Together for a Better Internet: Safer Internet Day 2021

Globally, by January 2021, Internet penetration stood at 59.5% with 4.66 billion people using the Internet around the world. This is according to the Digital 2021 Global Overview Report which also states that the number of social media users is now equivalent to more than 53 percent of the world’s total population. Uganda has 12.6 million Internet users with an Internet penetration of 26.2% with 3.40 million social media users as of January 2021. It is therefore not strange to ask oneself about Internet safety, and how many of these people have been able to use the internet without self-censorship as they use the Internet.

I would like to compare internet safety to my home; the comfort, the freedom, the Peace, serenity, joy, and happiness I feel while at home. The autonomy of deciding what I want to do, putting into consideration the feelings of those around me, letting in who I want, and shutting the door to those I am not comfortable with. This would describe how a safe Internet should be. Many times, safety online has been described as “individuals protecting themselves and others from online harms and risks which may jeopardize their personal information, lead to unsafe communications or even affect their mental health and wellbeing”.

But why should anyone be afraid while using the Internet? Why should we constantly look over our shoulders while using the Internet? What if we all worked towards envisioning the Internet as a safe space to learn, share and grow, wouldn’t this make the world a better place?

Globally, every 9th February, Safer Internet Day is celebrated to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for children and young people and inspire a national conversation. The theme this year was "Together for a better Internet" and it called upon all stakeholders to join together to make the Internet a safer and better place for all, and especially for children and young people.

To commemorate this day, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) participated in a webinar hosted by Digital Literacy Initiative (DLI)under the theme “The role of Multistakeholder model in promoting a safer Internet.” On the panel where other organizations including; AYDIA Gender and Technology Initiative, ISOC Uganda Chapter, Maendeleo Foundation and Smart Youth Network. The panel discussed a number of issues for instance; Gender inclusivity, advocating for more women participation in safe spaces especially digital spaces, challenges faced by rural women, youth involvement in such forums and children’s safety online.  

“The Internet creates a platform for women to discuss issues that affect them towards development, yet women are threatened to fully participate and harness their potential while using the Internet. We should therefore normalize punishments for cyber harassers and abusers.” Aidah Bukubuza a Co-founder and Lead, AYDIA Gender and Technology Initiative.

The Internet Society in Uganda and NITA Uganda did a survey to review different legislation on child online protection and noted that there is no comprehensive policy framework that targets child online protection. Lillian Nalwoga, the president at ISOC Uganda chapter further elaborated that the Stop It campaign with the aim of fighting child sex images has been launched and joined by various stakeholders that include MTN Uganda, Nita, and Internet Society Uganda from civil society. She hopes that continuous discussions and engagements will lead to having the necessary policy frameworks.

Asia Kamukama, the Executive Director of Maendeleo Foundation believes that rampant misinformation is a result of lack of digital skills and high levels of illiteracy in Uganda. She finds it critical for people to learn about online hygiene and misinformation.

Hakeem Ssebagala, the Programs Director at Smart Youth Network, focused his argument on how safe we are while posting, transacting, and whether people are aware of their safety online. Hakeem suggests that young people should be encouraged to attend such engagements, and practical engagements should be carried out to empower them with knowledge and skills. He affirms the need for digital literacy to help young people understand issues such as privacy, data protection, misinformation, and safe browsing. He further points out the need to closely monitor what children surf on the Internet.

As WOUGNET’s representative on the panel, I encouraged civil society to play their role through promoting digital literacy, empowering women and girls and creating awareness about ICTs for women and girls without leaving behind the rural and women persons with disability. I added that the government has a role to bring stakeholders together, empower women economically to help them use digital tools and contribute to sustainable development. I called upon all users to be vigilant on their Internet usage and encouraged STEM for women and girls.

Conclusively panelists urged that parent should nurture their children on how the online space works; train them to be good online citizens, and help them develop digital emotional intelligence to respect everyone online. They acknowledged the role of the multistakeholder model in the Internet ecosystem and added that stakeholders have a duty to ensure a variable regulatory framework and business climate that can accommodate issues of the Internet.

Online safety should be a shared responsibility for every stakeholder and everyone should play more than a minimal role in order to cope up with the fast technology evolution.

Compiled by Patricia Nyasuna

Program Officer Gender & ICT, WOUGNET

Read More News,

The Impact of Online Gender-Based Violence on Women’s Mental Health in Uganda

While online Gender-Based Violence (OGBV) has become a norm in this 21st century where the internet is a part of our fate, its toll on the mental health of women who are victims is immeasurable. Many studies have provided facts on the impact of the general Gender-Based Violence on women however little has been documented about the impact OGBV has on the mental health of women.

Even though both men and women are potential victims of OGBV, research shows that women are more susceptible to the act than men and are more likely to face ill effects ensuing from OGBV. This may also be associated with the societal and cultural norms that usually victimize women more than men given the influence patriarchy has on society in our day-to-day lives. This, therefore, implies that the violation of women online is just a reflection of the rate at which women are often violated offline.     

Despite the efforts that have been undertaken by the government (through its laws and policies) and feminist organizations to increase women's participation in social, economic, and political spheres through the internet platforms, the rate at which OGBV prevails has crushed these efforts thus increasing the gender digital divide. This has not only affected their freedom of expression online but has also prevented them from championing different societal causes and accessing services online.  

In Uganda today, a number of women have been harassed and prejudiced through the use of technology which is an attack on their personal and professional growth. This is commonly done through Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and sometimes email. According to Mutebi & Wagabaza, 2019, online violence against women and girls entails cyberstalking, unsolicited sexual advances, sharing degrading images, false accusations, defamation, and slander. Supplementary to that, Non-consensual intimate images (NCII) commonly known as “revenge porn” is another form employed by perpetrators of OGBV.

Women that have succumbed to any kind of OGBV are most likely to undergo emotional damage that often times threatens their mental health. The impact of OGBV ranges from mild to extreme effects, these may include low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. This is in accordance with the research conducted by Policy in 2020 that informed that out of the 720 Ugandan respondents that were interviewed, 32.8% reported having been victims of Online Gender-Based Violence. The report further highlighted that the experience impacted their mental health and this manifested through anxiety, depression, fear, and a sense of powerlessness. The report further indicated that 75% of the women interviewed reported having suffered from mental stress and anxiety as a result of the violence they had experienced online. The unforeseen outbreak of the COVID-19 also acted as a steering wheel for technology-related violence against women simply because the lockdown increased people’s access to the internet as they had a lot of downtimes.   

 A survey conducted by Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) between 30th May and 4th June 2020 among 50 young tech users from urban, peri-urban, and rural areas of Uganda indicated that 24% of the respondents had experienced OGBV. The report also conveyed that while some victims confronted the harasser, there is a category of women that kept such incidents to themselves which could lead to self-censorship, psychological or emotional effects.

While it’s easy for some victims to move on, it’s never the same for someone that has experienced different forms of OGBV such as “revenge porn’’. It always takes a lot of resilience, social support, and rehabilitation for the victim to recover from the emotional damage. An assessment of women’s safety in the digital space highlighted that OGBV has the potential to harm the mental health of the victims and in some instances lead to suicidal thoughts.   For instance, after Judith Heard's nudes leaked without her consent, she could hardly leave the house in fear of being killed or stoned by the people that were throwing hate words and insults at her.  She was attacked and ridiculed on social media. This fear resulted in depression and later transited to suicidal thoughts which would have led to her death if not supported.

In addition, the victims are subjected to guilt and shame towards their families and friends which automatically affects their self-esteem. This does not only destroy the victim’s social life or career path but further affects their ability to cope up with normal stresses of life and also reduces their productivity. A case in point, in 2014 Desire Luzinda one of Uganda’s pop stars went into hiding after her ex-boyfriend posted nude photos on social media after a failed relationship. It was emotionally draining for her because she felt a lot of guilt and found it hard to explain herself to her mother and daughter and at the same time felt a lot of pressure from her fans that value ethics and morality. As a rising pop star, growing a fan base is one thing, and maintaining it is another. Although the nudes were leaked without her consent, this left a big toll on her self-esteem especially on musical stages because a number of her fans bashed her online for using her nudes to seek popularity and also earn money. This automatically affected her productivity in pushing her music ahead as she spent time worrying about what the public perceived of her.

As the perpetrators of OGBV hide behind fake accounts and personas, the mental health of victims is left in shutters as they are tormented, ridiculed, and judged on the online spaces. This inevitably affects their wellbeing especially the way they act, feel and also limits their ability to make choices. Therefore, legislators, policymakers, and all stakeholders including but not limited to internet service providers should create a safe, inclusive, and fairground on the internet platforms to ensure that both men and women freely enjoy their freedom of expression and access to information. They should guarantee that no one enjoys their digital human rights of freedom of expression at the expense of another person’s human rights. Instead of criticizing and penalizing the victims, safe spaces should be created by human rights advocates, private and government institutions to rehabilitate the victims to enable the spaces to become more resilient, reclaim their position in society, and rediscover their purpose in life to enable them to heal mentally.

The mounting number of victims that have experienced technology-related violence against women (tech-related VAW) has rendered ICT as a gendered issue, this form of violence creates a hostile online environment that disheartens women and girls from fully embracing ICT as a tool for sustainable development due to fear of their safety. In order to eliminate OGBV, Uganda should also embrace the five principles recommended by the Due Diligence Project which looked at state compliance to eliminate OGBV in five areas which included; prevention, protection, prosecution, punishment, and provision of redress and reparation.  The project does not only halt OGBV from occurring but it further accounts for preventing reoccurrence of further violence gives room for investigation and instituting proceedings against the perpetrators give an obligation to impose sanctions/negative consequences on perpetrators provide for compensation of the victims and removing the content that has been uploaded to destroy someone’s image.

Conclusively, while it's of great importance to compensate the victims of OGBV and punish perpetrators, it’s also imperative to rehabilitate victims to protect them from extreme effects of endangered mental health like depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts which may result in death.

Written by Maria Gorret Nampiima,

Program Associate, Information Sharing and Networking

Read More News,

Digital Empowerment and Computer Skills Training: Enhancing Response to COVID-19 and Gender-Based Violence by WOUGNET Members in Uganda

We as Warm Hearts were very privileged to host Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) staff at our office. We are glad that we got an opportunity to be trained among the many local women rights organizations in Uganda. It was a life changing experience and opportunity for our staff to be trained by WOUGNET on video conferencing technology especially Zoom and Google meets. Warm Hearts Foundation as an organisation adopted this technology and skills provided by WOUGNET to amplify our work during the 16 days of activism. 

On 12th December 2020, we managed to host a Zoom meeting that was titled, “effectiveness of rule of law in ending GBV” moderated by the Executive Director. This was the first meeting Warm Hearts Foundation was hosting virtually and we were able to invite different people on board. It was an amazing experience seeing Warm Hearts staff apply the skills with limited excuses and interruptions which wasn’t the case before. We are excited that the civil society in Uganda digital support programme coordinated by WOUGNET has made our organization to get equipped with skills and technology required to sustain our organisation during this period of COVID-19 and after as we  continue to make the world a better place to live in especially in the lives of women. We therefore look forward to training more staff as well as the community with the digital literacy skills and knowledge acquired in order to empower more women and girls digitally.

Read More News,

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

Background

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.

Conclusion

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.   

Read More News,

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)

Read More News,