Re-Imagining Social Norms on the Internet
(iHub Research’s session script from #FIFAfrica2018)
Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has had a revolutionary impact on culture, commerce, and technology, including the rise of near-instant communication by electronic mail, instant messaging, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls, two-way interactive video calls, and the World Wide Web with its discussion forums, blogs, social networking, and online shopping sites.
With over 4 billion people on the internet, this number is only set to grow, especially with the age at which users are getting online steadily decreases.In Africa we have over 464 million users, with more male users than female.
Before we proceed let’s take a closer look at culture.
Culture is the totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought. The internet’s genesis may not be African, but the very essence of having Africans on the internet, makes the internet African. Our unique identity marker, being african through our African culture, naturally spills onto the internet, making it unique to our own African reality.
What is African culture? How do we define it for ourselves?
Africa, a continent of 54 countries and over 2,000 tribes and languages spoken boasts a diversity unique, the world over. Clearly, Africa is not a country. However, our culture brings us together. Central to African culture, is the existence of values. A value here being a point of view or conviction; to live by and even in some cases die for. If we look at African values, they fall in different categories:
- Social Values
- Moral Values
- Religious Values
- Political Values
- Aesthetic Values
- Economic Values
Culture is passed on from generation to generation. The acquisition of culture is a result of the socialisation process. Culture is not static, it is dynamic, over the years coming from external as well as internal influences and humankind progression, as development occurs. If we look at African culture today, it has definitely expanded and contracted to accommodate the people we are today.
Cultural norms should seek to include rather than exclude people from participating in it, and hence the reason why these norms evolve over the years as people do across generations.
The year is 2018, African culture today is an integral part, when it comes to online interactions. The conversations had by Africans online, are for the most part informed by our culture. This is exhibited by the languages used, discourse on religion, arguments regarding gender roles and even enjoyment of art amongst other topics.
In our research conducted on Kenyan Women’s experiences online, we found out that:
- Women of different profiles experience the internet differently
- Women of different profiles get harassed online
- Women of different profiles respond differently to harassment online
- Women of different profiles need different support to be safer online
Another very important hypothesis that we validated from our research was that, women are harassed just for being women and this unwarranted abuse, often takes an ugly sexual turn. Patriarchal systems (those controlled by men) are pervasive in our schools, in our workplaces, our churches and even in our homes. So it it only natural that the internet wasn’t left behind.
But how does this serve us? Apart from preventing women from participating online and reducing the potential of connecting the next billion?
Negative and harmful traditional practices that dehumanise people and portray them as unimproved and backward people without future, should as a matter of urgency be discarded since culture is an adaptive system together with values that play a central role in giving the society its uniqueness. (Idang 2015)
This is what patriarchal systems do, they dehumanise and portray women as less than.
Using the example of FGM, this was a part of african practises, it is a practise that has been abolished because it risked the lives of women and took away their autonomy over their own bodies. Our beliefs regarding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) evolved, why can’t we re-imagine our position when it comes to other cultural norms and practises that harm rather than add value to our collective identity?
In this room we have a group of digital rights stakeholders, keen on securing internet freedom for all, regardless of sexual identity, age, religious beliefs and occupational identity. Our goals are pretty audacious, realistic, but audacious all the same:
- Connect the next billion?!
- Close the gender gap online?!
Cultural norms are inhibiting us from reaching our goals as digital rights stakeholders, so how are we addressing that? Beyond increasing infrastructural coverage, digital literacy, policy reform how are we fixing the disconnect between our cultural norms and digital rights goals?
At the iHub we are taking the time to address these cultural norms that are inhibiting our progress online one user at a time, by providing young people with informal spaces to challenge these beliefs.
#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
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.
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.