#NotTheCost: Violence Against Women in Politics

Political violence can be experienced by people of all genders, involved at any level of the political process, it can happen online as well as offline and to individuals of different spectrums of experience in the political landscape. However, violence against women in politics is meted specifically against women because of their gender and has the following distinct characteristics:

  • It specifically targets women because of their gender
  • It can present as gendered, this is by the use of sexist threats and sexual violence
  • Its impact is to discourage women in particular from being or becoming politically active

Between the dates of 19th and 21st of June, NDI ran a workshop whose objective was to equip key civil society groups working on women empowerment, on how to understand and tackle violence against women in politics. In the course of the workshop it became obvious the inseparable aspect of violence offline and online and just how violence against women specifically in politics looks like.

Unlike many other workshops that are overwhelmingly theoretical, this 3 day workshop was unique in that there were significant activities and technical aspects of the agenda. This culminated in a key task focused on contextualising VAW in politics specific for Kenya, by building a lexicon that exhibits abuse and harassment in our Kenyan context.

The workshop also introduced the opportunity that technology, lends to such work, enabling the study of phenomena relating to online violence especially in instances where analysis of vast amounts of data is required, as in this case which involves the analysis of online abuse on social media platforms such as Twitter.

As women make advancements towards equality in politics, there is an evident pushback both online and offline against women participating in the political process and even in any discourse relating to politics. Unfortunately, the impact of this is women avoiding participation and experiencing apprehension when venturing or existing in Political spaces. Kenya is no stranger to violence against women in politics, with prominent women politicians facing the biggest brunt of violence especially online. In Kenya, women form 52% of the population and just as the Twitter hashtag #WeAre52pc achieves to communicate, having women adequately represented in parliament is not only about equality, fighting historical political bias against women, but also required by our Constitution that stipulates the 2/3rd gender rule, thus rendering the current parliament unconstitutional because it fails to achieve this.

Article 81 (b) states: “Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender”.

As we fight for more women to be represented in Kenyan political discourse, systems and structures it’s more important than ever to ensure that women can be politically active without experiencing any form of discrimination, harassment or assault. Violence is NOT the cost of politics. #NotTheCost

What Next?

In collaboration with NDI some representatives from the workshop delegates will be supporting the #NotTheCost project to bring a human aspect to the computational methods being used to study online violence, by analysing (coding) a surfeit of data that will be in form of tweets in order to produce accurate evidence based research to better understand violence against Kenyan women in politics.

Find here preliminary findings by the NDI from pilots in Cote d’Ivoire, Honduras, Tanzania and Tunisia on Analysing Violence Against Women in Political Parties.

This work is also in line with our #InternetFreedom project that is supported by the Ford Foundation where we are working towards enhancing the experiences of women online.

In the Aftermath of Ifikie Wazazi: Social Media, Safety and Consent

The hashtag Ifikie Wazazi (I will not link it in order to avoid affording any more visibility to the hashtag) whose objective was to expose young Kenyans, mostly minors to their parents in order to instil discipline upon them, albeit in this convoluted mechanism, recently rocked our social media timelines and still dominates a lot of conversations offline with the theme “Where are the Youth of our country really headed?”. This will not be a ‘morality’ (whatever that means to you) post, there’s hundreds of hot takes online that do that justice, this post will however cover issues on consent, privacy and online safety.

A quick summary of the hashtag and its contents:

On 11th April is when the first tweet under the hashtag appeared, which consisted of screen grabs from Whatsapp of sexually provocative images of young kenyans presenting as couples in various states of undress. The images even though some didn’t reveal the faces, were albeit tagged with the handles of the subjects. It seems that the individuals sharing the images are mutual friends who had access to those captioned and chose to share them with the wider public with words like: “kasongee mpaka kanisa yao” let it reach even their churches; “Iendelee kapsaa ifikie husband to be” let it continue until it reaches their husband to be; “Hii ifike mpaka ancestors” this one let it reach the ancestors. This “ifikie wazazi” momentum seemed to have began on Whatsapp.

Whatsapp

According to a 2017 report released by Nendo, Whatsapp has over 12 million monthly1 active users1 with this figure set to grow as levels of internet penetration in the country continue to increase. As with most cases of increased connectivity the increase of cybersecurity issues tend to also follow suit as more and more people get online, especially without the adequate education as is the case with many Kenyans who are not aware or overly worried about issues relating to privacy, security and safety online.

Whatsapp is in comparison ‘private’ as compared to Twitter, because of the very reason that you can only view someone’s status (Snapchat’s story function encrypted clone) if you are mutual contacts, with the other person as long as that they have not hidden their story from you. It is evident Whatsapp wasn’t giving the hashtag the life it needed to actually ‘fikia wazazi’ aka reach the parents. On Twitter is where the hashtag got injected with the steam it needed to permeate all our social media timelines and even the television screens in our homes.

The Law

For this section of the post I will outline Section 26 through 28 of Part IV of the Cybersecurity and Protection Bill 20162 and why in this case ‘Ifikie Wazazi’ dangerously infringed the law or where infractions casually came too close for comfort.

  1. A person who, through any computer system or network, proposes, grooms or solicits to meet a child for the purpose of engaging in sexual activities with the child, commits an offence and shall be liable upon conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding twenty five years or to a fine not exceeding two hundred and fifty thousand shillings or both.

If we made the assumption that the subjects in the photographs were minors, or where one was a minor and/or the one taking the photographs was an adult this could be an instance where some type of solicitation or grooming took place to create sexually provocative scenes and images. This setting if not illegal could very well pose risky in the event minors are in any way involved.

  1. A person who intentionally transmits or causes the transmission of any communication through a

computer system or network to bully, threaten or harass another person, where such communication

places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm, commits an offence and is liable on

conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years or a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand shillings or both.

  1. A person who transfers, publishes, or disseminates, including making a digital depiction available for distribution or downloading through a ‘telecommunications network or through any other means of

transferring data to a computer, the intimate image of another person commits an offence and is liable, on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding thirty years or fine not exceeding three hundred thousand shillings or both.

The very nature of the hashtag, which was either uploading and/or sharing (via the Retweet function) pictures of young kenyans which we have already established were sexually provocative (whether they were minors or not) with the intent to shame constitutes bullying, threatening and harassment with the intent to embarrass and invoke punishment by the guardians of the subjects. Furthermore, as a result of these pictures these subjects faced an inordinate amount of threatening, targeted harassment for the mere fact that they took these pictures and were now available for the entire of Kenyans on Twitter to critique.

As I have mentioned in several of my blog posts on the iHub website, women online face more harassment than men and even by perusing the comments on the hashtag there seems to be more negative sentiments and comments targeting the women as compared to the men most definitely attributed to the patriarchal nature of Kenyan culture.

Aftermath

Reports in the media have reported that police officers stormed Nairobi Michuki Park where several teenagers were arrested while engaging in illicit activities including taking nude and semi-nude images. Beyond these repercussions of jail time, there is other elements that the subjects of these pictures have had to grapple with since the hashtag surfaced.

We may not be willing to acknowledge this but one of the more common effects of cyberbullying and online harassment, especially on this scale and targeted at minors is emotional degradation that may even result in lifelong scars especially if not addressed by seeking professional health.

We all know “the internet never forgets” and unfortunately, the images and names associated with the Ifikie Wazazi hashtag have been immortalised by the internet and this presents the subjects with an impossible situation considering the compromising pictures that will probably plague them into the future when trying to establish both professional and personal relationships.

Conclusion

According to the Internet Users statistics the African continent contributes just over 10% of the global internet users, with this number set to increase as well as the impact of the digital economy, this is not the time to discourage more users getting online (especially the youth who consist more than half of our populations), but encourage more to get online albeit with the necessary education of how to do it safely and most effectively.

Many users online have weighed in on their opinion of the hashtag as well as its aftermath. However, in my opinion one thing remains extremely evident is that Kenyans both young and old and especially those who participated in the hashtag whether willingly or without consent need to be equipped with more resources to educate them of their rights online and how to protect themselves online in the face of highly charged state of social media platforms in Kenya.

As I come to the end of this post I would also like to question how exactly the Cybersecurity and Protection Bill 2016 is currently being enforced, is it protecting users? Was it crafted with Kenyan’s rights in mind? Is it being used for intimidation or any unlawful actions? Is it ambiguous? All these questions when answered effectively, can steer us closer to having an ideal policy that protects its users while also prioritising the sustainability and freedom of online spaces in Kenya.

iHub through the Research initiative recently launched their online safety workshops, the first phase specifically targeting young women enrolled in tertiary institutions. In the event you are interested in attending or replicating similar trainings for members of your institution please reach out to us on research@ihub.co.ke

1State of the Internet in Kenya Report 2017

https://www.ifree.co.ke/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/State-of-the-Internet-in-Kenya-report-2017.pdf

2Cybersecurity and Protection Bill 2016

http://www.kenyalaw.org/kl/fileadmin/pdfdownloads/bills/2016/CyberSecurityandProtectionBill_2016.pdf

 

The Role of Digital Jobs in Solving Youth Unemployment in Kenya.

iHub Research in 2014 published a report on Digital Jobs in Kenya, fast forward to 2018 how far are we? A key insight presented in the report was that there existed a digital skills gap between theoretical skills, attained by youth through various programs, and practical skills, sought after by employers despite the existence of the key trends of: online work, big data analytics, and the mobile applications sector which present great potential for large-scale digital job creation in the future.

February 2018, unemployment is hitting record highs of 39.1% in Kenya, based on a report by the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) 2017 and in its midst there’s been concerted efforts towards encouraging entrepreneurship, it’s clear that we need to innovate around solving the problem of unemployment.

In December 2016 the government of Kenya launched the online jobs portal, Ajira in a bid to take advantage of ICTs in eradicating unemployment specifically targeting the youth, with the promise that it would equip 1 million Kenyans with digital skills so that they can secure employment. Ajira’s tag line which states “Online WORK is WORK” aims to raise the profile of online work, promote a mentorship and collaborative learning approach to finding online work, provide Kenyans with access to online work and finally to promote Kenya as a destination for online work.

Since its launch we’ve barely heard of progress, statistics or testimonies of the users of the platform. We do know that together with Kenya Private Sector Alliance, the Ministry of ICT as a result of funding from the Rockefeller Foundation are implementing the first phase of the Ajira mentorship program, to train and mentor future young online workers. Will this be the reason Ajira and the concept of digital work will successfully scale in Kenya?

The concept of digital work is definitely not one that is new in Kenya and definitely not across the world, from where we can learn great lessons. Already existing in Kenya is the platform KuHustle that has 32,000 plus online workers, with over 1,000 jobs posted worth over $920,000.

In order to adequately take advantage of this opportunity it is paramount to address the barriers affecting the job market as a whole in Kenya and creating mechanisms to overcome these barriers. Based on estimates from the government before the launch of Ajira in 2016, it was assumed that there were already 40,000 Kenyans working online and as adoption of technology and the Internet is gradually increasing in the country, this number has most definitely increased and has the potential to continue to do so, with time.

Digital job platforms serve the purpose of easing the process of connecting employers to a competitive selection of employees from different locations, background and privilege so long as they have an internet connection, meanwhile it seems in this central narrative that technology in the form of digital jobs will be the salve of solving youth unemployment. How true is this assessment?

There is no doubt that digital jobs will definitely enable and increase the possibility of a greater percentage of the young population in Kenya (who are possibly marginalised due to issues surrounding lack of access) to acquire formal employment at higher wages than they would have previously probably acquired. Beyond the basic digital skill gap that is being addressed through training and mentorship by government initiatives, there exists huge demand for specialised skills, such as developers, data scientists, which the current supply levels fail to meet and this is an example of some of the fundamental barriers affecting the job market in Kenya, that need to be addressed while also focusing on digital jobs.

By utilising this multi stakeholder and multi dimensional perspective in analysing the challenges currently being faced in the job market in Kenya today  this approach will propel us closer to solving the issue of youth unemployment.

Thoughts while studying Social Media and Social Order in Kenya

The Social Media and Social Order International Conference is a conference that brought together researchers from different countries investigating different phenomena on social media and I was fortunate to represent the iHub and present our preliminary, soon to be published, findings for our project on Enhancing Internet Freedom in Kenya.

In many ways being my first conference with an almost 99% Academia profile of attendees, it gave me a unique opportunity to ask new questions and examine behaviour, basically to think! Which such environments aren’t so common as Wambui Wamunyu our past iHub Research Fellow pointed out here.

After close to 9 months of studying social media behaviour in Kenya and participating in it as an avid social media user myself, I do believe there is a distinct gendered ordering of social media in Kenya. Let me explain…

Something interesting is happening on social media in Kenya, whose narrative is mainly being controlled by the youth, a subset of Kenya’s men and women between the ages of 18 and 35.

Young people are taking to social media to discuss with exponentially much larger audiences than most would have in their offline channels, not only about everyday happenings but even those that most in our society would deem taboo based on traditional and cultural precepts imposed on us by society.

Access

With only 20% of women in slums connected to the internet versus 57% of men and women saying prices of data are ‘unrealistic’ it is clear we need to to put in place smarter initiatives to get more women online in order to achieve gender equality.

Technology-Report-02-03

Culture

Kenyan culture which is admittedly predominantly patriarchal, has not spared the internet which has adopted these norms, to make it a belief that men not only have priority over women when it comes to accessing the internet but also it is their responsibility to restrict womens’ access on the internet supposedly to protect them from western ideals and beliefs. These are findings from the World Wide Web Foundation regarding Women’s Rights Online, specifically the patriarchal attitudes towards the internet  where it not only affected access but also women’s speech online, frequency of online activity and even reduced priority when it comes to benefiting from technology in households.

My hypothesis: The Internet makes gendered harassment more participatory in Kenya as a result of these factors relating to culture and access.

How can we achieve a safer and more friendly internet for women if we are not making it easier for women to participate online and instigating a shift in mindset that reimagines the role of women in society and the economy?

In the public sphere, there has been considerable effort to feed, educate and improve the living conditions of the ‘girl child’ which is only fair because the system has been rigged against girls in Kenya to have a tougher go at life; it is no surprise that men now view this as a threat to their position in society and subsequently coined the term ‘boy child’ as a rebuttal. Yet, we still see more men than women having access to education, the Internet and generally a better livelihood making these concerns of the ‘boy child’ not only irrational but incredibly inequitable.

Recently, we can finally boast at having girls topping examinations like KCSE, KCPE (without critiquing the obvious gaps existing in our education system and its priority over exams) the mere fact that these are ‘big news’ items should alone be a sign of a glaring flaw in society. Additionally, you would expect that together women AND men would be celebratory rather than the ‘What about the boy child?’ What is happening with the boy child?’ responses that we saw all over the country.

Social media is now a haven where the ‘boy child’ clearly a majority proven by statistics, now dominate to pontificate and harass because it’s no longer as accepted in the public sphere to reassert dominance.

With more than one in five women in Kenya experiencing online harassment, social media has become a toxic space that women have to persevere in addition to offline spaces, it is evident offline and online spaces are intertwined in this way.

However, the good news is this is not the way this cookie crumbles…

An interesting learning from this conference was the use of computational methods to collect and analyse data for qualitative researchers. Using this my next challenge, will be to visualise the engagement of Kenyans on Twitter clearly illustrating each demographic. Stay tuned for this and our report launch soon!

 

The Safe Internet Conundrum

Photo Credit: How Cyber Crime Bill Will Protect Women

In the wake of the Sarahah taking over the social media scene in the past recent days, I got to thinking. Can a safe internet truly exist if the people dominating and using these spaces do not prioritise safety as a feature of the platform they are using? I’ve gotten resigned to the fact that trolls will always exist, mostly because there are so many avenues, mindsets, tools and situations that create an environment for internet trolls to thrive.

I’ve been telling anyone who asks me why I haven’t used Sarahah, that I wouldn’t even consider using it, because I believe it has the potential to do more harm than good. This of course is a personal opinion that serves me adequately and I do not hope to impose it on others. I am also glad that a number of users have gotten a positive experience from it, but admittedly it’s not for us all because there are glaring risks of using it especially depending on who you are and your visibility on the internet.

Should we then opt to legislate for a safe internet? Make it the responsibility of our governments and law enforcers to be the gatekeepers of the internet? To help make it less like the Wild Wild West it sometimes (most times) seems to be? This seems more like the whip rather than carrot approach (I confess I much prefer the latter), so how exactly can we positively incentivise internet users to uphold safety which means respect, value for privacy and toeing the legal line?

Governments have time and time again proved that they cannot solely be trusted to adequately legislate internet spaces and more often than not use justifications such as national security, child safety and corruption of ethical values to over legislate the internet space. In no way does this represent a safe internet. So does there exist no middle ground?

Internet Society proposes a multi stakeholder model to tackle policy issues concerning the internet, and perhaps this just may be the strategy to win all other strategies. (We will cover this in a future post)

Research overwhelmingly suggests that women face disproportionate harassment online as compared to their male counterparts, is this one of the contributing factors as to why cyber violence isn’t really being taken seriously? Have we given up and left the internet to the trolls?

Anonymity, a feature that can act as a double edged sword, can on one hand protect the identity of internet users who prefer to remain anonymous for individual safety reasons and on the other hand it makes it near impossible to identify those using the internet to perpetrate criminal activities.

For example in our recently concluded first phase of focus group discussions seeking to learn hypervisible women’s experiences online, one woman admitted to having used a pseudonym for her writing to maintain anonymity and undue attention to her personal life.

In the past I have heard someone loosely suggest that to open a Twitter account, users should use their full legal names which should also be visible in our username for all to see. This is definitely an extreme way to unmake Twitter the troll haven that it currently is. My guess is that’s the reason why Facebook and Twitter are worlds apart (and for this I am grateful). The very nature of Twitter gives us the opportunity to interact with a global village unlike how it works on Facebook.

I don’t think it is impossible to have a safe internet, a more constructive internet, one which promotes learning, healthy discourse and more users wanting to get online. The question that remains is, do we have the will?

How exactly can we ensure that as more people are getting online, they know how to effectively use the internet and safely too?

Get them while they’re young! As and when they are getting online!

In our project, Enhancing Internet Freedom in Kenya we seek to train 1000 high school students on how to effectively use the internet while still in their formative years as they are getting introduced to social media. This initiative dubbed #TheNext1000 will be looking to collaborate with like minded organisations and individuals to achieve this goal in training young internet users with the objective of enhancing internet freedom in Kenya by targeting the next generation of internet super users.

 

Stay tuned for more updates in our #InternetFreedom series.

Gendered Ordering Through Social Media in Kenya

Something interesting is happening on social media in Kenya, whose narrative is mainly being controlled by the youth, a subset of Kenyas men and women between the ages of 18 and 35.

Young people are taking to social media to discuss with exponentially much larger audiences than most would have in their offline channels, not only about everyday happenings but even those that most in our society would deem taboo based on traditional and cultural precepts imposed on us by society.

The Communications Authority of Kenya estimates that about 40.5 Million out of a population of  48.54 Million use the internet with an internet penetration of 89.4%. To take a closer look on how the internet in Kenya is gendered we will look closer at women’s experience online.

With only 20% of women in slums connected to the internet versus 57% of men and women saying prices of data are ‘unrealistic’ it is clear we need to to put in place smarter initiatives to get more women online in order to achieve gender equality. To add insult to injury, more than one in five women in Kenya also experience online harassment, which can be an obvious deterrent to women staying online, once they get connected.

Kenya one of the countries in Africa that boasts a high internet penetration rate is no stranger to instances of cyber violence, with women bearing the bigger brunt of this disaster. Earlier this year a young girl committed suicide as a result of cyber bullying. It is evident that the harassment women face online, is related to that which they bear offline, especially in a highly patriarchal society as is Kenya.

In my research I seek to understand how women use the internet, their individual experiences doing so, perceptions of digital safety, awareness and education while navigating the internet and the policy gaps and opportunities as far as safeguarding internet freedoms in kenya is concerned.

Through the course of the research we aim to understand how exactly cyber violence occurs in order to recommend initiatives that can not only result in behavioural changes in Kenyans when they go online, but to also see how policy and structures can fill the gaps existing that are resulting in the internet being a less safe space for Kenyans.

(Abstract submission for Social Media & Social Order Conference)

 

Enhancing Internet Freedom in Kenya for Women

iHub, after being awarded a grant to further Internet Freedom progress in Kenya, seeks to enhance internet freedom for women, by taking a closer look at hyper visible profiles; bloggers, journalists, political aspirants and activists who use their online platforms to further their work.

As a woman who is very active on internet platforms, with multiple websites where I regularly publish my thoughts, multiple social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat I am not a stranger to the online experience women in Kenya have been dealt. Thanks to the internet, I have been able to build personal and professional relationships that I continue to reap the benefits from, both monetary and non monetary, as well as access and share information of my select topics of interest. However, as the years have progressed and I have become more vocal and shared my opinions and garnered a substantial following on my pages, there’s been a significant noticeable difference in my experience online.

My content online which ranges from policy, women in technology, body politics, gender politics, internet, governance amongst many others, is sometimes considered controversial by many, often sparks conversation and occasionally debate. Occasionally, I have witnessed and experienced the abuse online whether verbally or using leaked images meant to shame and silence women. Beyond social media platforms it is also well known that there exists Telegram and Whatsapp groups that have been set up to abuse women and share their nude pictures, these groups running under a version of the name ‘team mafisi’, direct translation – team hyena’.

In the recent years Kenya has steadily increased the number of users getting online and with that increase, which is a definite success, there has also been an increase in cases of harassment and targeted abuse of women on online platforms. Also referred to as technology assisted abuse, women seem to be the hardest hit by this evil. From receiving unsolicited images or attention and insults from men, to doxxing, stalking, revenge porn the internet these days has become a safe harbour for harassers targeting women who dare have a voice.

Conjestina Achieng a prominent boxer if you remember faced consistent cyber bullying, Rachel Shebesh [a prominent politician] whose photos were leaked online and experienced cyber bullying, hereand hereare just a few of the instances where Kenyan women have been harassed online, amongst the many others that go undocumented.Shebesh has gone on the record saying “Cyber crime [and bullying] is targeting everybody. I am a politician and I know we get targeted and that is why I keep off social media.”

While these instances provide anecdotal evidence, when it comes to cyber violence in Kenya adequate data has not been collated to provide concrete action steps or policy to protect women’s rights online. We are often told to document instances of harassment, by screenshots, recordings before the perpetrator deletes it. However, does having evidence guarantee justice in Kenya? Rachel Shebesh has furthergone on the record stating, “Today, if you want to catch someone who has abused you through social media you can. But you have to go through a process that is too taxing for the ordinary Kenyan and so they normally leave it,”

I may have a folder of different instances of harassment (I am sure many women do) but if there exists no law protecting these freedoms and outlining specific consequences for such actions, what is the point?

It’s becoming increasingly evident that how we exist on online platforms is an extension of our offline lives. So why aren’t crimes committed online treated with the same seriousness as those committed offline while both have the potential to effect similar levels of harm?

The solution to cyber bullying should not be going offline and avoiding internet platforms, in the same way the solution to street harassment cannot be, stay indoors. We cannot afford to have less women online than we already have.

Through our project we seek to not only surface statistics and understand the nature in which technology assisted violence against women occurs, but to also set in motion interventions to enhance policy reforms regarding cyber violence, build awareness and education and form a network of relevant stakeholders committed to enhancing internet freedom of women in Kenya.

Genesis

Welcome to tnwandia.com where I will regularly update my thoughts and work as I explore the tech industry and pursue my interests in Research, ICT, Women, Policy, Governance and Internet.

Enjoy!