The research titled Alternate Realities, Alternate Internets focused on over 3 000 women aged 18 to 65 years from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal and South Africa.

“In terms of self-reported experiences of online GBV, 28.2 percent of the women interviewed reported having experienced some form of online violence,” reads part of the research paper. “These incidents manifested as sexual harassment (36 percent) such as unwelcome sexual advances, offensive name calling (33.2 percent) and stalking (26.7 percent) such as repeated contact and doxxing.”

Facebook has proven to be a platform where online GBV is rampant due to perhaps its weak security systems including that it does not require mobile numbers when opening accounts which allows users to be anonymous.

“A majority, 71.2 percent of all the incidents of online GBV against the respondents occurred on Facebook. In Kenya, Uganda, Senegal and South Africa, this violence happens primarily on Facebook and Whatsapp,” reads the research paper.

“In Ethiopia, Facebook, and additionally, Telegram were the main platforms where women experienced online violence. ” Women who have experienced online GBV have also reported its impact on their mental health, including suffering from depression, anxiety, fear, and an overall sense of powerlessness, according to the research paper.

In responding to online GBV, 66 percent of the women blocked the perpetrators. The research paper said 14.5 percent of women deleted or deactivated their accounts whereas 12.2 percent stopped using a digital service after experiencing online violence.

“This is not only another form of self-censorship and restrictions on the freedom of expression of women, but also the complete erasure of their digital identities and presence,” reads the research paper.

Pollicy called for an urgent need for digital security resources to be adapted to local contexts and languages and mainstreamed in educational curricula as many women in the five countries did not know where to access information related to digital security. 

The consulting firm said policy advocacy and legal approaches in strengthening online harassment laws remain viable methods in preventing perpetrators from committing online gender-based violence through an increased focus on law enforcement authorities.

Pollicy said law enforcement personnel must be trained on a gender-sensitive digital safety curriculum to address complaints of online GBV and to provide timely technical assistance, counseling and support to women who choose to report. 

“Along with this, there is a need for countries to adopt data protection and privacy laws and put committees and mechanisms in place to implement these laws. A year after Uganda passed its Data Protection and Privacy Act (in 2019), the Data Protection office in charge of implementing the law has still not been established,” reads the research paper.

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