Internet rights are human rights: Reflections from workshops in the DRC and Kenya on violence against women

I’ve had the privilege, this past year, to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Kenya to facilitate workshops based on our Internet Rights are Human Rights: Violence Against Women (VAW) online curriculum. The workshops were conducted in collaboration with our End violence: Women’s rights and safety online project partners in the DRC and Kenya. The module was drafted as part of a larger Internet Rights are Human Rights curriculum (IRHR) that the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) has been building and updating through the years. Si Jeunesse Savait (SJS) and the International Association for Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), our project partners, have been piloting the newest addition to the curriculum- the VAW module.

Based on a two day workshop the objectives was for participants:

  • To understand and define the nature of technology-related VAW
  • How technology-related VAW manifests online and offline,
  • To identify means of redress to technology-related VAW incidents, and
  • To identify means of collective actions for advocacy both in a national and an international context.

The groups of participants in the DRC and Kenya were very different in their composition. The workshop in the DRC was attended by women’s rights activists from various organisations, whereas in Kenya it was mostly members of IAWRT – so, in a nutshell, mostly radio and television professionals.

The content of the workshop brought about very interesting and different discussions, and due to the national contexts, discussions around legislation and culture were also quite different. As they say, Africa is not a country.

Human rights and technology-related VAW

In our discussions on identifying and linking offline and online violence against women, the module allowed participants to identify and learn more about the various international human rights processes, declarations and treaties that recognise violence against women and that can be used as tools in national and international advocacy. As most countries ratified international conventions that do touch on violence against women, like CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action, it is necessary to work together in order to make sure that language recognising all forms of VAW – including technology-related VAW – is included. For most of the participants in the DRC, those spaces were well known, and people quickly made the links between offline and online VAW as well as holding their governments accountable to the international engagements they were signatories to. In Kenya, most people weren’t too knowledgeable about the different international spaces where human rights are discussed, and it made me ponder about how we could improve our work with women journalists and media communicators so that they feel more comfortable making the links between national legislation on violence against women, technology-related VAW and international instruments.

As part of the APC Women’s Rights Programme framework, we’ve been engaging with policy-making actors on remedies to protect women’s rights online. In 2014, APC advocated to different instances at CEDAW to finally see the general recommendations on women’s access to justice recognising the important role that information and communication technologies (ICTs) play in dismantling gender inequalities. We have also made a submission to the same body in terms of the general recommendations on women and girls’ right to education. In addition to being present at spaces such as the Human Rights Council, and earlier this year (as in years before) at the Commission on the Status of Women to advocate for the re-prioritisation of the Section J of the Beijing Platform for Action in the context of its 20 years’ review.

The workshops I facilitated, both in Kenya and in DRC, allowed participants to further reflect on, and put into concrete actions their advocacy strategies in their national frameworks. While both groups of participants came with brilliant ideas that will hopefully be put into motion, I am always left wondering how we can make those big, and sometimes intimidating, conventions and declarations more accessible to the women’s rights activists that we work with, for them to use those tools as an intrinsic part of their advocacy, nationally and regionally. How can we link concrete changes to the ratifications of international conventions?

Putting research into action

Throughout our work on the End violence: Women’s rights and safety online project, APC has undertaken a multi-country research on tech-related VAW. The IRHR VAW module I have been testing in Kenya and in the DRC has been informed by the research undertaken, and is a great example of how we can put research into action. From the findings of the research, to identifying what technology-related VAW is and its consequences, to reporting on domestic legal remedies and corporate policies, the module helps in facilitating a discussion that makes the content relatable to real life situations and offers a roadmap to finding strategies for women to access justice in cases of technology-related VAW.

Si Jeunesse Savait and IAWRT participated in the research process by producing case studies for the DRC and Kenya. In each workshop we invited participants to analyse some of the case studies to identify where are the gaps in terms of national and international legal mechanisms that could help the survivor to find redress. This type of exercises always reminds me of the power of stories in the context of educational activities, and how important it is for people to be able to relate to those stories. The most talked about cases around the web are often dominated by stories of women from the North, and it is important that we continue to showcase the stories of women from the South, who live their online lives under different circumstances than women from developed countries.