Online Safety of Women and Children-Policy Brief Launch

Children are spending more time online than ever before and around the world, a child goes online for the first time every half second. Much as the online space offers limitless opportunities, these opportunities come with serious risks.

Digital Woman Uganda (DWU) with support from Digital Human Rights Lab recently held an online event to launch a policy Brief, a document that provides an overview of cyber policies and also helps citizens understand the need to create protection systems for women & children online.

 “Ugandans are spending an increased amount of time online, especially during the covid19 induced lockdown. Through smart devices also women and young girls roam the online space, exposing them to different forms of online attacks. Those attacks range from cyber stalking, trolling, hate speech, public shaming, doxing, cyber bullying, threats and intimidation. This has not left out the innocent children.

report by UNICEF states that Cyberbullying and other forms of online violence can affect young people each time they log in to social media platforms. When browsing the internet, children may be exposed to hate speech and violent content – including messages that incite self-harm and even suicide. It’s even worse if the child is from a rural setting where not much is known about online safety.

 Children and Women Safety Online

According to the launched report about the review of policies protecting children and women online by Digital Woman Uganda, identifying online abuse and protecting women and children online is even harder:  those who would have recognized the abuse such as teachers, child care workers, extended family etc. are often not in direct contact with the women and children when the violations happen. Also, the closure of schools and frequent countrywide lockdowns due to COVID-19 have completely disrupted online violence prevention and response services – it exposed children to frequent access to the internet. Without knowing who to report online violence to, women and children stand a high chance of psychological and mental violence.

This kind of occurrence undermines socio-economic development because victims tend to shy away from use of the internet thereby missing out on the opportunities that the internet has to offer. And this in the long run continues to widen the Gender Digital divide gap among the rural population.

 Protection of rural women and girls’ rights online.

 Women and children’s online safety especially those in the rural area should be treated as an important issue in Uganda because there is an increase in the number of online violence against women and children. 

The policy brief states that women and children are more likely to face various forms of online violence as compared to men and this exposes the weakness in the approaches in legislating a gender approach to online violence against women and children.

Also, the fact that Uganda does not have a law that regulates online communication worsens the situation for victims. There is the computer misuse Act but it does not state how to protect women and children online. This has made it difficult for victims of online (gender-based) violence to report and get justice for the hurt inflicted on them.

In addition, it is quite hard to protect women and children against online violence because there is limited information on the actual percentages of women and children facing online violence and harm.

 Policies and Gaps to protect women and children online in Uganda.

Uganda has many policies for example The Computer Misuse ActChildren’s Act (2016) CAP 59The Anti-pornography Act 2014 among others but these policies have huge gaps that have affected its implementation. For example, there is a lack of awareness on steps to take in implementing these policies and interference from the state.

There is a need to involve women in the early stages of these policy formulations because they are the ones who are directly affected by these policies. – Ivan Pinno, Founder of Digital Woman-Uganda

 Recommendations for protecting women and children online

During the policy brief launch event, Dr. Martha Kibukamusoke who is a Research fellow at Digital Woman Uganda calls on Policy makers  to coordinate with public and private actors to implement policies that protect women and children online.

There’s also a need for the government to enact international laws and make those adopted more specific to online violence. Awareness should also be integrated in literacy campaigns when conducting community training. Journalists who attended the event also suggested that such reports should be locally disseminated to the public through radio, especially those stations in rural areas – this is the easiest way of conveying information to a wider rural audience.

Another female journalist was quoted saying “Uganda has good laws but there’s a need to strengthen their implementation through channels and referral pathways in handling cyber-crimes”.

 This is a clear indication that this launch achieved its purpose which was to discuss and suggest appropriate tools to raise awareness on protection of women and children online.

 Anyone can bring change and Digital Woman Uganda is a great example, if each one of us contributes a bit towards women and children’s safety, definitely one day we will be able to end this plague, i.e.

online violence against women and children and the world would be a better place to live in.

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