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Cyber-based violence against women was the focus of a forum hosted by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in commemoration of the International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016.
The Bank’s East African Regional office organized the panel discussion on “Women at the forefront of Development: The Fight against Cyber-Based Violence” in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Participants heard of the horror that is online bullying as victims provided testimonies of how their lives have been harmed by the act.
“I shared my story online as a rape survivor. The harsh comments I received made me feel like I was being raped again. Suddenly, 514 people who knew nothing about me were talking about me, sharing posting all manner of things. I developed a mental health condition from the rape ordeal; the negative comments from people did not make it any better,” said Sitawa Wafula. She was raped at 18 years old.
Sitawa went on to explain how it was hurting to report the rape incident that made the thought of reporting online attacks against her too much to bear. “As a victim, having tried to report physical rape was traumatizing. The very thought of reporting online bullying felt like being raped a second time,” said Sitawa who runs a blog, my mind my funk.
Her statement was supported by Zawadi Nyong’o, a social change activist who champions safe use of online and social media. “Policing and shaming of cyber violence victims causes further psychological trauma,” she told the gathering which discussed “making the internet a safer place for women”.
These remarks brought to the fore the need for support structures including legislation to make the internet safe for women and girls especially in Africa, where internet use has recorded exponential growth in the past decade. It is estimate that close to 50% of the African population will be using mobile internet by 2020, Kenya’s ICT Cabinet Secretary, Joe Mucheru said.
With this growth, he said, comes a heavy responsibility for governments to establish instruments and enforce legislation to deal with cybercrimes. Kenya, he noted, was so far the only African country with a zero draft on Computer Crimes and Cybercrimes Bill. The bill addresses issues on crimes committed on the internet, including gender-based cyber violence. It will be open to public consultation in the next two weeks before the process of enactment commences.
Mucheru outlined the importance of training on forensic elements to boost technical skills necessary for tracking perpetrators of cybercrime. “Training on Digital Forensics may be appropriate in order to acquire adequate analytical and technical capabilities.” He urged law enforcement agencies to provide specialised training to their officers on the use of technology, social media, and international standard guidelines on how to effectively deal with the emerging forms of gender-based cybercrime.
A similar training programme was launched by the AfDB in Nairobi during celebrations to mark the International Women’s Day. The initiative is a partnership between the Bank, Facebook, Kenya ICT Authority, Judiciary and the Kenya Police. It seeks to build capacity of the Kenya Police and Judiciary to handle gender-based cyber violence. It is a pilot project in Kenya, and will be scaled up across Africa.