The Internet is a powerful tool with diverse uses; communication, real time updates, education, research and financial transactions. I’m always online, as I reflect on my induction to the Internet, my perception was very narrow, as a result, so were my views! I was a propagator of play safe, do not ruffle any feathers, keep your interaction to a minimum! And when harassed, do get off! A good mechanism for someone who wants to be a hermit. Unfortunately, if you have a public facing role, e.g., journalists, activists, politicians, it is difficult to remain offline. You face a tougher demand to stay relevant online, but it is tougher for you if you are a woman, you are oft abused just for being a woman.
It took me a lot of unlearning to be an advocate for creating a safe space online. An advocate’s work entails identifying ways in which Internet Freedom is abused and ways to mitigate this abuse, for a freer, open and secure Internet for all. My unlearning began with the realisation that your online ‘life’ is an extension of your personality to a bigger and possibly unknown audience. The key to this is understanding that the rights we enjoy offline must also be enjoyed online1. Secondly, was defining and understanding gender based violence online and its effects.
There are many aspects to look into when it comes to Internet Freedom, including, freedoms of speech, information, privacy, and association. Kenya is ranked as free2, this measures1obstacles to access, limits on content, violations of user rights, our work is limited to the violations of user rights. In this I discuss about censorship inline with user rights, not suppression by the government to her citizens. Gender based technology censorship are ways people use the internet to suppress women’s public voice, using digital media to silence or put down women. For instance blackmail, hacking and restraint (not giving them enough coverage).
Looking at our offline interactions, isn’t it common to use femininity to degrade and insult, e.g., kama mamako (like your mother), wacha umama (stop acting like a women). These are subliminal messages we pass down to our generation and has transcended to the online space. Here are instances of abuse hurled at women every day, here, here and here. Harassment comes in many forms, women go through it daily, unfortunately, there is no regulation on what is permissible or what isn’t. Anyone can take a private conversation and post it online, there is usually no contest, a he said, she said story. It is important to acknowledge how this affects women’s freedom of expression. One of the net effects is discouraging women from getting online. So how does one deal with this? Is going offline a solution? If I want to stay online, do I now employ self censorship? Or use pseudonyms? There are several methods women have employed to offer support to one another, please share your experience with us as we strive to bring more people online.
That said, I am a champion of women’s rights both online and offline, I intend to speak up when I feel there’s an injustice. This week, we host a session with women who fit this profile to unearth insights.