Women leaders are expressing concerns over the skyrocketing cases of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) globally. The women leaders who congregated at a Nairobi hotel for a two-day policy consultation workshop, also decried what they called ballooning cases of technology-related violence against women.
Technology-related violence against women (tech-VAW) lead researcher, Mary Onyango, shared her experiences with women leaders, especially the latest findings on this kind of violence. “Preliminary research findings show an ascending trend in abuse of women on social media and they include: manipulation of photographs, texting abusive messages, sexual harassment, surveillance, cyber bullying, and humiliation via information and communications technologies (ICT), where the targeted gender is women,” Onyango disclosed.
On her part, Nyeri County Women Representative, Priscilla Nyokabi, attributed increased cases of sexual and gender based violence to dismal enforcement of the law. She pointed out that there are no specific laws about SGBV via technology in Kenya thus a need to address this gap. “The Kenya Constitution of 2010 section 29 mentions misuse of technology like communication devices, but does not reference SGBV. This loophole allows propagation of technology-based violence and criminals escape punishment,” she quipped.
According to Nyokabi, terms and conditions outlined in the End User License Agreement (EULA) for major companies (such as Safaricom) do not mention anything about women, protection, or SGBV. She also poked holes in the Domestic Violence Bill that was discussed in Parliament on 19th June 2014, saying it did not include abuses by stepchildren, marriage of stepdaughters, manipulation and publication of photos taken by/for husband, beading, or SGBV in ICT.
Women organisation representatives from various regions previously trained by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) also shared their experiences on ICT abuses and how the knowledge gained changed their lives and organisations that they work for. One of them, Kristine Yakhama, Programs Manager at Good Health Community, was even more assertive. “The knowledge I acquired from technology-based violence training offered by IAWRT gave me the ability to create passwords for my personal social accounts and my accounts are now immune to hackers unlike before. It is a habit in my organisation that all passwords are changed after three months. The training was an eye opener.”
Human rights activist Jane Karimi was also full of praises for the training. She observed: “My daughter received sexual harassment messages from the police six years ago. When I reported the matter, the policeman was relocated to another station. To date, justice hasn’t been served. The knowledge acquired to day is what I have been waiting for.”
While sharing their experiences, women organisation leaders were unanimous in alluding that women exhibit fear of public hatred, embarrassment, police involvement, consequences once they report the matter and cultural stigmas. Also on their list of concerns was fear of marriage, desertion by their husbands and lack of education and economic empowerment, which leads to future insecurities and threats to safety; all of which they noted were key impediments that hold women back from reporting ICT abuses.
Based on the experiences shared, they also concurred that police have neither knowledge on ICT crimes nor an understanding of how to handle them. This they said also bars women from reporting abuse cases. The uses of the internet/ICTs at individual and organisation levels were also outlined during the two day deliberations. The participants especially identified internet platforms as emails, weblogs, audio/visual, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, mobile connectivity, Google.
The advantages of internet were given as educative, for research studies, data collection, entertainment, sharing information, both text and pictures and banking among others. Although useful, the internet was also noted to have disadvantages, namely infringement on privacy, free uncontrolled information, threat to marriages/families, increased crime, degradation of morals and promotion of mistrust.
The contributions of women to development of new technologies, worldwide and locally, were highlighted. Local examples cited included the co-founder of the Ushahidi crowd-sourcing platform, Juliana Rotich.
Developing policy advocacy
During the two-day workshop, the participants were guided on how to draw a successful advocacy strategy, which includes goals/objectives, resources and strategy. Participants were informed that an advocacy plan should be a public call or recommendation of a particular cause or policy in support for, backing of, promotion of, championing of, argument for, push for, arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy to bring an intended change in habits or behaviour.
The participants were further informed that an advocacy strategy entails partnering with powerful individuals or organisations to make big changes that may not be in their short-term interest or working in the public eye. Also brought to their attention was the need to plan for advocacy in order to find out if there are major difficulties ahead, to avoid surprises (including those that might make an individual look ineffective, clumsy, etc) clarify goals, recognise strengths and capacity, clarify steps that will take an institution to goals set and increase chances of success which works well when done in conjunction with stakeholders.
Speakers encouraged participants to understand that advocacy is a process which may sometimes take time, but warned participants to be resilient and stay on course, and also sharpen their arsenal in readiness to review the plan as and when need arises.
Participants learnt the concept of “Mapit” that uses the open source Ushahidi map/Take Back the Tech! initiative to locate the exact spot where the victims of abuse are based. The participants also learned practically how cases of VAW online could be mapped using actual tech-VAW abuse cases reported by the participants.
Of paramount importance stressed to them was the need understand the nexus between VAW and technology and therefore the need to fish out such stories as opposed to offline violence cases.
Key issues that emerged from the workshop were:
- The need for a Twitter campaign on passing of the domestic violence bill.
- Public awareness and education by service providers on user protection, including information in EULA for:
- Punishment (e.g., account/SIM cancellation)
- Assistance (e.g., blocking, retrieving deleted information whether by perpetrators or victims)
- Need for a campaign directed at potential perpetrators.
- Need for more coalition building between civil societies/members of county assemblies/county representatives on gender and ICTs and the media at county level to come up with strategies on how to combat tech-VAW cases.
- Need for a refresher course on mapping for all regions trained on Tech-VAW
- Legal Framework: Need to create cyber-crime laws with specific mention of sexual and other forms of gender-based crime since the current cyber-crime legislation is geared toward “hacking” and other misuses and need to include redress mechanisms for victims.
- Add ICT component to the upcoming Protection Against Domestic Violence Bill (e.g., distribution of photos without consent), revise the Kenya Information and Communication Act Chapter 411A to address cyber bullying and SGBV, and enforce the existing Data Protection and Information Access laws.
- Media campaigns on availability of gender desks at all police stations.
- Need to publicize Ushahidi map on other platforms/networks.
- Need for Tech-VAW in informal settlements.
- Police lack knowledge and ICT equipment to investigate tech-VAW. Therefore, there is need for training in the following areas:
- The importance of confidentiality
- Use of ICTs
- Understanding social media
- How to respond to Tech-VAW victims (counseling, basic techniques) and perpetrators
- One person trained specifically in SGBV and ICT crimes per unit to increase confidentiality and accountability
- Need to identify a champion in Parliament/government.
- Encouraging women to report acts of violence (tech-VAW)
- Encourage and promote female economic empowerment simultaneously
- Promote awareness about:
- What constitutes SGBV
- That it should be reported
- When/how to report SGBV crimes
- How to preserve evidence.
The two-day workshop was organised for women rights organisations, internet service providers (ISPs), human rights defenders, judiciary, KICTANet, Police Gender Desk and journalists in Nairobi region.
The women organizations leaders were drawn from seven counties of: Kisumu, Busia, Kakamega, Uasin Gishu, Baringo, Kiambu and Laikipia.
IAWRT thanked UNESCO for pushing the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment agenda by building the capacities of women to embrace and ensure safe use of technology. The workshop was a culmination of initial sensitisation carried out by IAWRT in four regions namely coastal, Western, Rift Valley and Central Kenya.
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