Violence against women both online and offline is a violation of human rights, with devastating physical and psychological impacts on both survivors and victims. As COVID-19 continues to rip the economies apart, it has also indirectly led to an exponential rise in the instances of online gender-based violence. The standard operating procedures (SOPs) introduced by the government to isolate a number of women to be at home leave them with no alternative other than using the internet to communicate with distant relatives and friends and also work from home. These expose women to online gender-based violence, including threats like cyber-harassment, trolling, doxing, non-consensual image distribution, and others. The transition to the online space has left many women vulnerable to online gender-based violence (OGBV). In Uganda, one in three women has experienced a form of online GBV.
Women stand at a higher risk of suffering from online gender-based violence compared to men, through a continuum of multiple, recurring and interrelated forms of gender-based violence. Online GBV has worrying effects on women with inadequate digital safety skills.
On top of paralyzing the world economies, COVID-19 has led to a surge in violence against Ugandan women on the internet. Additionally, cyber-attacks such as phishing have been on the rise.
In the past year, Google has been blocking 18 million COVID-19-related emails sent by scammers to Gmail users every day in an attempt to persuade victims to download malicious software, and steal sensitive information.
Malicious cyber actors are devising new tactics to launch cyber-attacks and commit online gender-based violence-related crimes. Therefore, digital/online safety awareness for women is more important than ever before.
Humans are the weakest link in cybersecurity, most cyber-criminals target the humans end-point through social engineering attacks also known as human hacking since it’s easy to exploit human behaviours and most people are not cyber-aware. Digital safety is everyone’s responsibility, a weakness in one internet point or user is a threat to others in the same network. For instance, if a user doesn’t use a lock screen on his/her mobile phone and the mobile phone gets stolen, that user puts his/her contacts (phone numbers) at risk of cyber-attacks since criminals can use these contacts to send phishing emails and links.
All of these circumstances call for digital safety training for women and girls in Uganda. Gender-based digital security includes training women and girls to protect their identities against cyber-attacks and online gender-based violence cases. It is these occurrences and observations that inspired Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) in collaboration with Digital Human Rights Lab (DHRLab) and GIZ Uganda to organize a workshop on online safety for women politicians, journalists, artists, university students, law enforcers, and policymakers in Kabarole and other districts. The virtual digital safety training happened from the 6th to the 10th of September 2021. The workshop covered different topics that address the digital safety challenges that are commonly faced by Ugandan women online.
The workshop empowered the participants with skills and knowledge to identify, prevent and report cases of online gender-based violence. The participants were equipped with the following skills; password management, secure browsing, encrypting data (both at rest and in transit), device management, and risk management.
Katuutu Shakillah, a participant, commended the work of WOUGNET and its partners for organizing the workshop. “I have learnt several concepts such as secure communication, digital security, password management, among others”, Shakillah said. Additionally, some participants asked the facilitator if WOUGNET could arrange more of these training sessions in the future. “We need more of these workshops”, Sheila Tusiime said.
At the end of the workshop, the facilitators were able to shape up a group of people that not only respect all genders and identities online but also advocate for an inclusive and safe place on the internet for all.
By Kalema Christopher
This article is part of a series of posts by trainers of trainees during the online safety and digital security capacity-building workshop conducted by Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) under the project, Enhancing Women’s Rights Online through Inclusive and effective response to Online Gender-based Violence in Uganda. The project is funded by the Digital Human Rights Lab which is implemented by better place lab and Future Challenges under a grant agreement with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Programme Strengthening Governance and Civil Society in Uganda, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) under its Digital Africa Initiative.