Over the years, the internet has become a fundamental tool used in our everyday lives and it maintains a high-impact presence in our community as a whole. The internet is used for social networking, communication, booking flights and accommodation, online banking, e-payments, watching online news, marketing, sharing content that matters, and carrying out our daily tasks. With the internet life has become much easier; a number of applications such as safe boda, safe bangle, etc have been invented to simplify life. In this everyday life, the internet has probably become a staple for many or even most users with access to a connection at home or at work.
However, due to the emerging use of technology for development in different fields, most women and girls remain excluded from the benefits of the Internet and they face increasing marginalization. Due to the gender gaps in Information Communication and Technologies (ICTs) and the Internet are perpetuated by a number of factors such as lack of women’s empowerment, affordability of ICT services especially broadband connectivity, lack of digital skills as well as women’s safety online. A UNESCO report indicates that three major challenges women face are poverty, violence, and lack of access to information. The digital gender gap has even widened more due to the recent imposed Over The Top (OTT) taxes on Uganda citizens for instance In June 2018, a month before the introduction of the tax by the Ugandan government, the internet penetration rate in Uganda stood at 47.4% (18.5 million internet users) but three months later, it had fallen to 35% (13.5million users) of which the most affected are women and girls. This government move has stifled expression online and most of the internet users who wanted to continue accessing the internet resorted to using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) which not all VPNs are considered safe and trusted.
According to the Online E-safety Educational Toolkit for young people in Uganda aged 5-20 years designed by the Internet Society of Uganda (ISOC) cited that the internet is used for many positive activities. However, there are some severe risks also associated with it such as online predators, cyberbullying, and consequences from revealing and sharing a lot of privacy concerns. Children, unfortunately, encounter these risks during their day-to-day activities like socializing with friends or during their school research.
A recent study report released by WOUGNET investigating Tech Related Violence against women (such as pornography, cyberstalking, and sexual harassment) in peri-urban areas of Uganda shows that women still remain at a greater risk of not being safe online. Victims are said to respond in various ways such as shying away from the public and in some cases physical violence which will not curve the vice. The study cites that more than half of the remaining respondents (22%) claimed that they are not adequately informed about where to report and 11% said they don’t know even where to report such crimes. Tech crimes continue to increase every day, minute. According to an Article on Technology Facilitated Domestic and Family violence: Women Experiences by Bridget Harris et la drawing interviews undertaken with 55 domestic and family violence survivors in Brisbane, Australia indicated that the frequency and nature of abusive behaviors described by the women suggest that this is a key form of abuse deserving more significant attention.
Young women aged 18-30 years are more likely to experience tech-related violence. A recent study by Pollicy on Uganda Women Online indicates that women are becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber violence with growing access to the internet across the world, which could in turn detrimentally impede up take of broadband services by girls and women worldwide.
For instance, on 2nd February 2019, a female programmer was insulted, intimidated, and threatened to be killed while forced to fix an error code a male client badly configured a database connection and he messed it up. Threats that limit online freedom including privacy and data protection, surveillance on citizens, and harassment online threaten the potential of the Internet as a safe platform for online communications.
WOUGNET which serves as a secretariat of a caucus called Women ICT Advocacy Group (WIAG) continues to advocate for safe, affordable internet access for all and raise awareness on tech-related issues using the various social media platforms, writing policy briefs, analyzing policies, frameworks, reports, e.t.c. spreading key messages using digital flyers, SMS campaigns, holding tweet chats, writing articles, and carrying out training on online safety tips, especially among university students to create a better internet for all.
It is vital for key stakeholders in the internet space to continue supporting non-governmental and governmental agencies assisting victims/survivors of tech crimes and there is a need for Uganda to innovate devices that women and girls can use to protect themselves online for instance Australia have an eSafety Office and eSafetyWomen tool designed by the government to empower and help women to manage technology related risks and abuse to enable them to be confident and safe online.
Young people especially women should continue to access and use the internet safely in order to demand their rights.
Compiled by Sandra Aceng