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)
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.