WOUGNET at the 2018 RightsCon, Toronto

The recently concluded RightsCon held in Toronto, Canada as a platform that values respect, diversity, and inclusion in the digital age was a remarkable event that saw wonderful discussions and insights into the current contemporary challenges facing the globe ranging from free expression to online rights, cybersecurity, women and gender, and ICT Policies and perspectives among others.

The Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) alongside the Research ICT Africa Network based in South Africa organized a session that aimed at exploring key issues and constraints facing marginalized women; often invisible groups rarely talked about and catered for. These groups include the rural women, the refugee women, young girls, and the LGBQIT communities among others. The session also aimed at interrogating such constraints encountered by the so-called invisible women with policies and measures informed by evidenced-based research in the global South.

The session was moderated by WOUGNET Program Head, Moses Owiny (@mosesowiny) alongside experts from the APCWorld WideWeb FoundationEqual Measures 2030Research ICT Africa, and ISOC Uganda Chapter. Participants interrogated issues of gender digital divide across different heterogeneous groups of invisible women including rural women, refugee women, young women, and LGBQIT communities. Policy recommendations and the call for wider and multi-stakeholder partnership in addressing concerns around the gender digital divide was considered instrumental in closing the gender digital gap

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Tech-related violence against women in Uganda

Recently, a team of researchers, myself included made a journey to Kayunga town located in Kayunga district, central Uganda among other select sample sites. The purpose for our visit was to investigate the extent of tech-related violence among select groups who participated in our focus group discussions (FGDs) which are a major part of research funded under a small research grant scheme by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) on a project titled: “Investigating tech-related violence against women in peri-urban areas of Uganda.” The major objective of the research is to understand the extent and magnitude of tech-related violence against women and to identify support mechanisms for redress and justice. 

A report published by APC titled “End violence: women’s rights and safety online”, points out that technology-related violence includes acts or behaviors that cause harm or suffering, both mental and physical, and that this is increasingly becoming part of women’s experience of violence as well as part of their online interactions. The report further points out that Technology related violence is a form of gender-based violence and although not often highlighted as such, falls within the description of violence against women as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of violence against women (DEVAW)

According to the center for research and education on violence against women and children in Canada, technology is used to perpetrate other forms of violence including; sexual harassment, stalking and intimate partner violence to name a few. Technology-related violence takes different forms and like most forms of gender-based violence, it mostly affects women and is mostly perpetrated by men. 

On a closer look at the situation at home, Uganda has no clear statistics on online GBV, however, what we have observed over a period of time and more recently as we carry out research on tech-related violence and particularly Gender-Based Violence (GBV) online is that - it is on the rise and most victims and perpetrators are not aware that it is a form of violence. In fact, in most of the communities we have visited besides Kayunga, we have found that most perpetrators are not aware that they are perpetrating and the truth is the same for victims of online GBV – who do not know that they are victims. 

In what was also in part awareness-raising sessions, we shared in our FGDs what may consist of online/ tech-related violence, some of these included; cyber stalking, bullying, sexual harassment, trolling, threats to one’s life, revenge pornography and etc. The general reaction to these revelations was mainly on whether there is a law that can protect victims experiencing any of the named online crimes. 

Existing laws, policies, and initiatives to end GBV like the National policy on eliminating GBV in Uganda, do not clearly bring out tech-related violence as a serious form of GBV. They do not highlight the potential for online violence or tech-related violence to limit and undermine the enjoyment of one’s online and offline rights including; freedom of association, the right to safe environments, freedom of expression which consists of a contribution to content development and relevant online discussion, among other human rights. 

While laws like the Data protection and privacy Bill, Anti-pornography Act, Computer misuse Act, and Penal Code Act are designed to protect the rights of citizens like all laws, they are generic and yet limiting in terms of scope of environment/ forums that citizens may choose to exercise their freedoms; who they intend to protect and the extent some of these rights should be protected. They also do not have room or provisions for unmentioned or yet to be known human rights violations in line with the rights that they are meant to protect. In fact, for those that are designed to protect the right to access to information, protection of data and privacy, freedom of expression, and any other rights aligned to the afore-mentioned, there is clearly a gap in terms of provisions that are gender-specific, sensitive and that are specific to protecting other vulnerable groups like children and the elderly. In line with online GBV, there are no clear provisions on what it consists of and how perpetrators may be punished. Furthermore, on whether existing provisions apply to crimes that may arise during the tenure or the period before the due date for revision or review of a given law, policy, action plan, strategy or initiative.

Regional Human Rights initiatives like the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (also the Banjul declaration, 2002) and the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms (specifically Application of Principles on Marginalized groups and groups at risk; and Gender equality) have not yet been as widely endorsed or even adopted by most governments on the continent, Uganda included. If adopted and or localized, such initiatives could save governments enormous costs that would result from complications brought about by crimes like online gender-based violence in the future. 

There is clearly a need to take advantage of the internet and to exploit the opportunities it presents but also to guard against its potential to be used as a platform that can limit, deny and demean the rights of others. A strong recommendation to consider as we strive to abolish gender-based violence and accomplish the attainment of online safety to protect the right to freedom of expression among other rights can start with extensive consultation and development of legal guides or frameworks that cater for all eventualities and that are specific to addressing the needs of those that are more likely to be targets of online gender-based violence or tech-related violence among other online crimes that violate one’s human rights. 

Article by Susan H. Atim 

t: @wougnet/ @hatimsusan 

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Girls in ICT

Girls in ICT Day is an initiative backed by all ITU (International Telecommunication Union) Member states. Originally the International Telegraph Union is a specialized agency of the United Nations which is responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies.

 ICT refers to technologies that provide access to information through telecommunications. It is therefore similar to Information Technology (IT) but rather focuses primarily on communication technologies. These include; the Internet, wireless networks, cell phones, and other communication mediums.

 In Africa and to be specific Uganda, this kind of technology amongst girls especially the rural girl child is so far beyond reach or of any knowledge while for the urban girl child it is most likely the contrary. I have had the privilege to indulge a few girls between the ages of 15- 30 years about technology especially a computer and internet too but their responses are quite vague although they express a strong urge to learn about computers and the internet.

The Girl Child, especially in the urban areas, has grasped the positives that come with ICTs in this world and built a keen interest in STEM(Science Technology, Engineering, and Math). I was privileged and honored to meet a few of such ladies last year during the MTN Innovations Award 2017 where we m’omulimisa SMS platform was nominated for best Agriculture App in Uganda. One of the apps built by a lady was Vouch Digital formerly known as M- Voucher that champions in digital platforms and digital payments. This was innovated by Evelyn Namara who also champion Girls in ICT at the Innovation Village Ntinda and mentors’ girls in technology to get involved, be resilient, and challenge the boys in regard to Tech-novation.

 During training offered to the girl child I realized a lot of challenges limiting girls especially rural girls from getting involved in ICT programs. These barriers include;

  • Lack of access to the internet which affects the ability to tap into the World Wide Web using supported gadgets, systems, and infrastructure and Internet availability which deters ability to utilize internet service in the presence of supporting gadgets, systems, and infrastructure). It is the government’s role to have these services extended to the rural areas as it’s a right for everyone to have access to the internet or else, the rural girl child will always be denied this.
  • Connectivity; a fast access barrier for using ICTs is the lack of a mobile network or broadband internet network. In many rural areas, the basic infrastructure for ICT access is not yet present. A majority of Primary and Secondary schools in Uganda do not have connectivity or ICT equipment and traveling outside of the community to a network is expensive for most youth and in many cases, not possible or safe for girls and young women.
  • Awareness; Even if there are basic access and connectivity, not everyone understands what mobile phone or the internet can do for them other than using a mobile phone to make and receive a phone call, the kind of information and services that can be accessed over the internet, or how this information can be used to improve livelihoods.
  • Affordability: Combined costs of tools involved in ICT usage are quite overwhelming for a girl child especially one that is unemployed or relying on parents. For those staying in remote rural areas, the cost of traveling to find a network or internet café may be so costly.
  • Attainability; Even if other barriers have been resolved, socio-economic and cultural issues such as gender discrimination and stereotypes around the girl child and girls with disabilities impact the efficient and effective use of ICT's.

 On the flipside of ICTs, I believe along with my fellow Tech Geek Consultant friend Tomslin that TRUST is the lifeblood of the internet. Violations such as the recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal should worry policymakers and internet optimistic where 30 million personality profiles, constructed from 50 million Facebook users’ data were sold to Politicians to influence political elections.

How the internet evolves from here henceforth on its economic and social impact depends on users trusting the internet and its services altogether.

 As I end my write up, I will quote Olivier Printout, CMO MTN Uganda; Technology presents a real opportunity for transformation of our economy and our nation and we must harness it.

Compiled by Pinno Ivan Louis -  IT Consultant WOUGNET Eastern Uganda

What young people have to say

Twinokwikiriza Inea a third-year student at Kampala International University.

“Girls need to change attitude and eliminate the feeling of inferiority to boys because God created them equally”

According to Inea, the biggest barrier to girls succeeding in STEM is their attitude backed by stereotypes that some subjects are better done by boys. Although there is currently an increase in the number of girls perusing STEM subjects and carriers in Uganda, we should not ignore the fact that many are still left behind especially in the rural areas.

Financial constraints are also a key barrier as many young women today have innovative ideas and can build applications that can improve our communities’ status however they lack funds to support their initiatives.

On International Day of the girl in ICT, Inea calls upon the Government and all stakeholders to support ICT innovations and ideas created by women and girls because in the long run, it is of great benefit to Uganda as a Nation.

Salvah 21 Years old Girl pursuing a Bachelor's in Computer Science in Year 1 at Kampala International University.

“ICTs are interesting because they are futuristic”

Salvah has always had an interest in computer science and decided to peruse this in her education because she finds dealing with ICTs very interesting and simple.

She says it is her first time to hear about the International Day of the Girl in ICT however it is wonderful that a day like this is put aside to honor girls like her. Many girls would like to pursue such courses or be well vast with technologies but they lack gadgets and guidance which is a great challenge.

The boys may be more in her class but they are not a threat because the more she gets to interact with them, the more her passion is built as she aims at challenging them in all class projects.

Kenneth Niyibizi currently a first-year student at Kampala International University.

“Let more ladies inspire the girls, they should be tech instructors in schools, science teachers, and spearhead sensitization campaigns. This is the best way to inspire girls and build their passion for ICT”

After perusing a Diploma in ICT, Kenneth tutored ICT at Lake Bunyonyi S.S Buwama Island on Lake Bunyonyi in Western Uganda. He realized fewer girls were excelling however, the more they interacted with their male counterparts, the more their passion in ICT was built. Most of the girls considered ICT hard yet they had never tried it out and it is only after being exposed that they realize it is not as complex.

In Uganda, most ICT initiatives are strategically located in urban areas thus leaving the rural girl Behind. A few rural girls that have been introduced to computer studies have managed to outcompete boys for example in Lake Bunyonyi S.S Buwama. Access is therefore key and the Government should equip rural schools with Electricity and Computers to necessitate skill development of Girls in ICT.

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Why ICT Policy Making and Advocacy efforts should Advance a Gender-Responsive approach to Women’s Digital Empowerment

The euphoria that has been encapsulated within the term ‘Africa Rising’ according to researchers is attributed to Africa’s expanding middle class and the development of information and communications technologies. This is crucial for the growth and development of Africa’s economy. However, as the internet continues to expand to even the remotest parts of the global South and with such optimism, women and girls remain largely under-represented into key sectors of the economy as these are predominantly dominated by males. A recent report commissioned by the World Wide Web Foundation found out that “Women’s exclusion from the digital revolution is primarily due to policy failure, and policy failure can be reversed” The above line sums up what the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) have been doing as far as advocating for gender-sensitive ICT policies and decision-making processes are concerned. The need to ensure more women contribute to the ICT policy and decision-making processes is instrumental in shaping development outcomes and how such an arrangement of things positively impacts the lives of women and girls.

Building the capacity of women in Gender and ICT policy, internet governance is key to the realization of women’s internet rights. It's well known that ICT offers transformative potentials in the lives of women around the globe and yet despite such transformative values, the majority of women especially those in sub-Saharan Africa are marginally and disproportionally underrepresented in all levels of employment and decision-making processes. As a result, their views and perspectives are left out.

For the internet to provide the transformational potential that it has for everyone, ICT policies must be gender-responsive in manners that equally addresses the challenges of connectivity and takes into account the needs, values and perspectives of the diverse groups of people including women since meaningful access of the internet imply that the status of women and girls equally improves as a result of benefiting from the productive ICT resource.

For the case of Uganda, South Africa, and a few other African countries, the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) and partners such as the WorldWide Foundation and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) have made tremendous gains in building the capacity of young African women on gender and internet governance, ICT policy as well as participation in an intensive Africa school on internet governance that produces graduates that continue to substantially make important gains in advancing a gender-sensitive approach to ICT policymaking.

Some of the Ugandan women that have benefited from our interventions have supported activities like the national ICT policy frameworks and consultative processes, the review of policies as well as actively participating in offline and online discussions that promote gender equality and digital empowerment. Some have integrated gender-sensitive approaches into their institutions and many continue to contribute to the global ICT and women's empowerment discourses. For instance, some of our participants have actively participated in the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa conferences, the Asian CyFY - a Conference on Cyber Security and internet governance, Africa, and the global internet Governance Forum including the RightsCon among others. As women and male champions continue to advance the status of women in the digital age both internally and externally, the benefits that accrue as far as the empowerment of women and girls are concerned and its concomitant values is indisputable in spurring gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.

Compiled by 

Owiny, Moses 

GAP Catalyst

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Ensuring access to information on menstrual hygiene management and sexual reproductive health rights for stakeholders

The Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES), in partnership with Water Aid Uganda on 29th March 2018 hosted a full-day stakeholder’s meeting on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR). The meeting which took place in Kampala was held with the objective of increasing the profile of MHM and SRHR in schools through information sharing and learning to influence policies and strategies through a strategic multi-stakeholder response that will support MHM and SRHR in schools, to achieve sustainability of girls’ retention in schools.  

As highlighted in the meeting’s objective, information sharing is central to tackling the challenges that women and especially girls face as we strive to reach the UN sustainable development goals specifically on gender equity, equality, and development.

One of Water Aid’s key interventions aimed at achieving its strategic goal as mentioned at this meeting is effective knowledge analysis and information to equip rights holders and duty bearers with information on water sanitation and hygiene (WASH), rights, roles, responsibilities, and obligations to create WASH demand and supply. 

It was pointed out that this intervention can be achieved by; 

  • Carrying out and sharing research findings and studies on SRHR and MHM.
  • Networking and lobbying to address funding gaps in research and WASH initiatives. 
  • Utilizing free media spaces including social media platforms, radio, and newspapers to disseminate information on MHM & SRHR. 
  • Advocating for policy initiatives and framework designs that encourage dissemination of information for all age groups.
  • Engaging the private sector in information sharing campaigns, and research among other initiatives to benefit them but also so that they are able to manufacture and design solutions that are gender-sensitive and responsive. 
  • Scaling up the capacity building for teachers, parents, and other duty bearers. 
  • Strengthening monitoring and evaluation in schools on MHM and SRHR information dissemination and reception. 
  • Utilize Village Health Teams (VHT’s) to disseminate information on MHM & SRHR policies and initiatives that communities can benefit from.
  • A harsh policy environment that limits the dissemination of vital information due to age appropriateness issues.
  • Limited time and funding allocated to disseminate information on MHM and SRHR information in schools and to communities.
  • Limited or no access to information on MHM and SRHR to persons with disabilities and stakeholders in rural areas. 
  • Poor coordination of stakeholders working in the areas of WASH, MHM & SRHR that occasionally sees duplication of information and learning activities.
  • Carry out more research on WASH, MHM, and SRHR and for these to inform policy initiatives and policy framework design. 
  • More funding and partnerships at national, regional, and international levels on WASH, MHM & SRHR initiatives. 
  • Encourage an even greater space and enabling policy environment that allows for contributions from CSOs, NGOs, and the private sector among other stakeholders. 

While these were highlighted as means of information sharing and future engagement strategies/ way forward, it was appreciated that there are a host of challenges that limit access to information on MHM and SRHR exist and should be addressed holistically. Some of these challenges through shared experiences as pointed out by participants include;

Even with these challenges, it was generally felt that the day’s proceedings, prior and future engagements are an opportunity for stakeholders to; 

Granting these were a key part of the day’s deliberations, it was generally agreed that a lot has been done and a lot more still needs to be done to make information on MHM and SRHR accessible to all stakeholders including; students (both boys and girls), teenagers, the communities they live or come from, teachers, other duty bearers, the private sector among others. It is hoped that making information available will address the many challenges that girls face including the lack of gender-friendly facilities at school and negative attitudes towards menstrual hygiene that have contributed to girls missing out on approximately 11% of school time in Uganda. Ultimately access to information is an important aspect of development as it informs decisions in our day to day lives.


Susan Atim

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