On 25th June 2019, WOUGNET participated at the 5th annual social media conference at Xanadu Collection hotel organized Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Uganda. The theme of this year’s conference was Social Media and the Prospects for Digital Politics in Africa. The conference was attended by journalists, activists, media experts, bloggers, and social media influencers, representatives from government, political leaders, civil society organizations and representatives from academia. The purpose of the conference was to facilitate a constructive exchange on the impact of social media on the state and society, highlighting both opportunities and challenges.
The morning parallel workshop sessions had a session on Social Media Dos and Don’ts for Civic-Engagement hosted by Nanjala Nyabola an Author and Internet Activist from Kenya which WOUGNET was privileged to participate. Nanjala identified the challenges on social media, the general ethics of using images, and key social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Telegram, medium/Tumbler). She explored some tips for activism such as not being bored online by learning from the popular culture, humanizing your account and including personal stories, remembering the value of interaction, responding to people to especially amplify positive reviews but avoiding unnecessary confrontation, live-tweeting on what is good using best approaches, keeping your eye on the prize whether short, medium and long term goals and not to forfeit long term victories for short term gains.
Social media is really a great platform because it can be used to create and maintain positive social change, for instance, the Hashtag movements such as #MeToo, which was started by activist Tarana Burke and later amplified online, have long-lasting consequences. The #MeToo hashtag has been used by several movements to amplify the voices of women who have faced sexual assaults and harassment in private and public spaces. Recently in Uganda, the women’s movement with Chapter Four Uganda plus other female activists and women’s rights organizations have been advocating for justice for Samantha Mwesigye (Ministry of Justice) using the hashtag #Justice4Samantha and the #MeToo hashtag. A women’s movement press conference was also held to demand an end to sexual harassment in the workplace. This showed that online conversations can persuade people to seek help offline.
There have been several Hashtags running on the social media platforms in Uganda such as #FreeStellaNyanzi, #FreeBobiWine, and #SaveRuth which are campaigns aimed at seeking justice and fundraising to create a cause. Different countries also joined in using Hashtags to help these voices reach out to the people in charge of a cause to prevail.
Social media is a great platform to spread awareness and get other people excited about a cause. At Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), different social media platforms especially on Twitter @wougnet and Facebook platforms have been used to create awareness and conduct advocacy on issues of women’s rights online, ICT for agricultural productivity, tech-related violence against women and girls, ICT and women-related policies, entrepreneurship, Governance, and accountability using Hashtags and Twitter handle. Information is also spread using blogs on current issues that affect women in the ICT space on the WOUGNET website www.wougnet.org and social media pages.
During the 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence, WOUGNET uses social media platforms to hold campaigns such as Take back the Tech which is an initiative in collaboration with APC to encourage women and girls to take control of technology to end violence against women. Social media has also helped WOUGNET to hold SMS campaigns that are sent out daily on 16 days of activism against GBV to encourage organizations and individuals to stand up, speak out and commit to ending offline and online violence against women and girls.
Social media is a great platform for activism because it is accessible, affordable, and brings people voices of diverse backgrounds together to advocate for a cause it is from this simple action that the world gets to know the issues that still exist and people get to act on it. Fact that anyone can easily share a message anytime, the world stays informed.
It also amplifies the work that you see other activists doing. Although you may not take part in it, you may share it with somebody else who would love to donate or fundraise for the cause or connect you to a community that may be of help.
Despite the importance of social media platforms for activism, according to Nanjala during her session at the 2019 Uganda social media conference that happened in Kampala, she pointed out that social media can also be used to drive people to another message and cited an example of WhatsApp which is now very hard to regulate. She advised activists to protect the vulnerable people as they advocate not engendering their exploitations, respecting people’s privacy and dignity, and not relying on shock or breaking news but rather focusing on showing commonality and challenging manipulated images.
Therefore, It is important to note that Social media works: (1) when you understand your cause (2) when you understand your objective (3) when you understand your medium (4) when you understand your audience (5) when you have the resources to sustain your action and (6) when your online work is supported by your offline actions/connections.
By Sandra Aceng, Gender, and ICT Program