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Hope for African women as more governments make laws to fight cyber bullying

November 16, 2019
topic:Women's rights
tags:#women's rights, #human rights, #cyber-bullying, #Africa, #ICT
located:Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda, South Africa, Ghana
by:Cyril Zenda
In October 2019, South Africa passed an updated version of its cyber law that include provisions that specifically criminalise non-consensual pornography (commonly known as revenge porn).

In the same month, it was announced that Zimbabwe’s cabinet had approved a bill that would also, among other things, criminalise cyber bullying. Ghana also announced that it would enact a law that would have the same effect.

These are just but the latest of the African countries that have taken action against the growing menace of cyber bullying and other related cyber crimes.

While the growth of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) and the subsequent rapid growth in use of the social media have been seen as positives for the African continent, which is lagging in terms of development, this development has had its own downside as in some cases it has brought nightmares for women who, in a majority, are victims of cyber bullying. It is in response to this growing social problem that African governments have enacted, revised or are working on legislation to target technology-related violence, including cyber espionage, revenge pornography, pornography, and false information.

Both Nigeria and Tanzania passed laws to deal with cyber bullying in 2015, followed by Botswana and Uganda in 2017 and then Kenya in 2018.  For Zambia and Rwanda and many other countries, the laws are still work in progress.

With many African cultures placing a lot of emphasis on female chastity, cyber bullying – which is now seen as growing form of gender-based violence – has been identified as a serious threat to women, including their potential to be leaders.

Koliwe Majama, an African media, internet and communications expert says the sharp rise in technology-related violence against women and its normalisation has made the use of the Internet a gendered issue.

“It has, of necessity, become imperative that women get to the fore of the debate on cyber-security instead of leaving it solely to governments and the financial/business sector as is the case in national and regional governance forums,” said Majama.

A baseline report by the Media Foundation for West Africa on the challenges faced by Ghanaian women on the Internet indicates that online harassment hinders women’s full participation. The report lists non-consensual distribution of intimate images, sexual harassment, stalking, hate and offensive comments as the most prominent violations.

“Women’s online sexual harassment, surveillance, unauthorised use and manipulation of personal information, including leaked images and videos, are a prominent feature of African cyberspace. In most cases the harassment takes both subtle and blatant sexist or misogynistic approaches, which often develop into physical or sexual threats”, said Majama who keenly monitored this trend in Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections.

This is also generally the trend across African continent. In 2016 a study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) indicated that online societies judge women politicians more harshly than they do male politicians. The study noted that on the social media women politicians were at the receiving end of sexist comments, with their appearance and marital status often being the subject of discussion in gauging their ‘fitness’ for public office.

Majama said these prejudices hinder women’s participation in the public discourses and processes as they cower, self-censor and, in some instances, totally withdraw.

“Until there is recognition that such abuse of women on cyberspace are, in fact a cyber-security concern with serious impact on women’s participation, policy debates would not be balanced. The reality, however, is that women must stand up and ensure that they are a part of these policy discussions.”

According to results of a poll carried out by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as high as one-in-three young people across 30 countries say they have been bullied online, while one-in-five report that they have skipped school because of it.

Speaking out anonymously through the youth engagement tool, U-Report, almost three-quarters of young people said social networks, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, are the most common place for online bullying. Cyber bullying of women is a common problem the world over.

A recommendation by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Online Violence Against Women, Ms Dubravka Šimonović at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council emphasized the responsibility that states and Internet intermediaries have in dealing with the extension of systemic structural discrimination and gender-based violence against women on the Internet.

*Some African countries with laws to deal with cyber bullying: Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, Botswana, Uganda.

*Some of the countries updating laws to deal with cyber bullying: Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Zambia.

*Some countries where calls for anti-cyber bullying laws are growing: Malawi, Namibia.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Nigeria Tanzania Kenya Botswana Uganda Zambia Rwanda South Africa Ghana
Embed from Getty Images
Ghana also announced that it would enact a law that would have the same effect.
Embed from Getty Images
The rapid growth in use of the social media has had its downside as in some cases it has brought nightmares for women who, in a majority,
Embed from Getty Images
Both Nigeria and Tanzania passed laws to deal with cyber bullying in 2015, followed by Botswana and Uganda in 2017 and then Kenya in 2018. For Zambia and Rwanda and many other countries, the laws are still work in progress.
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