KAMPALA – A report released recently by Pollicy.org has stated that the lack of will to address online gender-based violence dilutes any potential deterrence effects that criminal laws may have on the perpetration of online violence.
While commendable and questionable laws may exist, such as placing the duty on ISPs to assist courts, underreporting and trivialization by law enforcement still remains a challenge.
The authors of the report go on to report, “the limited portfolio of civil remedies means that the governmental strategies for eliminating online GBV are not survivor-centered. Instead, online GBV is mostly left up to a criminal justice system designed on philosophies of punishment a system in which women are often the victims.”
In countries such as Ethiopia and South Africa, online harassment and attacks on high school girls are on the rise and they have led some young women to end their own lives. The majority of existing digital hygiene training programs leave women to fend for themselves.
Both in Africa and globally, there is lack of information on what actually helps prevent online gender-based violence.
Legal Approaches Policy advocacy and legal approaches in strengthening online harassment laws remain viable methods in preventing perpetrators from committing online gender-based violence through an increased focus on law enforcement authorities.
Along with this, there is a need for countries to adopt data protection and privacy laws and put committees and mechanisms in place to implement these laws.
A year after Uganda passed its Data Protection and Privacy Act (in 2019), the Data Protection office in charge of implementing the law has still not been established.
Current solutions rely on encouraging women who have experienced online violence to share and document their experiences or provide psychosocial support in select cases.
In the case of Uganda, in 76% of the cases, the perpetrator was male, and in 68% of the cases reported, only one specific perpetrator was involved. In Kenya, for up to 16.8% of women, their harassment lasted for more than a month. Forty percent (40.7%) of these respondents believed that their gender was a primary reason for these attacks.
According to the report, “five countries ((Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda) have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which explicitly requires states to ensure that both men and women have equal enjoyment of the rights set out therein.
All five countries have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). However, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda have not ratified the CEDAW optional protocol, which grants authority to the CEDAW Committee to hear complaints from individuals and groups relating to violations of the CEDAW by a State Party.
CEDAW requires all signatories to adopt gender equality laws. Although it does not mention online GBV specifically, in 2017, the CEDAW Committee issued General Recommendations to that effect.
The analyses of cyber laws and general laws such as criminal and penal codes make it apparent that the five countries covered in this study do not have strong laws to protect women online.
Most references in cyber laws relate to child pornography, but no longer afford protections after a girl turns 18 years of age.
Majority of the laws use general terms like gender, without taking into consideration the intersectional needs of different minority groups. The cyber laws are generally weak, and can further silence women through unfair application.
Despite notable proliferation in the offerings from technology platforms, social media, and civil organizations on digital hygiene and security tools, they remain limited.
Across the countries surveyed, a large number of respondents did not know where to access information related to digital security.
Overall, research shows that few interventions are aimed at preventing primary and secondary perpetrators from acting violently in the first place.