Data Hub

Nearly a third of Kenya women abused online

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Summary

  • To women rights campaigners and defenders, the apps would usher in a new era of equality.
  • Decades later, that is not the case though.
  • Contrary, these apps have given birth to digital mistreatments in the form of defamation, hate speech, public shaming, online bullying, hacking and cyber stalking.

Revolution in the digital space came with a lot of hope for Kenyans amid innovations such as mobile money which helped uplift women rights and equality in a largely patriarchal society.

But on the flipside, there are emerging challenges on how women are treated on technology platforms — fanned by beliefs of male dominance in societies which have “normalised” gender-based violence (GBV).

To women rights campaigners and defenders, the apps would usher in a new era of equality. Decades later, that is not the case though.

Contrary, these apps have given birth to digital mistreatments in the form of defamation, hate speech, public shaming, online bullying, hacking and cyber stalking.

Online abuse is piling anguish on Kenyan women using social media platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp, with 28 percent experiencing harassment, a study by a South African civil society group in five sub-Saharan nations showed.

Of these, 71.2 percent of the abuses came from Facebook followed by WhatsApp (nearly 30 percent).

“For 57 percent of the respondents who had experienced online gender-based violence, only one specific person was responsible for the incidents,” the Association of Progressive Communications (APC) African Feminist Research for a Feminist Internet report notes.

On the other hand, 23 percent of respondents received abuses from multiple online attackers.

Notable women journalists, media personalities, activists and politicians are on the receiving end of online trolls (targeting physical hurts or murders).

“These calls for violence happened both on open platforms such as Twitter, whereby they could be reported, but also on closed platforms such as WhatsApp where moderation is not possible,” it indicates.

Only 33 percent of respondents who reported to the platform got a reply, but no action was taken in terms of pulling down the content or penalising the perpetrator.

This shows that a few women turn to technology platforms for mediation and even fewer who do so get desirable results.

Digital media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have for a long time ignored African markets by spending fewer resources to process African languages.

“Despite serving a population of 1.2 billion, the number of staff within these companies dedicated to and working from Africa is negligible,” the report notes.

DEACTIVATED ACCOUNTS

While 66 percent of the women blocked perpetrators as a means of responding to online violence, 19 percent ignored them, it shows.

Additionally, 14.5 percent of women deleted or deactivated their accounts whereas 12.5 percent reported users to a platform.

“12.3 percent stopped using a digital service after experiencing online violence, 8.3 percent change online profile information and 7.1 percent adjusted private settings,

“5.3 percent changed numbers, 4.7 percent drew attention to the issue online and 2.2 percent reported users to higher authorities, like police.”

The study, which sampled 3,306 women of between 18-65 years, was carried out across Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Kampala, Dakar and Johannesburg.

But, advice to ignore such harassments have not addressed online abuses among women.

“Women journalists, when they post or write stories that some other people do not like, they are harassed, and they are insulted.

“You find in most times women opt out of social media. At least in Kenya. Including myself, that’s why I opted out of Facebook,” one of the respondents from Kenya said.

This comes on the back of high GBV cases among women during the coronavirus period as more people work from home.

Fida-Kenya chairperson Nancy Ikinu reckons that women in abusive relationships are at a higher risk of abuse during Covid-19 lockdown due to extended exposure to abusers.

She says the restrictions, including the dusk-to-dawn curfew could play into the hands of abusers as victims may be unable to escape.

“The travel restrictions to and from some counties would also mean that for women in abusive relationships who would seek temporary refuge from relatives upcountry lack this option during this period,” Ms Ikinu says.

Under Article 29 of the Kenyan Constitution, all forms of violence, including torture, psychological to cruel treatments, from both public and private sources are illegal.

As at May 2020, more than 200 GBV cases had been reported to Fida with many more going unreported for fear of retribution.

Out of this, 61 are categorised in physical, emotional, mental, economic, intimate and partner violence; physical abuse by relatives or in-laws (2), defilement (10) and rape (2).

Nearly two in 10 (17 percent) of harassment cases among Kenyan women lasted more than a month, the study notes.

Fida has also received cases in child custody and maintenance (117), child abuse (1), threats and physical abuse by law enforcers (6), harassment at work place (2), widow eviction (10), succession (7), property disputes (9), among others.

Lack of an elaborate and functional survivor protection system remains a hindrance to countless GBV survivors’ justice due to retribution fears.

RELIGIOUS HINDRANCE

“Other stumbling blocks to access to justice include religious and cultural beliefs as well as stereotypes normalize GBV thus hindering some survivors from pursuing justice,” the Fida offcial says.

Facebook and Instagram are on record as saying they use artificial intelligence to look for bullying content, constantly monitored user reports of abuse and always removed rape threats.

Amnesty International in September 2020 urged more transparency on Twitter with regard to how it designs and implements automated processes to identify online abuse against women.

ALGORITHMS USE

“While Twitter has disclosed details on how it is using algorithms to combat misinformation during the current Covid-19 pandemic, it is yet to provide the same level of transparency on how algorithms are used to address abusive tweets,” it said.

The group said Twitter has, nonetheless, made welcome progress in some areas, including improving the appeals process, by offering more guidance to users on how the process works and how decisions are made.