Online gender-based violence (OGBV) is a serious threat to women’s rights and safety in the digital space.
OGBV affects women of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities, and it can have devastating consequences for their physical, mental, and social well-being, according to findings from KICTANet’s “Unmasking The Trolls: Research on Online Gender-Based Violence in Kenya.”
Ms Cherie Oyier, KICTANet’s Program Officer, Women’s Digital Rights, said findings from the survey found that OGBV can take many forms, such as cyberstalking, cyber harassment, revenge porn, doxxing, and hate speech.
The study data was drawn from responses to a survey and focus group discussions (FGDs) held in Kakamega, Kisumu, Machakos, Mombasa, and Nairobi.
The study sought to establish the nature and prevalence of OGBV in rural and urban Kenya, its impact, and the effectiveness of the available legal and regulatory framework in the country.
Panellists during the webinar, Ms Angela Minayo, Digital Rights and Policy—Article 19—East Africa, and Mr Mohammed Kibugwa, Digitalization Advisor at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Kenya, further emphasised the need for better laws, platform accountability, media information literacy, and evidence-based policy to curb OGBV.
Some examples of legal and policy initiatives that can be adopted and inspire African countries are:
- The online safety bill in the UK, which regulates online platforms and holds them accountable for harmful content,
- The Digital Service Act in the EU requires transparency and due diligence from online platforms to ensure user safety.
These initiatives recognize that online safety is not just a women’s issue but a tech platform issue that affects everyone.
Media information literacy
Other ways of curbing OGBV include educating and empowering the public about the use and impact of technology. Media information literacy is a key skill that can help users critically evaluate online content, understand their rights and responsibilities online, and report and resist OGBV. It can also help dispel the myth that the online and offline worlds are separate and that what happens online has no consequences in the physical world.
On the contrary, there is a spectrum of harm that can flow from online to offline and vice versa, and that can affect individuals and communities.
The panellists collaborated with the report’s recommendation that curbing OGBV requires more research and data to understand its causes, effects, and solutions.
“Research such as the one conducted by KICTANet is a step in the right direction, as it provides evidence and insights that can inform policy and practice,” disclosed Mohammed.
Build resilience among women
However, there is still a lot to learn about OGBV, especially from the perspectives of different groups of women, such as women with disabilities, indigenous women, elderly women, and children. These groups may face specific challenges and risks online and may need tailored interventions and support.
They called upon organizations working on gender and technology to conduct more research and to collaborate to share knowledge and best practices. This way, they can curb OGBV and help women to be more resilient and assertive online.
Other strategies the webinar proposed to build resilience among women and marginalized genders who face OGBV, rather than see them withdraw or step back from the online platforms:
- Mobilize the marginalized into a strong force that can challenge the oppressor. OGBV often happens at intersections with other vulnerabilities, such as rural communities, refugees, or persons with disabilities. However, OGBV also affects the empowered, such as politicians, lawyers, or journalists. We need to start with them and turn them into a force that can raise awareness, advocate for policy reforms, and support their less empowered counterparts.
- Reform the human rights structures to keep pace with digitalization. Policies, human rights commissions, and entities have failed to adequately address the issues of OGBV in the digital space. We need to either create independent entities that focus entirely on online human rights or ensure that existing entities have elements within themselves that deal with online human rights. This is important to create a better understanding of the prevalence, impact, and solutions of OGBV and to suggest legal and policy reforms that are OGBV-specific. For example, the Online Safety Bill in the UK and the Digital Service Act in the EU are some of the initiatives that regulate online platforms and hold them accountable for harmful content.
- Educate and empower the public about the use and impact of technology. Media information literacy is a key skill that can help users critically evaluate online content, understand their rights and responsibilities online, and report and resist OGBV. It can also help to dispel the myth that online and offline worlds are separate and that what happens online has no consequences in the physical world. On the contrary, there is a spectrum of harm that can flow from online to offline and vice versa, and that can affect individuals and communities.
The webinar was in partnership with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). You can follow the discussion online via the #InvestToPreventKE campaign to call on citizens and the government to show how much they care about ending violence against women and girls and to share how they are investing in gender-based violence prevention.