Women activists call for protection in digital space

Women's rights activists have raised concerns over the continued cyberbullying of women in the digital space.

In a joint statement by over 20 women's rights activist organizations, they argue that human rights and safety concerns such as cyberbullying, online harassment, and cyberstalking have become commonplace in digital spaces as part of a wider variety of violent behaviors.

The group says this disproportionately affects women and girls.

Some of the organizations include the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE), Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET), the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the Centre for Women in Governance (CEWIGO), the Association of Uganda Women Medical Doctors (AUWMD), and the Women’s International Peace Centre.

The call came as Uganda prepared to commemorate International Women’s Day on Wednesday (March 8).

This year’s national celebrations will take place at Kaaro Secondary School in Kiruhura district under the theme 'DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality'.

'Legal environment is unfriendly'

The women argue that despite the passing of the Privacy and Data Protection Act to protect the rights of online users, there is still a huge presence of online sex content, pornography, or content objectifying women, and the consumption of such materials further motivates acts of violence against women.

They say this undermines the AfDec principle on gender equality, which requires the creation and promotion of online content that reflects women’s voices, needs, and rights.

This principle urges key stakeholders to ensure that the processes and mechanisms that enable the full, active, and equal participation of women and girls in decision-making about how the internet is shaped and governed are developed and strengthened.

“Beyond online harassment and cyberstalking by non-state actors, Uganda’s legal environment is unfriendly as it provides for surveillance and lawful interception and monitoring of communications in the course of telecommunications, postal, or any other related services or systems,” the joint statement by the activists reads in part.

They note that as long as there is insufficient progress on the structural issues, there will be an undermined ability to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, whose aim is to achieve gender equality by ending all forms of discrimination, violence, and any harmful practices against women and girls in the public and private spheres, and their full participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of political and economic decision-making.

They also highlight other barriers limiting women to the effective use of information communication and technology (ICT), including some negative cultural norms, unpaid care work, which limits women from fully engaging in the use of ICT, low literacy rates among women, and a lack of adequate skills, among others.

While addressing journalists at Ureka Place in Ntinda on Tuesday, Akina Mama wa Afrika executive director Eunice Musiime said the high cost of the internet is an impediment to access to digital technologies for women and girls in Uganda.

She said the government needs to establish broadband internet that is accessible and affordable to all Ugandans, reduce taxes on technology, innovation, and ICT equipment to make it affordable to average women, invest in skilling women and girls to enhance access and use of technology and ICT, and invest more resources in the Electronic Court Case Management Information System (ECCMIS) to enhance speedy access to justice for women and girls.

Gertrude Lamunu Too-rom, the head of communications at Barefootlaw, said that the ECCMIS helps to automate and track all aspects of a case's life cycle, right from initial filing to disposition and appeal, thereby reducing case backlogs within courts.

The activists further called on the ICT and national guidance ministries and the National Information Technology Authority of Uganda (NITA-U) to populate and expedite the implementation of the date protection policy by passing the required regulations and setting up relevant offices.

Source: New Vision

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