Addressing online violence is key to bridging the digital divide in Kenya


Online violence against women, including cyber harassment and gendered misinformation, remains a prevalent problem in Kenya.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

As International Women's Day approaches on March 8, 2023, the digital divide between men and women in Kenya is a pressing issue.

Women face significant obstacles in accessing digital resources and participating in the digital world, while online violence against women, including cyber harassment and gendered misinformation, remains a prevalent problem in the country.

In January 2022, Kenya had a total of 23.35 million internet users, as reported by DataReportal. Out of the country's social media users, 55.7 per cent were male and 44.3 per cent were female, with the disparity even wider in rural areas.

However, even when women do have access to the internet, they often face online violence and harassment that limits their ability to fully participate in the digital world. Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centers' data shows that one-third of Kenyan females have encountered sexual violence before turning 18, and between 39 percent to 47 per cent of Kenyan women experience gender-based violence (GBV) at some point in their life, including cyberstalking, doxxing, revenge porn, and online hate speech. 

This can deter women from participating in the public sphere by disseminating false or misleading information that perpetuates harmful stereotypes. This highlights the need to create safe online spaces where women can share their experiences and access support. 

Pushback against gender inequality

In order to protect women online and bridge the digital divide, there are several steps that organisations and governments can take.

One way to do this is to create safe online spaces where women can share their experiences and access support. This could involve establishing online support groups or creating social media campaigns like Digital Dada Podcast to raise awareness about the issue. It is also important to provide women with the skills and resources they need to protect themselves online, such as training on online security and privacy. Pen America has an Online field harassment manual. It's a resource that women journalists can use to learn more about how to protect themselves online and its also available in Swahili. Without digital security literacy, the battle against online violence is lost.

Governments can also protect women online by enacting policies that address online harassment and hate speech. For example, Kenya's Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act criminalizes any form of online harassment and provides legal remedies for victims. However, more needs to be done to enforce these laws and ensure that women feel safe and protected online.

Organizations can work to create safe and inclusive online spaces for women by developing community guidelines that prohibit hate speech, harassment, and other forms of abusive behavior. It can also involve creating online support networks for women, where they can connect with others who have similar experiences and share strategies for dealing with online violence.

Inclusion for digital opportunities

Another important step is to promote diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. Women and girls are underrepresented in STEM fields and tech-related careers, which can limit their access to digital resources and exacerbate the digital divide. 

Programs such as the Ministry of ICT's Ajira Digital and organizations like AkiraChix and Kictanet provide training and mentorship to women and youth, enhancing their digital skills and connecting them to online work opportunities, thus building a more inclusive digital ecosystem.

Part of men and society

It is also very crucial to engage men and boys in this conversation. Men are often the perpetrators of online violence against women, and therefore have a crucial role to play in ending this cycle of abuse. By involving men and boys in discussions about online violence and promoting gender equality, we can create a culture of respect and accountability that benefits everyone.

Finally, it is essential to recognize that the digital divide cannot be solved solely through technology-based solutions. Expanding access to digital resources is crucial, but challenging gender stereotypes and promoting gender equality in all aspects of society is equally important in addressing the underlying social and cultural factors that contribute to the digital divide.

International Women's Day reflects on progress towards gender equality and the theme, "DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality," highlights the impact of the digital gender gap and the need to protect women's rights in digital spaces. In Kenya, this means challenging harmful stereotypes and creating an inclusive digital ecosystem for women to thrive.