WOUGNET’s Engagement with the Uganda Police: Exploring Policy Concerns and Recommendations for Tackling Online Gender-Based Violence against Women

Online gender-based violence refers to any act that uses technology, primarily the internet, to perpetrate harm, harassment, or discrimination against individuals based on their gender. It manifests in various forms, including but not limited to cyberbullying, revenge porn, doxing, stalking, trolling, hate speech, and threats of violence. With the rise of digital connectivity across Africa, the internet has opened up a world of opportunities for information sharing, economic growth, and social interaction. However, this newfound digital realm has also exposed individuals, particularly women, to a distressing phenomenon known as online gender-based violence (OGBV). Digital technologies have acted as a medium for cultivating detrimental stereotypes and suppressing women’s voices. The anonymity and ease of access provided by the internet have made it easier for perpetrators to target women and escape accountability. As a result of online abuse and harassment, women and girls are discouraged from online spaces and hence deprived of the opportunities and advantages brought about by digital technologies. OGBV has got many negative impacts on the victims as it normally extends in to the offline spaces further obstructing progress towards gender equality. In some cases, it further leads to depression, psychological distress, post- traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, loss of jobs and physical acts of violence.

Recognizing the increasing threats posed by OGBV, WOUGNET has been actively working to empower women with digital literacy skills and raise awareness about online safety on different platforms such as newspapers, local radio stations, Televisions, SMSs and social media. However, addressing OGBV requires a comprehensive approach that involves cooperation between different stakeholders such as civil society organizations, government agencies, and law enforcement personnel, among others.

In an effort to foster collaboration and counter OGBV, WOUGNET initiated a dialogue with the Uganda Police Directorate of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), to discuss the alarming rise of OGBV incidents in the country. The meeting aimed to highlight the urgency of the issue and present concrete policy recommendations to strengthen existing frameworks for combating OGBV.

The discussions on the legal, policy and practice reforms centered on the findings of our Policy Brief on Women’s Rights Online in Uganda that was developed following our training workshop for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), seeking to strengthen advocacy strategies for women’s rights and privacy online and ensure that women and girls are able to take legal action against perpetrators of online violence. This was followed by a multistakeholder engagement workshop for policymakers, government agencies, CSO’s and lawmakers to better understand how women are affected by the cybercrime legislation, focusing on freedom of expression, access to information, women safety online, privacy, and data protection.

The summary of the discussions on the findings of the policy brief revolved around:

i) Legislative Reforms: Advocating for the enactment of comprehensive legislation specifically targeting OGBV, ensuring that it is recognized and penalized as a distinct offense.

ii) Capacity Building: Urging for specialized training programs for law enforcement officers to equip them with the skills and knowledge to handle OGBV cases sensitively and effectively.

iii) Reporting Mechanisms: Establishing user-friendly digital reporting mechanisms that facilitate victims’ easy access to report incidents of OGBV and seek help without fear of retribution.

iv) Data Collection and Research: Encouraging the collection of data on OGBV cases to better understand the prevalence and nature of the issue and develop evidence-based policies.

v) Public Awareness Campaigns: Collaborating with the government and other stakeholders to conduct widespread public awareness campaigns to educate both women and men about the consequences of OGBV and the importance of promoting respectful online behavior. The campaigns should also target the law-enforcement officers to keep them up-to date on the various forms of OGBV.

The meeting between WOUGNET and the Uganda Police marked a crucial step in addressing sky-rocketing concerns surrounding Online Gender-Based Violence against women. Through collaborative efforts and policy reforms, it is hoped that the plight of victims will be alleviated, and a safer online environment will be fostered. However, this is just the beginning of a long journey in the fight against OGBV. Continued cooperation between civil society, law enforcement, and the government will be essential to realizing lasting change and securing a more equitable digital landscape for women in Uganda.

Written by Peter Ongom


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