Time to call out cyberbullying against women politicians
What you need to know:
- Kenya’s vibrant online space offers vast opportunities for voters to access information and for aspirants to engage the people.
- Sadly, social media is increasingly being used to spread and promote mis- and disinformation, hate speech, harassment, intimidation and cyberbullying.
Kenya is about 11 days from election day. Until August 9, political candidates will rally with a high intensity in every part of the country and on every popular online platform to gather the votes needed to secure their electoral seat.
Kenya’s vibrant online space offers vast opportunities for voters to access information and for aspirants to engage the people. Sadly, social media is increasingly being used to spread and promote mis- and disinformation, hate speech, harassment, intimidation and cyberbullying. Elected female leaders and female political aspirants are particularly exposed to such harassment.
We see this on all platforms. “If you are unmarried, you cannot be trusted”. “If you are married, you have no place in politics”. “If you have no children, you cannot be taken seriously”. ”If you have children, you should stay at home”.
We see female candidates being sexualised in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with their political qualifications or ambitions.
And the list — unfortunately — goes on and on.
A global problem
Online harassment of women is not only a Kenyan phenomenon, but also a global problem. In general, women who ‘stick their neck out’ are prime targets, be it politicians, journalists, celebrities and influencers, human rights defenders and activists etc.
According to an Amnesty report, 61 per cent of girls and women who have been harassed online suffer loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, 55 per cent experience stress and anxiety and 41 per cent feared for their physical safety.
Whether a target or a witness of online GBV, it has a chilling effect and can discourage political and other ambitions of young girls and lower their participation political life, both online and offline.
Also read: Online GBV targets female politicians most
Women are disproportionately targeted by online violence and suffer serious consequences as a result, and even more critical, the consequences of online gender-based violence (GBV) sometimes spill over into the offline world.
The digital dimension of GBV has a serious impact on the lives of women and girls, and causes severe psychological harm and suffering.
Cyberbullying needs to stop. Needs to be called out. The widespread online harassment in Kenya poses a serious threat to democracy. It creates an un-level playing field and keeps women from vying for political office.
To shine spotlight on this challenge to democracy, Denmark, together with Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (Kewopa) and the European Union, recently hosted a conference in Nairobi with broad participation from Kenyan authorities, civil society, tech sector, media and the international community.
At the conference, we listened to chilling testimonies from female candidates from across the political spectrum. They informed us, that we are just looking at the tip of the iceberg. As one candidate said; “As a woman in politics, we have to be thick skinned”.
We are heartened that the many stakeholders who met in Nairobi pointed to a series of actions for all of us to consider to combat the issue. First, the authorities must ensure the legal framework recognises and deals with cyberbullying and that police officers and prosecutors are trained to deal with cases of online gender based violence and harassment.
Secondly, tech platforms have a critical role in allocating the necessary resources for content moderation on their platforms – especially moderators with knowledge of local languages and cultural context. Thirdly, political leaders should acknowledge and address the biases towards women in the political debates.
Fourth, civil society can add immense value by raising awareness and training female candidates on how to mitigate online gender based violence. A good example of this is the #HeshimuDada campaign launched by Kewopa in collaboration with Google Africa and Siasa Place.
Ms Mwangi is the programme coordinator, Kenya Women Parliamentary Association, [email protected] ; Ms Ireri is the executive director, Fida Kenya, [email protected]; and Ms Thonke is the Ambassador of Denmark to Kenya, @DKambKenSom