Friday, June 5, 2015

Women should be protected online

Cyber policies should be put in place to protect women online

By Esther Nakkazi

It is becoming common practise now, in Uganda, nude video recordings and photos taken in private, spread online like wildfire once a relationship or situations turn sour.

Like almost everywhere in the world, it is the women who suffer most in these scenarios.The most recent prominent case in Uganda, was of musician, Desire Luzinda, with her spurned Nigerian ex-boyfriend. In most African countries, revenge pornography is likely to escalate but it hurts women more and they should be protected.

Revenge pornography happens when a jilted lover gets photos or video recordings taken in private and makes them public. Women also suffer more from ICT violations like cyber stalking, sexual harassment, surveillance, unauthorised use and manipulation of personal information, including images and videos than men.

Why women? They are disproportionately affected, they are more illiterate, poorer and the digital divide is gendered more towards them. Studies show that 82 percent men are literate compared to 64 percent women in Uganda and only 23 percent women have any secondary education.

For instance, a 2008 survey revealed that in Uganda, 9 percent of men knew what the Internet was, while only 4 percent of women were just aware of the Internet.

Although you can argue that technophobia leaves women with only two options of calling and texting on their phones, so they cannot upload harmful data but ignorance also affects them.

Women are also ridiculed and judged harshly by society. They are branded by what they do. Most African countries also lack standards to allow such cases to be reported to Facebook, to pull down the nude videos and photos. They do not have the technological capacity.

Peter Magelah Gwayaka, a human rights lawyer said revenge porn is on the rise in East Africa and in Uganda there is no law to check it. The ignorant victims, who are usually women, suffer quietly. And the laws and society tend to focus on the who not the why?

“We have over concentrated on morals. We tend to forget that it is wrong, no one’s privacy should be put out in public,” said Magelah. 

In the developed world where it happens more frequently, they have the technological capacity to control the distribution so the market is limited to only those who are interested and children have no access.

Very few women also participate in ICT policy making so the policies produced are not balanced and inclusive of women.

Goretti Amuriat, gender and ICT program manager at Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) says although women represent 35 percent of parliamentary seats in Uganda, they are still under represented in positions of authority and this inequality translates into decision making about policy.

Amuriat further said the Ugandan digital divide is a gendered divide, as women are confronted by multi layered set of barriers to accessing ICTs; including working infrastructure, physical mobility and limited affordability.

ICT use can be considered a gendered issue, as technology related violence against women is prevalent says Amuriat and regardless of a group’s geographical, economic, political, or social experience, women experience twice as many challenges to accessing the Internet as men do.

Women’s economic empowerment is a key driver of sustainable development, which is often achieved through gender-specific policy perspectives.

In most of Africa, law enforcers do not even know, which action to take in the absence of the law. It is not unusual for victims of ICT violations to report to police and they laugh it off or say ‘sorry’. If they react, they will charge the victims under the Anti-Pornography Act, 2014. Kenya is putting up a similar law. 

But Magelah said this is not sufficient because it does not charge the perpetrators and the people who pause and ridicule the victim are equally responsible. There is also the little known Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) enacted recently in Uganda, tasked with of tracking cyber crimes.

Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the Unwanted Witness Chief Executive Officer said women should be alerted on the current cyber security issues like how to protect their privacy. Simple actions like activating security codes in their phones would be helpful.

In a meeting organised by the Unwanted Witness and WOGNET in partnership with the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) for women’s day celebrations (March 8th) the ICT and women activists said women use of ICT is crucial to creating balanced ICT policies that are both efficient and sustainable.

They said balancing cyber security and Internet freedom cannot be achieved without including women in policy discussions who bring new voices and experiences to the discussions.

Ssebagala said with many millions of people being online its important for the Uganda government to start thinking what cyber security and Internet freedoms mean for people especially women.

Goretti Amuriat, gender and ICT program manager at Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) said women need more education about putting only safe information online. Some put whole family albums on Facebook and minute-to-minute updates of their activities.

Amuriat cautions that women should put only safe information online. “Women put everything. They are not secure and are not aware,” she said. “Put only what is enough!”

However, that is not to say that going online does not present opportunities to women. It does. With their unique set of interests and needs, they express themselves, communicate with others, find useful information and grow their businesses.

And although women in Uganda may not be a large fraction of the online community today, they matter because of their future potential as Internet users, said Amuriat.

Ashnah Kalemera the program officer for Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) said although there is increased access to ICTs and the Internet there is little to no statistics on ICTs and Gender in Uganda.

Even data from the national regulator on ICT access and usage is often not disaggregated by gender, which inhibits understanding gender disparities of access and control over ICT and designing appropriate ICT initiatives that fully advance gender equality and empowerment said Kalemera.

ICT activists, therefore, call upon government through ICT regulatory agencies to embark on a campaign that would sensitize law enforcement agencies on cyber laws in order to prosecute perpetrators of violence against women online.

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