet.

I would like to compare internet safety to my home; the comfort, the freedom, the Peace, serenity, joy, and happiness I feel while at home. The autonomy of deciding what I want to do, putting into consideration the feelings of those around me, letting in who I want, and shutting the door to those I am not comfortable with. This would describe how a safe Internet should be. Many times, safety online has been described as “individuals protecting themselves and others from online harms and risks which may jeopardize their personal information, lead to unsafe communications or even affect their mental health and wellbeing”.

But why should anyone be afraid while using the Internet? Why should we constantly look over our shoulders while using the Internet? What if we all worked towards envisioning the Internet as a safe space to learn, share and grow, wouldn’t this make the world a better place?

Globally, every 9th February, Safer Internet Day is celebrated to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for children and young people and inspire a national conversation. The theme this year was "Together for a better Internet" and it called upon all stakeholders to join together to make the Internet a safer and better place for all, and especially for children and young people.

To commemorate this day, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) participated in a webinar hosted by Digital Literacy Initiative (DLI)under the theme “The role of Multistakeholder model in promoting a safer Internet.” On the panel where other organizations including; AYDIA Gender and Technology Initiative, ISOC Uganda Chapter, Maendeleo Foundation and Smart Youth Network. The panel discussed a number of issues for instance; Gender inclusivity, advocating for more women participation in safe spaces especially digital spaces, challenges faced by rural women, youth involvement in such forums and children’s safety online.  

“The Internet creates a platform for women to discuss issues that affect them towards development, yet women are threatened to fully participate and harness their potential while using the Internet. We should therefore normalize punishments for cyber harassers and abusers.” Aidah Bukubuza a Co-founder and Lead, AYDIA Gender and Technology Initiative.

The Internet Society in Uganda and NITA Uganda did a survey to review different legislation on child online protection and noted that there is no comprehensive policy framework that targets child online protection. Lillian Nalwoga, the president at ISOC Uganda chapter further elaborated that the Stop It campaign with the aim of fighting child sex images has been launched and joined by various stakeholders that include MTN Uganda, Nita, and Internet Society Uganda from civil society. She hopes that continuous discussions and engagements will lead to having the necessary policy frameworks.

Asia Kamukama, the Executive Director of Maendeleo Foundation believes that rampant misinformation is a result of lack of digital skills and high levels of illiteracy in Uganda. She finds it critical for people to learn about online hygiene and misinformation.

Hakeem Ssebagala, the Programs Director at Smart Youth Network, focused his argument on how safe we are while posting, transacting, and whether people are aware of their safety online. Hakeem suggests that young people should be encouraged to attend such engagements, and practical engagements should be carried out to empower them with knowledge and skills. He affirms the need for digital literacy to help young people understand issues such as privacy, data protection, misinformation, and safe browsing. He further points out the need to closely monitor what children surf on the Internet.

As WOUGNET’s representative on the panel, I encouraged civil society to play their role through promoting digital literacy, empowering women and girls and creating awareness about ICTs for women and girls without leaving behind the rural and women persons with disability. I added that the government has a role to bring stakeholders together, empower women economically to help them use digital tools and contribute to sustainable development. I called upon all users to be vigilant on their Internet usage and encouraged STEM for women and girls.

Conclusively panelists urged that parent should nurture their children on how the online space works; train them to be good online citizens, and help them develop digital emotional intelligence to respect everyone online. They acknowledged the role of the multistakeholder model in the Internet ecosystem and added that stakeholders have a duty to ensure a variable regulatory framework and business climate that can accommodate issues of the Internet.

Online safety should be a shared responsibility for every stakeholder and everyone should play more than a minimal role in order to cope up with the fast technology evolution.

Compiled by Patricia Nyasuna

Program Officer Gender & ICT, WOUGNET

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