Why ending Body Shaming should be at the Top of Every Women’s rights online activist’s agenda


In 2013, Lindsey Kukunda the Founder of Her Empire (Not Your Body), a feminist organization in Uganda called out a popular bar in Kampala, for being racist on social media. She received mixed reactions from the public for having stood up against the bar’s racist culture. However, on one occasion while she was hanging out with friends, a random person, without her consent took a picture of her and posted it on social media. In his caption, he stated that “Can you imagine this chic without boobs (breasts) is the one who called out the bar?” This is only one of the many instances or stories you would get to know from the public if you conducted a survey about victim/survivor’s experiences with body shaming.   

Just like the remarks made about Lindsey Kukunda, any practice or act that tends to humiliate a person or people by making sexist statements basing on their physical appearances like body size, shape or weight amounts to body shaming. Most women online are always bombarded by a culture of misogyny that often includes offensive and sexualized remarks or comments. It is a common sight for various people or societies in Uganda to fantasize about people especially women who are “slim” in terms of size while they demonize or dehumanize those that seem to be “overweight”. This is because most of the societies we live in are hinged on patriarchal settings where women’s bodies are often sexualized or viewed as sexual objects hence the “need” for them to maintain “slim” bodies that most men tend to find sexually attractive.

A survey conducted by the World Wide Web Foundation in February 2020 indicated that 52% of the female respondents have faced online Gender-Based Violence as compared to the men who stood at 50%. The same survey shows that 17% of the female respondents were emotionally and psychologically affected by online gender-based violence as compared to 13% for the males. Additionally, research carried out by Bullying Statistics, an organization founded to provide Anti-Bullying Help and data show that 94% of teenage girls and 65% of teenage boys have been body shamed before. These comparisons clearly indicate that more women than men have faced or are likely to be body-shamed as compared to men. However, it is important to note that body shaming has always existed although the increase or surge in the use of the internet especially on the social media platforms due to the COVID-19 disease outbreak has only made the situation worse and this has come into attention. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reports that the proportion of women using the internet is 12% lower than the proportion of men. This only points to the fact that furthering online abuse through body shaming will widen the already existing gender divide in terms of internet usage hence violating women’s constitutional right of access to information, freedom of speech, expression, press, privacy, and data protection.

Why Online Body Shaming Cases are on the Rise?

The furtherance or growth in the number of body shaming in Uganda is partly attributed to the fact that the government or its enforcement agencies have not made very significant efforts towards eliminating body shaming as a form of violence against women. Cases of body shaming or any other forms of online Gender-Based Violence are rarely investigated and prosecuted yet the Uganda Police Force has the Cyber Crimes Unit that is mandated to investigate such matters. Instead, victims of online harassment have on several occasions been arrested and charged under laws that seem to target the victims of abuse but not the perpetrators as seen when Police summoned and ordered for the arrest of Martha Kemigisha Kagimba alias Martha Kay, a popular Ugandan comedian, and actress after her sexually explicit pictures and videos were leaked anonymously online. A survey conducted by Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) shows that 74% of the respondents prefer to report cases about online violence against women to the Police. However, trust in the Police Force and Justice System could fade away if they continue to apprehend victims instead of perpetrators of such abuse. Due to this common practice by the Uganda Police Force, Lindsey in an interview with WOUGNET on December 2nd, 2020 argued that the government is actually the biggest perpetrator.

Additionally, Religion and Education have equally played a big role in the increase in cases of online violence against women. Most religions if not all preach and uphold the subordination of women to men instead of equality between the two genders. A quick example is 1Timothy 2:11-12 which states that “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” This clearly Justified Lindsey’s opinion when she said that Religion is not a safe space for women during her interview with WOUGNET. Similarly, our Education system has equally been put on the spot for failing to check academic institutions that sexually objectify their students’ dress code especially that of women by advancing the argument that dressing “indecently” lures men into sexually harassing women both physically and online. We contend that when children are raised under such principles that sexually objectify women’s bodies, there will be a surge in the number of body shaming amongst especially against women as a form of online harassment.

What are the Possible Impacts of Online Body Shaming?                   

Research has shown that body shaming has both physical and mental impacts upon victims and survivors like anorexia, clinical depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and mental distress hence the need to address it urgently. The World Wide Web’s survey, indicates that 17% of the female and 13% of the male respondents faced emotional or physical effects of online abuse. Therefore, more women than men are at a risk of facing the physical and emotional side effects of body shaming like anorexia, anxiety, and depression.  These side effects in some cases may even prompt victims of body shaming into acts and thoughts of self-harm or suicidal tendencies hence the need to effectively address this issue. It is upon this basis that WOUGNET in partnership with Encrypt Uganda, DefendDefenders, African Defenders, Digital Literacy Initiative, and Digital Human Rights Lab is conducting the #SayNoToOnlineGBV campaign as the world commemorates the #16DaysOfActivism this year, 2020. The purpose of this campaign is to highlight the various issues on online violence against women especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic and provide a platform for victims/survivors of online abuse like body shaming to share their stories and experiences. A clear example is Elena’s story who on several occasions had to skip school because her classmates often referred to her as an “Elephant” due to the size of her legs. In fact, this very insult was repeated by one of her former classmates sometime later on Facebook which brought back the traumatizing memories of her childhood experience with body shaming. This therefore campaign enabled the victims and survivors to speak up about online violence against women.   

How Can We Tackle Body Shaming?

Uganda has laws like the Computer Misuse Act of 2011 under Section 24 which expressly prohibits any form of cyber harassment including any act or statement of an indecent nature using electronic communication devices. Additionally, Section 25 of the same Act provides for the crime of offensive communication and thereunder criminalizes all willful and repeated acts or statements made through the use of electronic communication devices that tend to disturb or attempt to disturb the peace, quietness or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication. This clearly shows that Uganda’s legal framework in regards to body-shaming is not lacking but rather its enforcement through the Cyber Crimes Unit of the Uganda Police Force. Therefore, the Cyber Crimes Unit, Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) and the Judiciary should expedite the investigation and dispensation of justice in cases of online harassment such as those that involve body shaming. Similarly, Lindsey Kukunda suggests civil society organizations should work with the government especially Parliament to eradicate all laws that sexualize bodies and target victims of online abuse like the Anti-Pornography Act of 2014.  

As Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), it is our position that victims and survivors of online body-shaming ought to take the necessary steps to report such indecent posts to the social media platforms on which they are posted and these platforms, on the other hand, are mandated to investigate, take down such posts and suspend accounts found in violation of internet safety rules and regulations. 

WOUGNET whose mandate is to advocate for women’s rights online propose that both the state and non-state actors should invest in the accessibility and availability of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (M.H.P.S.) to victims and survivors of body shaming as a means of restoration to victims/survivors and mitigation of its possible side effects like suicidal tendencies.


The right of access to the internet is a paramount and fundamental human right that every individual in society is entitled to and should be enjoyed by all, irrespective of gender, race, religion, geographical location. However, if efforts are not made towards ending online Gender-Based Violence like body shaming, this right will only remain in our law books but shall not be enjoyed by vulnerable groups such as women who are also governed by the laws and often left out (excluded).


Written by Iribagiza David

Communications Intern.   

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Not ‘revenge porn’: Non-consensual intimate imagery in Uganda.

Non-consensual intimate images (NCII), more commonly known by the misnomer “revenge porn” refers to 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. Uganda’s 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.

On July 28th, 2020 in the RightsCon Online The conference, WOUGNET hosted a session entitled; Not ‘revenge porn’: New trends in non-consensual intimate imagery in Uganda and the role of digital security. The session comprised of a diversity of speakers including Ms. Judith Heard a Ugandan socialite and also founder of Day One Uganda. Ms. Joan Katambi an Assistant Lecturer at the Uganda University of ICT, Sandra Aceng a Program Officer at WOUGNET, and myself. This session was impeccably facilitated by Ms. Peace Olive Amuge a Program Manager at WOUGNET and Ms. Rohini Lakshané Director (Emerging Research) Bachchao  Project in India.

During this session, the different speakers managed to elucidate the legal framework in Uganda, the social-cultural environment and its impact on victims as well as new trends in technology and digital security measures.

While sharing her experience as a victim of NCII, Ms. Judith Heard expressed displeasure in the law enforcers who mocked her when she reported to the police station. As if it wasn’t enough that she was already being blamed for showing her nudity to the nation which was not even true. By virtue of the anti-pornography law in Uganda, Judith had to report to the police station every month and if found guilty, she would be arrested and serve a 10-year sentence in prison. With disillusionment she said ;

“Why is it that the victim gets taken to jail?” “Why doesn’t the police do anything to arrest the people who published the photos? At the end of the day how are you protecting me? how are you walking with me as the police from Uganda? “There is no one protecting me!

For Judith, the hurt was even worse because she received so many insults from the public, even from women who she believed would stand with her in such a depressing time.

Most people regard NCII as “revenge porn” which implies that taking a picture or allowing someone else to take your picture is a ‘pornographic act’. But  this is not the case, it is the stigma related to NCII now because of clauses in the Ugandan anti-pornography act 2014. For instance, when you send an image (s) or a video (s) to someone else rather than the person who you were sending it to, will be classified as “pornography.”  While speaking at the conference, Sandra informed the audience that NCII is seen as inexistent during discussions on violence against women and girls in Uganda  because NCII is not completely recognized as a form of ‘online  violence.’ Revenge porn is a misleading term that ends up even misleading the general public and policymakers because when women are harassed, the law does nothing to protect victims but rather blames them for their leaked images and videos which becomes a double trauma for the victims. In some cases, the victims end up apologizing to the public for a crime they didn’t commit like the case of Desire Luzinda a Ugandan musician.

NCII undermines women's gender equality and it is a breach of privacy, sexual expression, and freedom of the expression online.” Sandra explained

Ms. Joan Katambi added that the laws in Uganda do not protect victims of NCII. The Anti-Pornography Act of 2014 does not take into account how these pictures are shared and end up getting in the public. Furthermore, it doesn’t take into account that most of these women are victims, not perpetrators. Joan pointed out the maximization of Digital Security measures and encouraged different stakeholders especially civil society to share best practices to ensure women’s safety online and offline.

I then explained that Uganda is a religious country and has a diversity of cultures that enforce different moral codes. Because of this, we are socialized to behave in certain ways right from childhood which highly impacts our perceptions when things we consider “morally incorrect” happen. In this case NCII, the question is; “Why did you take such pictures?” What were you thinking? You must be promiscuous”. So, the focus and blame immediately go to who is in the picture and not how it got there. A lot of victimization builds up especially from fellow women which are quite disappointing. This is sad because it causes a lot of pain, confusion, anger, depression, and worst, silence for the victim.

In 2017, Uganda set up a Pornography Control Committee with nine members composing of some religious leaders with the intent to detect and curtail the circulation of pornographic material. For the Government it is more of  policing morality and protecting the country’s moral values.

Sandra shared the newest developments in tech such as spouseware/ stalkerware commonly known as spyware and also mentioned that during this COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in different parts of the world, there has also been the increased usage of boss ware used by employers to spy on their employees which is a threat to digital human rights especially women’s rights online and their privacy. She said that once the stalkerware or spouseware is downloaded, everything can be collected, such as the location data, e-mails, phone calls, images, videos, etc.

She suggested that Internet users can avoid these new threats to online safety and privacy from being plugged onto their ICT tools by;

      • Never leaving their devices unattended.
      • Downloading the cybersecurity apps which can detect spyware and remove it
      • Installing antivirus software

There is some light at the end of the tunnel as civil society Organizations like WOUGNET, digital human rights lab (DHRLab) and Pollicy. among others have come out to create awareness and encourage digital safety as well as policy Advocacy to integrate gender sensitivity in curbing such crime.

As internet users, it is important to be responsible as we post and share information; just because you got a nude photo doesn’t give you the right to share it. Remember never to violate anyone’s TRUST and CONSENT. Let us restore the dignity of victims because at the end of the day no one deserves this kind of humiliation.

Compiled by Patricia Nyasuna

Program Officer Gender & ICT Policy Advocacy (WOUGNET)

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


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

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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 

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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

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