Online violence against women rises - rights body

The managing editor of regional projects and editorial convergence at Nation Media Group, Mr Daniel Kalinaki (centre), speaks at the International Day for Universal Access to Information 2016 in Kampala on Wednesday. Looking on is Mr Thomasi Pa Louis of International Federation of Journalists. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA

What you need to know:

  • The Uganda Human Rights Commission notes that online stalking, sexual harassment has led to cases such as rape and suicide.

Kampala.

The use of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have increased risks of violence against women, according to the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC).

Mr Medi Kaggwa, the chairman of UHRC, said cases of online violence against women had risen in 2015 and 2016.

“The commission has noted increased cases of abuse against women, especially through the Internet by stalking, sexual harassment, public shaming on social media by ex-partners and spouses,” he said during the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2016 at Golf Course Hotel in Kampala on Wednesday.

Mr Kaggwa, however, did not cite any figures because of poor statistics and limited reporting on some of the abuses online where freedom of expression boundaries is blurred.

He said online violence against women manifests through both psychological and physical consequences.

“In some instances, there have been serious consequences such as rape, suicide, and domestic violence.
Unfortunately, such instances often go unreported because of the self-censorship of the victims, who in some instances refrain from online platforms,” Mr Kaggwa added.

According to the Uganda Women’s Network, the prevalence of such violence is extremely high in Uganda compared to other countries, including in Africa, cited in the report.

UHRC also condemned the shutdown of social media on election day in February.

The government, in a notice to telecoms, ordered them to shut down social media sites and mobile money services because of national security concerns.

Mr Kaggwa said the actions were arbitrary and implemented without any due process.

A panel discussion on the shutting down Internet services by government, concurred that African states need to refrain from placing undue restrictions on freedom of expression online. They said governments were shutting down the services to curtail mobilisation of citizens opposed to their regime activities. More recent examples cited were in Gabon, Egypt, DR Congo and Ethiopia.

“Recent events across various African countries make the forum as indispensable as it ever has been in discussing challenges to online rights and the opportunities for collaborative efforts by state and non-state actors to meaningfully protect and advance internet freedom on the continent,” Dr Wairagala Wakabi, the executive director of Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa, said.

The numbers

45 %
The percentage of Ugandan female respondents said they experienced threats or direct personal bullying, including harassment or stalking on the Internet in the past two years, against 8 per cent of male respondents according to Women’s Rights Online (2015).

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