International Women’s Day – Making the internet a safer place for women

The steady growth of Africa’s development has been greatly contributed by the existence of the continuous access of the internet, the rapid spread of mobile phones and the wide diffusion of social media which have immensely brought about job opportunities especially for women who are seen as the backbone of development especially in developing countries. This has however also presented avenues and tools for inflicting harm on women. Today as we celebrate International Women’s Day we look at how the internet and the challenges women face in staying safe online.

International women's day. Image from http://kempseyfamilysupport.org.au/international-womens-day/
International women’s day. Image from http://kempseyfamilysupport.org.au/international-womens-day/

Kenya has an estimated mobile phone penetration rate of over 80%, and internet penetration at 64% (approximately reaching 29.1 million individuals), making Kenya the 21st most connected population in the world. With this great number of people online, or having access to internet and a growing number of social networking platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube to connect and engage with the rest of the world, the growing incidence of these technological tools have aggravated the growing use of technology-related violence against women.

The most common cases that have been documented are cyber stalking, sexual harassment, surveillance and the unauthorized use and manipulation of personal information including images and videos. Everywhere you look online women’s voices are being silenced or dismissed. As these violation cases keep increasing, the victims who fall to these unfortunate incidences either do not know how to stop the abuse and even when they do, the response rate of offering assistance is very minimal and inadequate.

A minority of the people are aware of how they may protect themselves while online.

Some of the challenges that we face in combating these crimes include:

  • Law enforcers are ill equipped to handle such cases of tech based gender violence. The age of the internet is still new especially in developing countries. Statistics show that by the end 2015 only 34% of households in developing countries will have Internet access, compared with more than 80% in developed countries and internet penetration in developing countries stands at only 35%. The probability of law enforcers knowing how to handle such cases is almost slim to none.
  • Cyber-crimes also present the challenge of working in a borderless environment with laws of multiple jurisdictions. One might be a victim of cyber stalking from a country for example in Eastern Asia while the victim is in a country in Southern Africa.
  • Presentation of evidence of harassment might be considered a challenge especially in an era where online tracks can be easily wiped out. With the presence of social media sites with videos and tutorials on ‘How to become a hacker’ it becomes very easy for a perpetrator to wipe out their tracks online thus it becomes difficult to report such crimes when the evidence of the crimes committed can be easily wiped out.

There is therefore the pressing need to make the internet a safer place for women.

The AfDB East Africa Resource Centre will be hosting a conversation themed ‘Making the Internet a Safer Place for Women’ in a bid to focus on how technology and the internet can be a safer place so that more women can be able to fully utilize and harness the power of information and communication technologies for their own social and economic development. The event shall also look on possible solutions that can be implemented by both government, industry and households to protect women and young children from abuse.
Several strides have already been made in ending violence against women in Kenya. These include:

• The establishment of international organizations for example CARE that advocated for the effective change in dealing with gender-based violence by providing services to populations in conflict and post-conflict areas. CARE Kenya leads GBV prevention and response in Ifo and Dagahaley camps, with a total population of 240,000 people. In 2012, direct support for GBV reached an estimated 36,000 people. Awareness raising activities reached 70 per cent of the adult population of these camps.

• The constitution maintains a one third requirement for either gender in elective bodies giving women at least a minimum representation in elective public bodies. It also ensures that gender equality is maintained in political parties, providing a basic requirement for them to respect and promote gender equality.

• Some of the agencies that have continued to advocate and defend women’s rights include the Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida Kenya), which connects with the indigent woman through its legal aid clinics and community action groups. It continues to empower women with legal knowledge to reach their grassroots counterparts at the municipality level, while connecting horizontally with like-minded players from whom it shares practices and innovations.

The overall objective of the International Women’s Day is for the AFDB to join the United Nations and the rest of the world to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality

Join in the conversation with the AfDB East Africa Resource Center on Twitter with their official handle @afdb_group and the hashtag #MakeITsafe and #IWD to create awareness on the topic ‘Making the Internet a Safer Place for Women.’ This afternoon get to know more about the strides women are making in the upcoming International Women’s Day Celebrations by following the hashtags.

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