By Cherie Oyier
The digital landscape has become an integral part of our day-to-day lives, offering opportunities for social and economic connections, expression, and empowerment. However, along with the positive benefits, the upsurge in connectivity has also brought about visibility and the challenge of surveillance.
KICTANet, in conjunction with APC, held a webinar titled “Beyond the Screen: Tackling Online Surveillance of Women”. This webinar was held to raise awareness of the intersection of surveillance and online gender-based violence (OGBV) during the #16DaysofActivism.
KICTANet’s Programs Officer- Women’s Digital Rights, Ms. Cherie Oyier, while acknowledging that surveillance in the digital space is a phenomenon that affects all internet users, pointed out that women are disproportionately affected due to historical, structural, and systematic biases against them that are steeped in patriarchal cultures and beliefs. Surveillance is therefore used as a tool to control women and reinforce existing power imbalances between men and women.
During her presentation, Ms. Oyier stated that surveillance of women could escalate to different forms of online gender-based violence including cyber-stalking, cyber-harassment, cyber-bullying, doxing, and non-consensual sharing of intimate images, among other forms of OGBV.
In extreme cases, for instance, where the perpetrator is close to the victim, the violence could be perpetrated offline. Tracking devices, covert listening and recording devices, spyware, the Internet of Things (IoTs), and content posted online are some of the methods that make online surveillance possible.
Like other forms of OGBV, the effects of online surveillance on women include self-censorship, withdrawal from participation online, and loss of autonomy.
Ms. Grace Bomu, a researcher on public data governance and digital ID drew a nexus between digital IDs and surveillance. She stated that digital IDs are a form of surveillance system because digitalizing people’s identities makes it much easier to follow their online interactions and transactions in real-time.
While the digital ID system would be built on an existing foundation steeped in patriarchy, which excluded women in the past, this does not mean that women would be shielded from surveillance.
Surveillance begets surveillance, and more and more data will be required to offer services such as the registration of children, among other services. All these are avenues to collect more data, hence making surveillance easier.
Ms. Bomu also emphasized the importance of education and building digital literacy skills for women to enable them to practice cyber-hygiene and build their digital resilience in the face of challenges such as online surveillance.
To tackle online surveillance targeting women, it is imperative to allocate resources for research and disaggregation of data to evaluate the impact of surveillance. This will facilitate the making of evidence-based policies around issues of online surveillance and OGBV.
Platforms also have a responsibility to ensure that their designs do not make it easy to surveil women, and where surveillance occurs, they must provide adequate reporting and mitigation measures.
Cyber-hygiene exercises by individuals, such as desisting from positing real-time locations on social media, will also go a long way in preventing surveillance.
- How Online Gender-Based Violence Threatens Kenya’s Vulnerable Groups
- Women and gender minorities need online privacy and security
- How to Empower Women Against Online Violence
Cherie Oyier is KICTANet’s Programs Officer for the Women’s Digital Rights Program.