Empower women leaders to tackle online harassment

Tricia G. Nabaye

What you need to know:

...the work for women’s online safety requires constant reminders and stock-taking for all stakeholders.

According to the 2021 Amplified Abuse Report by Pollicy.org, women leaders in Uganda face a rising concern of online abuse and harassment. The report reveals that women political leaders in Uganda are vulnerable to various forms of online violence, such as trolling, hoaxing, body-shaming, and cyberstalking.

The impact of these forms of abuse on women’s social media use and their participation in political activities is evident.

Moreso, the effects of online abuse and harassment on women leaders are far-reaching and can significantly impact their well-being and representation in politics. For instance, women leaders who experience online abuse often feel discouraged from running for office, which results in a lack of women’s representation in politics. Furthermore, online abuse can affect women’s mental and emotional well-being, leading to stress, anxiety, and depression.

Therefore, with a missing link of digital safety, many women leaders have found themselves vulnerable to online hacking and cyber insecurity risks while others have all the same left the platforms. Digital tools have been progressive in enabling women and other minority groups to access important platforms and advocate for themselves better.

I sat down with Women councillor leaders from Wandegeya Parish, Naguru 1 Parish and the Wakiso district councillor and shared their lived experiences on how they have built digital resilience in their drive to serve their constituencies. The leaders shared how they have managed to deal with online harassment, experience body-shaming, and how they have built digital resilience in dealing with the intricacies that come with having an online presence.Women leaders face a cocktail of challenges in the vie for political office, some from the gender biases and stereotypes that are characteristic of the society that we live in. Digital platforms have created a space for women to participate actively in Uganda’s political life. They have managed to forge networks and systems that work for them to deliver in their constituencies and have an impact realised for their electorate.

The women leaders shared how they have managed to create delivery spots for their constituencies on online platforms like  WhatsApp app Groups that coordinate and push for service delivery in their constituencies. This has improved accountability for the work they are pushing for on the ground with timely updates and reporting online through visuals like pictures and videos. They are constantly harnessing the power of digital communication and ensuring they are heard wherever prospective voters are. Tapping into the safety that can be harnessed online, women leaders are choosing to find ways of organising their electorate and engaging them in active dialogues on how to serve them better while using online platforms.

Digital safety has played an enabler role in helping women leaders navigate digital platforms, in how they are setting up safeguards on who can direct message them, how to block or mute abusers on anonymous or new accounts among other safety points.

Relentlessly, our critical task is that the government provides digital laws that protect citizens in their online experience and as well hold online abusers and violators to account. Rules of engagement and conduct for political parties, campaigns and in the workplace, including parliaments and other government bodies, should be established.

In conclusion, the work for women’s online safety requires constant reminders and stock-taking for all stakeholders. Women are in urgent need of definite rules and regulations, and accountability measures that spare women humiliation and smear campaigns that aim to send them back to the private sphere.

Tricia Gloria Nabaye is a  Digital Rights Champion and Advocacy Fellow, Pollicy.