Women Rights Online Matters: Why it is important to close the Gender Digital Gap in Uganda

Introduction

The global digital gender divide is keeping hundreds of millions of women and girls from fully participating and contributing online with almost half of the world population still having no access to the internet. The number of women using the internet globally is 48% compared to 58% of men implying that there is a 17% internet user gap. Uganda is one of the African countries with the largest gender gap according to the 2020 new study by the World Wide Web Foundation for instance men are 43% more likely than women to use the internet in Uganda.

Although 27.9%  of men as compared to 19.2 % of women are having access to the internet in Uganda, 19.2 % of women who are online often experiencing a lower quality of internet services than men. There is a hidden digital gender divide that lies beyond the gap in internet access. In case all these are not well understood, including the way women are prevented from using the internet fully, then the achievement of digital equality will still be a struggle for Uganda and the whole world. The digital gender divide prevents millions of girls and women from accessing the full benefits of technology and may negatively affect the achievement of the 2030 sustainable development goals of enhancing gender equality in all its spheres.                                                                                                                                        

For many years, organizations such as the World Wide Web Foundation (WWWF), Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), the Centre for Multilateral Affairs (CfMA) and regulatory bodies i.e. Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has been working together to improve the status of women online in Uganda - specifically to ensure that women's rights online are protected, upheld, and promoted in the digital space just as it should be in the offline environment. It has already been widely recognized throughout the past decades that the inclusion of women is vital for the shift towards development and poverty eradication.

Recently, WOUGNET and the CfMA organized an exhilarating discussion on closing the gender digital divide in  Uganda, this followed the report launch, “Women’s Rights Online: closing the digital gender gap for a more equal world”. As part of the activities for the Women Rights Online report launch on October 12th, 2020, WOUGNET and the CfMA organized a Twitter chat. This tweet chat was preceded by a webinar discussion on October 14tth, 2020 to further explore, highlight and interrogate the key issues and findings that emanated from the research by the World Wide Web Foundation and Uganda Communications Commission.

Understanding the Digital Gender Divide

During the Twitter chat, netizens shared their perspectives and understanding of the digital gender divide such as;

“Reflecting the inequalities between men & women in internet access and use. Though often understood as the gap between the number of men and women who can use the internet, the digital gender divide goes beyond access. A hidden digital gender divide lies beyond the gap in internet access. If we don’t understand all the ways women are prevented from using the internet fully, we won’t achieve digital equality.” 

“Inequalities between women and men in regard to information access and communications technologies.”

Barriers to Women’s Access to Digital platforms

Even where women are closing the gap on basic internet access, they face additional barriers to fully participate online such as; poverty and illiteracy, poor infrastructure, lack of appropriate devices to use and access the internet, and poor network connectivity in rural areas where the majority of them stay. They also face online harassment, have low education levels and this limits their knowledge on the vitality of tech, among others. Each of these barriers leaves the web with an internet that does not work equally well for women and men. Some of the barriers participants mentioned during the Twitter chat conversation included;

“...Women face multiple barriers - sometimes exacerbated by cultural and stereotypical perceptions but while basic access is improving, there is a high cost of the internet, devices are poor, data is expensive & digital skills are lacking.”

“The triple role burden on women corrupts their time that they could have used that is productive, reproductive, and community role burden.”

More to this, Chenai Chair, the Research Manager: Gender and Digital Rights at Web Foundation, emphasized that meaningful access, usage, and connectivity; digital skills and content; Internet access and economic opportunities; Perception of rights and Online safety were the key issues examined in the 2020 study.

During the webinar, Geoffrey Ssegendo who is the current Head of Research & Service Development at UCC pointed out that Article 33 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda provides for the rights of women and it clearly indicates that women shall be given equal opportunity in political, economic and social activities with the men by providing services and facilities that are necessary. Additionally, laws and policies have been put in place through Ministries, Departments, and Agencies such as Uganda Gender Policy 2017, Domestic Violence Act of 2010, Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2015, and the National Action Plan on women of 2007.

How limited or no internet access affects women and girls’ online rights

In Uganda, women, and girls still face limited access to the internet which affects their access to information yet it’s their fundamental human right. Limited internet access, therefore, affects their economic decisions, health, education and social interaction although the internet offers significant opportunities for self-growth and their empowerment. The exclusion of women online threatens everybody’s prosperity, opportunity, and well-being which greatly impacts on their ability to exercise their rights and limits their opportunities to create an online space that works for them.

Two participants said this during the Twitter conversations;

“limited or no access to the internet excludes women and girls from joining online movements that are driving change. we all need to join these online movements to create change for ourselves and for the people around us.”

“In the context of COVID-19, we saw a great rise in misinformation and disinformation, women and girls were vulnerable because of their limited access and use of the internet.”

How Over the Top (OTT) taxes undermined internet access for Ugandans?

Also, Over The Top taxes are  disempowering and  further relegates women and girls to the bottom - in terms of access, use and utilization of ICT and ICT based services - further widening the Gender Digital Divide in Uganda. High taxes such as Over the Top taxes on digital services remain a stumbling block to digital inclusion not only to basic social media access but also access for mobile money usage, digital banking yet these are services where more women in business are involved. Chenai Chair, during the webinar, said that affordability of data emerged as the biggest challenge with 25% of respondents noting it. However, she additionally mentioned a lack of digital skills and time as some of the issues. She further noted that general internet access is 23.2% in Uganda with a gender gap of 19.2%women and 27% men.

Lillian Nalwoga, the former Internet Society Uganda Chapter (ISOC Uganda) President noted that COVID-19 has shown everyone that life is dependent on technology although knowing the quality of technology especially the internet is important. “Online safety is a very big obstacle to women’s online privacy. This deters women from being online and the laws are not supportive of women's rights,” she added.

Women’s concerns over online privacy

Despite all these challenges, the study found out that women were more concerned about their privacy than men and they cannot allow their data to be used for any purpose. For instance, women in Uganda do not freely express themselves online because of fear of being called all sorts of names by the public. Also, a woman raising her voice threatens their safety both online and offline.


Photo by WOUGNET

 Policy options to close the gender digital divide in Uganda

In the case of Uganda where we have a gender digital gap of 42%, more investment is needed for infrastructure development and building capacity of women and girls to address the question of internet access and affordability. Geoffrey Ssegendo pointed out during the webinar that in 2014, the UCC carried out research on women’s access and usage of ICT and the findings indicated that only 6 percent of women were online. “The findings of this research provided evidence that women are being marginalized yet they constitute a significant segment of the population in Uganda,” he added.

Gender-responsive policies and approaches are necessary to bridge the gender digital gap by developing ethical standards and digital frameworks to eliminate inherent gender biases in the development of digital technologies, and develop sectoral policies that support women’s inclusion in the production, design, and governance of digital technologies. For example, Gender data should be made available to help organizations like WOUGNET to design strategies for empowering women and girls. However initiatives by Uganda Communications Commission to close the gender digital divide such as Rural Communication Development Fund (RCDF), ICT Skills Development interventionteacher retooling intervention, among others should be known to civil society organizations (CSOs) working on gender and digital rights to further bridge the gender digital divide in Uganda with additional implementation of community networks by the government and CSOs. This will greatly help Uganda to achieve its digital vision 2040 in recognizing ICT as a critical driver of economic transformation from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country, that narrows the digital gender gap.

Cover Photo: NESA by Makers on Unsplash

Written by Sandra Aceng, Peace Oliver Amuge and Isaac Amuku

Read More News,

Tackling Gender Based Violence in the Cyber Space #StopOnlineGBVUG

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.

Compiled by;

Patricia Nyasuna – Program Officer Gender & ICT Policy Advocacy (WOUGNET)

 

Relevant links

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

       Using the Useful links below download the detailed statistics captured using Brand Mention Application 

Read More News,

Online Gender-Based Violence: How can we tackle the harm on victims/survivors in Uganda?

The line between online and offline Gender-Based Violence is so thin to the extent that the negative impact is most likely to cause similar trends of harm to the victims of such abuse.

It is an undisputed fact that the Internet and any other forms of technology aid people to realize their online rights such as the access to information although these very resources have been exploited by various perpetrators to harm or threaten women and girls. According to the World Health Organisation, at least 35% of women and girls worldwide have faced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. However, it is worth noting that violence against women seems to have taken a shift from an offline to an online form.  In fact, the United Nations (U.N.) in a study about online gender-based violence against women highlights that 95% of aggressive behavior, harassment, abusive language, and denigrating images in online spaces from partners or former male partners.

Over the years, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) has been creating awareness about the harmful, intimating, and deterrent nature of technology related violence on women rights online   and building capacity of women and young girls, policymakers, and law enforcement officers to reduce the rate of technology-related violence experienced by women which affect their fundamental internet rights and freedoms of expression.

On many occasions, WOUGNET has been privileged to run diverse campaigns and several initiatives with support from Take Back the Tech, Association for Progressive Communications (APC). Due to the increasing use of tech highly caused by COVID-19 pandemic, the organization under the All Women Count - Take Back The Tech (AWC-TBTT) project supported Women of Uganda Network to empower women and young girls through smart media technology to identify, develop and amplify the mechanism for tackling online gender-based violence in Uganda. As a result of its support, WOUGNET created feminist audios, animated videos, and images to enable communities to respond to the online gender-based violence. Additionally, WOUGNET created awareness and popularized simple action behaviors to prevent online GBV in Uganda.

It is upon these revelations that Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) found it pertinent to schedule the Virtual Conference on Online Gender-Based Violence in Uganda on the 28th October, 2020.  The conference was to provide a platform for victims or survivors to share their experiences and also for Women’s Rights Defenders in the digital age to deliberate on strategies and measures that can be adopted to eliminate this form of injustice. The two hours’ conference had diverse panelist championing the women’s rights offline and online including Twasiima Patricia Bigirwa, the Feminist Lawyer and Women’s Economic Justice Lead with Akina Mama Wa Afrika; Jimmy Haguma, the Chief Security Officer at the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC); Lindsey Kukunda, the Founder of Not Your Body, and Dr. Bridget Harris, the Senior Researcher in the School of Justice, Digital Media Research Centre, and Centre for Justice at the Queensland University of Technology. The session was moderated by Sandra Aceng, the Program Manager, Information Sharing and Networking at WOUGNET.

               

Online gender-based violence is deeply rooted because most societies in Uganda and the world are still patriarchally dominated in their setup. Lindsey Kukunda in a tweet argued that “The internet is a mirror of how society grooms boys and men to view women as inferior, and highlights the tendencies to abuse and violate rights and safety of women.” Perpetrators of online violence against women as explained by Dr. Bridget Harris may fall into different three major categories; Firstly, those that are known to the victim for example intimate partners, those that people may know especially from social media or dating site suggestions and finally those that are unknown to the victims. She further reiterates that it is a common trend in Australia and the rest of the world for online violence women to be orchestrated by people they have a social connection with.   

Often times as explained by Patricia Bigirwa, victims, or even perpetrators have not been sensitized and are therefore not aware of what forms of Online Gender-Based Violence manifest itself. This perhaps partly accounts for a number of these harassment cases. Furthermore, Dr. Bridget Harris mentioned some of the forms of online Gender Based on Violence such as stalking, impersonation, doxing, non-consensual distribution of intimate images, manipulating bank accounts online, impersonation, phishing, and abusive communication. Lindsey Kukunda shared her experience with abusive communication when she called out a bar for being racist when its workers barred her from checking in. Her action attracted hostility and abusive comments over the radio where certain individuals claimed she even had an inferiority complex. She was however grateful for the fact that the Bar now has a “No racism allowed here” poster which is a clear indication of how important it is to stand and speak up against all sorts of violence. 

It was evident from the discussions that the furtherance of online harassment against women and girls has been greatly hinged on the inefficiencies in Uganda’s legal system. In this regard, Jimmy Haguma referred the participants to the Computer Misuse Act of 2011 which was essentially passed by the Uganda Parliament to curb cyber harassment. Under this act, a perpetrator cannot be held accountable for his/her actions at the first instance but must have rather harassed the victim/s repeatedly. This is a loophole in the law as many perpetrators are set free while victims live on with both physical and psychological effects emanating from this kind of violence. Also, the Anti-Pornography Act of 2014 which criminalizes the non-consensual distribution of intimate images seems to focus more on penalizing the victims instead of the perpetrators that share them. Patricia Twasiima argues that “Where victims would have turned to the law to protect them, it instead persecutes them.”

When asked whether the law has failed to work for women because they do not know much about it, Patricia argued that “The law doesn’t work for women not because they do not know the law. The Law does not work for because it was designed not to.” The nature of most of our laws clearly calls for either amendment by parliament or rather nullification of such provisions which are Unconstitutional. Lindsey Kukunda adds that “This abuse is unchecked, unmonitored by the Government or Police & victims/survivors of 'revenge porn' are instead, prosecuted.” This only breeds a cyberspace where women unlike men do not freely express themselves online on the basis that they have been or could be harassed.

The media has equally been criticized for the insensitive manner in which it reports on matters concerning Online Gender Based Violence. Often times, the media will openly criticize and focus on shaming victims of online harassment who are majorly women instead of the perpetrators. A clear example of this practice by media houses can be seen from an article titled “Sheebah’s Naked Pictures Flop” published on 27th February 2015 by the Red Pepper Newspaper where the writer shamelessly stated that “The poor quality of the nudes is to blame for them being stuck on people’s phones since they cannot induce any boners in men.” This is an indication that online Gender-based violence against women and girls in society is a creature of Patriarchy.

It is important to note online violence against women may have adverse effects on the wellbeing, security, and safety of victims as highlighted by Dr. Bridget Harris. Considering and assessing the impact of online violence enables all stakeholders like Parliament, the Judiciary, Social Media Sites, and Civil Society Organisations to come up with effective measures to end this dangerous vice. If not stopped, online violence against women may translate into physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, and financial distress as hinted at by Dr. Harris. Such effects should influence what kind of sanctions the law and the Judges place upon perpetrators as a means of ensuring that victims attain justice. 

As a way forward, Patricia Twasiima suggested that Judges and Uganda Police officials ought to be given training on Online Gender-Based Violence. As the Custodians of Justice, it is only important that Judicial officers and law enforcers are well acquainted with knowledge or skills to use while investigating and making judgments in reported cases of online violence against women. Lindsey further recommended that women should have different passwords for all their accounts on digital platforms. This improves the account security of women while using the internet since having the same passwords may grant the perpetrator access to most or all the victims’ accounts. Additionally, the law needs to be amended so as to give victims and survivors justice while the perpetrator is sanctioned accordingly. Last but not least, journalists should be trained and sensitized on how to report cases of online gender-based violence without causing more trauma to the victims. 

WOUGNET firmly contends and reemphasizes that as an organization, it will always be on top of its agenda to ensure that it stands at the forefront of the campaign to achieve gender-sensitive legal, cultural and structural reforms as a means to address online gender-based violence and promote women’s rights online.

Written by: 

Iribagiza David – Communications Intern

Read More News,

#AskforConsent Campaign: The Understanding of “Revenge Porn”

In early 2020, Women of Uganda Network joined other digital human rights defenders from different parts of Uganda through the Ttaala program by Defend Defenders. Ttaala is a comprehensive skill building project for human rights defenders illuminating the world of digital tools and strategies through equipping different human rights defenders’ organization to survive and thrive defending human rights in the digital age while creating impact-driven projects to close the technical and strategic skills gap for the effective defense of human rights in the digital age.

 

A total of six organizations including; West Nile Web, Fit Clique Africa, Strategic Response International, Centre for Citizens Communications  and Justice, and Advocacy for Child Relief were able to come together to attend three months training. Some of the topics covered during the three months’ training included; critical thinking, online content strategy, Monitoring, Documentation, and Reporting, Data analysis, creating digital surveys, digital security, social media platforms and management, video coverage, Mail Chimp, creating infographics using Canva, encryption, website, project management and social media analytics.

 

In February 2020, after a fun two days’ training, different project leads from the six organizations were gathered to record a short video of what they expect after a complete three trainings under the program. Different individuals shared exciting and interesting expectations that left the facilitators energized to complete the trainings. Click this to watch and learn about it: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1g-GqFwGNgBNrfER-7yqmkRd56SQlabLD/view?ts=5f7adb08

 

The trainings were conducted to enable different organizations with different projects to implement their project successfully. As an upshot of the trainings, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), from August 8 to September 8th, 2020, conducted a four week’s social media campaign on twitter, Facebook and Instagram on its Ttaala project with the hashtag #AskforConsent to create awareness on the understanding of nonconsensual intimate images (NCII) which is commonly known by the misnomer as “Revenge pornography” and advocate for change in the anti-pornography act 2014.

 

NCII is sexually explicit images and videos that are captured, published or circulated without the consent of one or more persons in the frame. NCII is a systemic and societal problem and not only a limited matter of “revenge” -- it ranges from voyeuristic neighbors to hidden cameras in hotel rooms. Ugandan law does not provide adequate redress to NCII victims and lacks gender-sensitive provisions to recognize NCII as violence and breach of privacy. In some instances, the law was used to punish the victims. The lack of consent is not a consideration in the legal and social treatment of NCII victims. Peace Oliver Amuge, the coordinator of WOUGNET, gave a contextual understanding of NCII in a video https://drive.google.com/file/d/1abGOyq3RVUuooNh-Lxo5BtntfAMAK8Lz/view including the Uganda’s policy environment.

                               

 

The distribution of intimate images without consent from the women involved has been a prevalent issue in Uganda and yet little to no measures have been taken to end it. During the #AskforConsent campaign, NCII victim-- Judith Heard shared her perspective in a video of being a victim of “Revenge Porn”. She emphasized that an intimate picture does not stop being private when it gets to another person’s phone because it still belongs to the person in the picture. Public figures and celebrities aren't the only ones susceptible to non-consensual circulation of their intimate images.  Click and watch: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1F6JK1ik8Pg0rPXtavbGlCkkAaMfL7AYG/view

 

                                  

It is important to therefore note that Consent, as is the case with any sexual encounter, needs to be FRIES. Images or videos or any kind of information should be Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic and Specific. This is why during our four week’s chat on #AskforConsent campaign, we were able to have online chats with key decision makers and internet users, and our online community, on what needs to be done to curb the continued circulation of Non-Consensual Intimate Images (NCII). Because very many women have faced revenge and cyber related violence for example 26 percent of young women aged 18-24 have been stalked online and 25 percent were the target of online sexual harassment.

 

                        

 

In Uganda, section 13(1) of The Anti-Pornography Act 2014, criminalizes the production, trafficking, publication, broadcasting, procuring, importing, exporting, selling or abetting any form of pornography. This Act punishes the victim for the production of the explicit pictures/videos while the publication, broadcasting, trafficking are not looked at.

 

Non-consensual distribution of intimate images can have very devasting psychological effects on the victim such as paranoia, depression, or even suicide. Not only do women face trauma when their intimate photos and videos are leaked but additionally, women face a second form of trauma by being blamed for incidents in which they are the victims because of the unfavorable anti-pornography act. Victim blaming tends to be the common reaction to women's privacy being violated - whether the matter in discussion is sexual assault, street harassment and online harassment like leaking of intimate photos and videos. When Judith Heard’s images were leaked, during an interview by BBC Africa, it  showed the fear and trauma that these inexcusable acts cause to the victims. It is therefore very important to create awareness such as #AskforConsent campaign and let the victims know we believe them.

                        

Often when women face instances of sexual violence, the common message from the public is that one should simply report to the police. But questions like how effective is the police in not only protecting women from these incidences but also holding perpetrators accountable? Should be posed to the Uganda police. Women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence, including NCII, than men. Women are also more likely to experience social and professional shunning if they are the victim of distribution of Non-consensual Intimate Images. The 2013 anti-pornography bill spurred a range of attacks on women across Kampala in the form of being undressed in town, a vast increase in non-consensual release of explicit content and blatant cyber harassment. And yet the law is meant to protect and not facilitate violence.

 

Organizations such as FIDA Uganda, a women led organization offering legal services for the protection of the rights of women and children should provide synergies of how to provide more information on the legal action we can take against anyone circulating or threatening to circulate your explicit content. This is because victims of "revenge porn" might not have the economic capability to seek legal action and organizations such as FIDA Uganda can support them.

                    

 

The campaign featured different organizations that provide support [digital, physical, psychosocial] to victims of distribution of Non-consensual Intimate Images. However, community support is needed for the positive effect on healing from trauma.

                         

 

It is therefore very important to #AskforConsent before you click the SHARE button because privacy is a digital human right. Letowon Abdi Saitoti, the Senior Technical support at WOUGNET shared some highlights on this here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/13tK9sQTX8O9JfxsJfLxvcNT9oAWVOAQv/view

 

Women of Uganda Network would like to thank Defend Defenders for the in-depth three months’ training and generous support to conduct the #AskforConsent campaign.


Written By:

Sandra Aceng - Program Manager Information Sharing and Networking

Read More News,

Holistic security strategies and measures to address non-consensual intimate images (NCII)

Non-consensual intimate images (NCII), commonly known by the misnomer “revenge porn” is on the rise in Uganda and Sub-Saharan African countries like Zimbabwe. Patriarchal norms and attitudes in society paired with increasing Internet access -- over 42% of Uganda’s population is now online -- has spurred this new form of gender-based violence commonly referred to as “technology-assisted violence against women and girls”. More violations and threats are now happening towards women in cyberspace. However, most cases go unreported on the extent to violence against women online and they are quite often overlooked or excluded from discussions about violence against women and girls (VAWG).

What is NCII?

NCII is defined as the distribution or circulation of sexually explicit images or videos that were initially shared with the expectation that they would remain private. NCII is a form of intimate private violence (IPV), breach of privacy, and a violation of freedom of sexual expression and this causes women to self-censor which is an attempt to silence women and other groups from participating in the public spaces like the internet. Images or videos are distributed in most cases by the former partner(s) as an act of revenge or a response to rejection. These photos or videos are in many cases stolen from the victim’s phone or laptop. Sometimes, these images are captured secretly in bathrooms, hotels, swimming pools, clothing stores, changing rooms, and public restrooms. These images or videos are then shared widely over social media platforms, pornographic websites, and instant messengers like WhatsApp. Images/ videos are later used to stalk, threaten, blackmail, publicly shame, or extort money from victims or their families.

There are multiple forms of online violence against women including cyberstalking and harassment. However, NCII is still an unrecognized topic in Uganda as an online form of violence against women and girls. Yet, it undermines gender equality by placing the blame on women victims who are shamed for engaging in consensual sexual activity, which does not require any legal, moral, or logical basis. NCII keeps women in a subordinate position in society and fails to recognize women’s existence as anything other than sex objects. Women are never forgotten to be reminded that second class is their place in society.

Not “revenge porn”

Often, NCII is referred to as “revenge pornography”. However, this is a misleading term because it implies that taking explicit photos or videos of oneself or allowing someone to do so with consent is a pornographic act. Sometimes, perpetrators may not be motivated by revenge. The creation of an explicit image in the expectation that is being shared with a private or intimate relationship does not equate to pornography. The disclose of private sexually explicit images to someone other than the intended audience is pornography. NCII is a crime, not porn, and has a serious emotional and mental impact on its victims. It is a gendered issue common among women activists, politicians, advocates, musicians, and human rights defenders, who are commonly referred to as women celebrities.

Women are regarded as bigger targets of NCII because they are perceived as inferior and soft targets. Women too are held more accountable for their private conduct in society than men. However, this does not rule out the fact that some men too are victims of NCII, although this happens rarely. The social, personal, and professional repercussions of incidents of NCII on male victims have not been adequately documented yet. However, it is likely that the impact of NCII cisgender heterosexual men is less severe than that of women.

Revenge pornography is a victim-blaming term that risks misleading government policy and even the public. Victims are harassed and yet the law does nothing to protect them. For example, in 2014, when pictures and videos of Desire Luzinda a Ugandan celebrity was published by her Nigerian ex-lover, it was on everyone’s lips. However, unfortunately, women’s rights organizations and activists were quiet about Desire’s case. She was harassed by the police, public, and government ministries. She was arrested and charged with spreading pornography by the leaked videos. Desire went and apologized publicly on Facebook to her fans, daughter, and family for something she did not do. The response of NCII in Uganda and other sub-Saharan African countries is slut-shaming.

Laws pertaining to NCII

Sub-Saharan African countries like Uganda and Malawi have laws that protect privacy, dignity, and women’s rights yet they fail to recognize NCII as a form of violence. In Uganda, section 13(1) of The Anti-Pornography Act 2014, criminalizes the production, trafficking in, publication, broadcasting, procuring, importing, exporting, selling or abetting any form of pornography. This Act punishes the victim for the production of the explicit pictures/videos while the publication, broadcasting, trafficking are not looked at.

The Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019 is neutral and does not mention NCII.  Section 148 of the Penal Code Act stipulates that “Any person who, whether in public or in private, commits any act of gross indecency with another person or procures another person to commit any act of gross indecency with him or her or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any person with himself or herself or with another person, whether in public or in private, commits an offense and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.” This section leads to re-victimization.

Social injury

A silver lining has been the case of Sanyu Robinah Mweruka, a Ugandan news anchor whose sex tape was leaked. However, she did not face any legal charges because of support from her husband and the TV station named Bukedde where she was an anchor. Other Ugandan celebrities including Judith Heard, Fabiola Anita and Cindy Sanyu, have had their nude pictures or videos shared online without their consent and have been punished for their leaked videos or images under the Anti-pornography Act. NCII affects these victims in different ways, such as losing their jobs which happened in the case of Anita Fabiola, a television personality. Victims are also revictimized, traumatized, face damaged relationships and reputation, and mental health issues. Some even attempt suicide. Google and social networking sites, when searched, still display the details about these victims, exposing their identity. Social stigma and other non-legal factors prevent victims from seeking and receiving timely justice and support.

The onus to constantly watch out for potentially becoming a victim of NCII should not be on individual women and non-binary people. NCII is cruel and illegal. We need solutions and accountability at the law and policy levels. There is limited public awareness, hence there is a need for sensitization.

While changes in the law, policy, and social norms are necessary, they will take time to come into effect. Because of the cultural and religious beliefs, people are taken away by morals and culture, hence less attention is given to the right to privacy and data protection.

Additionally, new threats such as stalker were and spouseware have emerged.

Emerging digital threats

Stalkerware is monitoring software or spyware that is used for stalking. The term was coined to describe the use of commercial spying software by stalkers. When used by the spouse or an intimate partner of the victim, such spyware is termed “spouseware”. (Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalkerware). These new trends in technology explain a practice that is harming many women who are surveilled by their current or former partners and jilted lovers.

The only immediate recourse currently available for most sub-Saharan women and non-binary persons to prevent incidents of NCII is to practice good digital security to recognize and prevent potential incidents of NCII. Additional practice of physical security and psychosocial well-being is also a necessity. Based on the training sessions and other work that Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) have done and wishes to further undertake, the strategies and measures to recognize and prevent incidents of NCII that individuals can undertake are to practice holistic security (that is, their physical, digital, and psychosocial wellbeing).

Holistic security

Holistic security is an attempt to integrate these concepts (digital, physical and legal security, psychosocial wellbeing, and organizational security) and highlight their inter-relatedness so that we can approach these processes in a more connected and meaningful way. (Source: HURIDOCS https://bit.ly/35ku0hg)

Physical security is defined as the protection of personnel, hardware, software, networks, and data from physical actions and events that could cause serious loss or damage to an enterprise, agency, or institution (Source: Wikipedia). These measures are designed to deter potential unauthorized users or to detect intrusions and monitor/record intruders.

For example, when a person is building a house, they would need to have tall fencing topped with barbed wire, razor wire or metal spikes to protect their home or property. But this does not guarantee that the security is 100% because as we plan all these security measures, perpetrators are also looking and innovating for alternative ways to breach security and break into the house. It is the same with physical security measures and strategies to address NCII. Knowing that it does not guarantee one hundred percent security is very key. These measures also do not work for everyone. Physical barriers are just designed to defeat defined threats and to attack perpetrators. While all kinds of security is important, physical security is often overlooked and its importance is unrecognized when discussing security measures or strategies in the online space.

Physical security strategies and measures

  • Ensure doors and windows are bolted properly, and there are secure locks.
  • Cover peepholes or slits in windows or doors.
  • Inspect the room to check if something looks out of place, like a slight misfit tile in a faux ceiling.
  • Look for out of place objects like smoke detectors.
  • Never leave devices unattended and be careful about giving physical access to your devices to anyone, even if intimate images or videos have been deleted from it.
  • Use wireless camera jammers or check if radio/ WiFi transmitters exist in your surroundings. However, these are tedious and time-consuming measures for ordinary people to follow. And these steps are not necessarily practicable all the time, everywhere by everyone.
  • Ensure curtains at home are opaque and do not show indoor activity.
  • Cover phone cameras with a sticker. Cover or remove web cameras from desktops.
  • Scan WiFi networks in hotel rooms, AirBnbs, etc for suspicious devices using apps such as Network Scanner. 
  • Look for camera lens reflection by turning off the room light and flash the light from your phone and if there is a lens, it will reflect the light.
  • Use a towel to cover unknown or suspicious devices in hotel rooms or Airbnbs.
  • If you suspect or know for sure that spyware has been installed on your device(s), contact a digital security expert or helpline from another device.

Digital security strategies and measures

  • Use secure messaging apps such as Signal, Telegram, and Wire for having intimate conversations and to send and receive sexually explicit images. All three apps support timed messages, that is, messages that will get deleted after a specified duration of time.
  • Avoid the use of free virtual private networks (VPNs) because most of them are unsecured and are used to mine the data and personal information of the users.  However, VPNs like Bitmask and Psiphon are exceptions. They are free of cost, secure, and reliable. TOR and paid VPNs such as Proton and Nord are also recommended.  Additionally, in Uganda, the introduction of the social media tax in 2018 by the Ugandan government is a barrier to access to secure VPNs as the tax makes it more expensive to access one.
  • Use apps such as ScrambledEXIF (Android) to delete metadata from sensitive photos before sharing them. Similarly, there are tools available for different operating systems using which one can remove metadata from videos.
  • Avoid using the private messaging feature on social media websites for the purpose of having intimate conversations.
  • Read the privacy policy before using an app for intimate conversations, (although this may not be easy for the layperson).
  • Use strong secure passwords and passphrases and do not share them with anyone.
  • Practice secure browsing. (Refer to the note at the end of the article for more digital security resources and references.)

Digital security is not only about protection but the resilience of internet users as well. Above all, digital consent is the best digital security measure.

Psychosocial security strategies and measures

  • Define boundaries with a partner(s) on intimate images. Have a conversation about not storing, not backing up explicit photos and not sharing them with anyone, and securely deleting them.
  • Understand the fault lines of coercion and consent (A statement such as, “If you love me, you will send me a naked picture of yourself” is an indicator of coercion and not love).
  • For victims of NCII and other forms of intimate partner abuse: Seek professional mental health support in the form of counseling or medical treatment to mitigate the mental and emotional impact of such incidents and their fallouts.
  • Sensitization programs should be among communities, young people and the general public to make them aware that NCII is a form of online violence and a legal offense. These programs could be held in upper secondary schools and universities. Also, awareness programs should be carried out for the general public.

Consent is a basic human right that should be respected. As we teach the women in our families and social circles safety, the men should be taught about consent and to accept the fact that only a “yes” means a “yes” from a woman or girl.

Written by:

     Sandra Aceng, Peace Oliver Amuge & Patricia Nyasuna, WOUGNET; Rohini Lakshané, The Bachchao Project

NOTE: This is a detailed write up of our Breakaway Session at the Virtual  Global Digital Development Forum (GDDF 20) held on May 6, 2020. Links to useful resources and further reading material can be found on the session slide deck here. This session was moderated by Rohini Lakshané, Director (Emerging Research), The Bachchao Project.

Read More News,