Inspiring Inclusion on Women’s Day 2024

By Juliet Nanfuka |

Today, the world celebrates International Women’s Day 2024 under the theme of #InspireInclusion, which encourages the realisation of a gender-equal world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. However, amidst the global celebration, it is crucial to spotlight the persistent challenges faced by African female journalists, both online and offline.

A 2020 global survey conducted by UNESCO confirmed a disturbing trend: online attacks targeting women journalists are on the rise at an alarming rate. These attacks are part of a deliberate strategy to intimidate, degrade, and silence women in the media industry. Such violence aims to instill fear, undermine professionalism, discredit journalistic integrity, erode trust in factual reporting, and ultimately stifle women’s active participation in public discourse especially as these attacks don’t just affect the targeted journalists – they also impact their sources and audiences, encourage self-censorship leading to a chilling effect on freedom of expression and access to information.

Research shows that the tactics used to attack women journalists is dominated by online trolling which often takes the form of gendered and sexualised attacks and, often involves body shaming. Trolling which has evolved into the practice of coordinated cyber armies that run campaigns – sometimes sponsored by some government officials and other powerful political actors.

It should be noted that online violence also shifts into offline spaces – with potentially deadly consequences. However, despite this, there remains a disturbing trend, particularly for African women journalists who experience online abuse – they often hesitate to seek justice and, when they do, encounter challenges in having their complaints taken seriously and thoroughly investigated.

Notably, the low levels of digital security skills and the inadequacy of existing laws in tackling trolling and Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence (TFGBV), only exacerbate the challenges African women journalists face in the profession.

African female journalists are instrumental in conveying key narratives, shedding light on issues of importance, and amplifying marginalised voices and concerns. However, the increased affronts to their profession and presence in online discourse encourage self-censorship and unmeasurable impact on access to information and freedom of expression of this key segment of society.

In the first Africa Media Freedom and Journalists’ Safety Report released in 2022, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reiterated the growing presence of Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence (TFGBV) as a deterrent to press freedom, especially for women.

It is against this backdrop that CIPESA has consistently pursued various interventions aimed at enhancing the safety and inclusion of women in online spaces. Some of the initiatives have been specific to addressing the needs of African women journalists, such as a Media Masterclass and Reporting Grant, research into online safe spaces for women, both of which were conducted under the WomenAtWeb project of Deutsche Welle (DW). Further, CIPESA gave grants aimed at enhancing gendered digital inclusion and women journalists’ safety under the Africa Digital Rights Fund to beneficiaries in Somalia, Malawi and Tanzania, as well as in Ghana and Nigeria

This year, in partnership with the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) of UNESCO, CIPESA is supporting media development efforts to promote a safe, independent, and pluralistic press, including through addressing the gender dynamics of media freedom and journalists’ safety in Africa.

In recognition of Women’s Month, a series of workshops will be hosted alongside Digital Security Cafes for women journalists, media practitioners, and content producers in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The workshops will include discussions based on the findings of Africa Media Freedom and Journalists’ Safety Report with a focus on elevating awareness of what can be done to pursue more inclusive measures for women journalists.

Further women’s month efforts will be a webinar on African women in politics with the aim of highlighting the importance of increased political inclusion of women in politics.  The role of active online engagement will be highlighted as a key driver enabling the needs of women in politics in various African countries and as a tool to participate in the information society meaningfully.  More importantly, the webinar will cast a spotlight on how women in active politics in various African countries are pushing back against the negative narratives online and the role that actors such as policy makers  and platforms have to play in addressing TFGBV associated with political spaces and discourse.

Register to participate in the webinar here

Placing ICT Access for Persons with Disabilities at the Centre of Internet Rights Debate in Kenya

By CIPESA Writer |
Persons with disabilities have unique needs and have for long been disadvantaged, yet, the more some African countries get digitally connected, the deeper the digital divide for this community seems to grow. Indeed, debates about internet governance and the inclusiveness of the information society have not prominently featured the needs of persons with disabilities. This, despite Information and Communications Technology (ICT) having the potential to improve the lives of persons with disabilities.
However, it was a different story in Kenya a month ago, with disability rights featuring prominently at the Kenya Internet Governance (KIGF) and being the focus of a multi-stakeholder workshop held the day before the forum.
ICT for us is an enabler; for a person with disability, ICT makes the world go round,” remarked Erick Ngondi of the United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK), at the end of a workshop organised by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) alongside the Kenya Internet Governance Week that is spearheaded by the Kenya ICT Action Network, or KICTANet. “For me this has been one of the first meetings as relates to ICT and disability, so this is an excellent move.”
The workshop brought together 28 participants who included representatives of disabled persons’ organisations, government departments, telecom companies, academic institutions, technology companies, civil society organisations, and the media. The workshop explored ICT inclusion obligations for the state and for private companies and discussed what Kenya needs to do so as to improve access and usage of ICT for persons with disabilities. (Watch video with highlights from the meeting.)

“This workshop is one of its kind because it is not only about issues of physical accessibility but also informational and technological accessibility for persons with disabilities. This is a good initiative by CIPESA and I want to applaud them for this. It is a journey that has started and I look forward to us going on with this journey until we achieve our goal of persons with disabilities being included in technology.” George Shimanyula, Cheshire Disability Services Kenya.

In addition, the workshop disseminated a draft tool for monitoring compliance and implementation of ICT and disability rights obligations, including those specified by national laws and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD). The aim was to receive feedback on the tool, and to create awareness of how state and non-state actors can assess the compliance of government departments and private entities with digital accessibility obligations.
Kenya’s constitution is strong on disability rights, outlawing discrimination on the grounds of disability in article 27(4); and providing that a person with disability shall be entitled to treatment with respect and dignity, access educational institutions and facilities, have reasonable access to all places, public transport and information, and access materials and devices including for communications (article 54). Moreover, Kenya’s National ICT Policy of 2016 outlines, under article 13, strategies for “an accessible ICT environment in the country in order to enable persons with disabilities to take full advantage of ICTs.”
However, as was noted by Judy Okite, founder of the Association for Accessibility and Equality, many of the digital accessibility strategies outlined in the 2016 policy remained unfulfilled. While Kenya’s government is making significant steps to move its services online, the platforms are not favorable to those who are visually imparied. “Are we widening the digital divide by moving our services online? Is ICT recognised as an enabler for PWD in Kenya?” wondered Okite.

Unfulfilled: Digital accessibility strategies outlined in the Kenya National ICT Policy 2016
The Government will where appropriate take measures to:
(a) ensure that ICT services and emergency communications made available to the public are provided in alternative accessible formats for persons with disabilities (PWD);
(b) review existing legislation and regulations to promote ICT accessibility for PWDs in consultation with organisations representing PWDs among others;
(c) promote design, production and distribution of accessible ICT at an early stage;
(d) ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to access to information, freedom of expression and opinion;
(e) require both public and private entities that render services to the public to provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities;
(f) Require content producers for distribution and public consumption in Kenya to produce such content in accessible format such as audio description, audio subtitles, captions and signing for access to persons with disabilities.
(g) ensure that websites of government departments and agencies comply with international web accessibility standards and are accessible for persons with disabilities
(h) provide incentives to providers of accessible technology solutions including software, hardware and applications
(i) take such measures that will lessen the burden of acquisition of accessible technologies and associated gadgets by PWDs through fiscal means such as tax exemptions, subsidization, funding acquisitions, etc.
(j) ensuring that licensed ICT service providers offer special tariff plans or discounted rates for persons with disabilities communicate with the rest of society.
(k) Ensure that licensed providers of telecommunications services make available services and supporting technologies for persons with disabilities including emergency services, accessible public phones and relay services to enable persons with speech, hearing and seeing disabilities

Similar sentiments were shared by lawyer and digital rights activist Angela Minayo, who said the workshop “was very productive” and had enabled participants to realise that there is a gap in the implementation of ICT policy and in awareness of how national policies and international legal frameworks provide for persons with disabilities to be able to access and use ICT.
Conversations from the workshop were carried forward to the KIGF, with a session on inclusion, where Okite joined Paul Kiage (Communications Authority), Nivi Sharma (BRCK), Ben Roberts (Liquid Telecom), Josephine Miliza (KICTANet) and Alfred Mugambi (Safaricom) on a panel.
Kiage, an assistant director in charge of the Universal Service Fund (USF), said the fund had collected KShs 9 billion (USD 86.6 million), mostly used to extend network coverage to areas without voice services and to offer broadband connection to 896 secondary schools across the 47 counties. He said they had installed JAWS software and other assistive devices in eight learning institutions, partnered with the National Council for Persons with Disabilities to create a portal to enable persons with disabilities to access information including job advertisements, and created platforms in some libraries to enable accessibility to digital content.
But, according to Okite, despite USF’s efforts, “the digital divide is growing bigger for persons with disabilities”. Research she was part of last year showed that computers in some of the learning institutions had not been replaced for several years, requisite software was not installed or out of date, and staff managing the labs were not trained to teach users. Sustainability of the initiative was thus in question.
Kiage’s response? “We could do a lot more because we know there’s even primary schools that are catering for persons with disabilities in Kenya so we could go lower and support such schools.”
As of March 2019, Kenya had a mobile penetration of 106%, or 51 million subscriptions, while internet subscriptions stood at 46.8 million, of which 46.7% were on broadband. But as the KIGF panel on inclusion heard, segments of Kenyans can not afford to use ICT, and those in rural areas, poor and uneducated women, and many persons with disabilities were cited.
Dr. Wairagala Wakabi of CIPESA asked the Kenya government to conduct a gap analysis to establish the unmet ICT needs of persons with disabilities, collect on a regular basis disaggregated data that shows how persons with different types of disabilities are using technology and the challenges hindering greater use, and invest a larger portion of universal service funds in promoting digital accessibility. He added that Kenya should grow awareness about assistive technologies and make these technologies affordable.
“We should leave no one behind when it comes to digital inclusion,” he said. “Clearly, the Communications Authority can do more to improve access for people with disabilities, including through the use of the Universal Service Fund,” he said.
The private sector needs to be compliant too, and to be held to account to fulfil its obligations. In Kenya, and indeed across Africa, Safaricom has been a pace-setter. Last November, it launched the DOT Braille Watch service to enable the use of its M-Pesa mobile money service by persons with disabilities, said Karimi Ruria, Public Policy Manager at the provider. In December 2017, Safaricom introduced the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) that enables visually impaired and blind customers to control their M-Pesa transactions.

‘People With Disabilities Left Out in ICT Jamboree’

By Marc Nkwame |
As more Tanzanians join the digital world of Information Communication Technology (ICT), the majority of people living with disabilities have been left out, according to stakeholders.
It has been observed that in their quest to optimize profits, equipment suppliers, content producers and mobile communication service providers skip the needs and rights of persons with disabilities wishing to access such services.
Speaking during a special awareness workshop for Information Communication and Technology accessibility among persons with disabilities, the coordinator, Paul Kimumwe from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) pointed out that it is high time countries formulated special laws to ensure that marginalized groups are also catered for when it comes to such services.
“And if countries have such policies in place, there is the need for legislators to push for their execution, as it seems mobile service providers cater only for a physically able clientele,” he specified.
His observation was also reflected in an assessment tool for measuring mobile communication accessibility for persons with physical disabilities deployed among participants during the just ended workshop on how ICT development side-lined people with special needs.
Dr Eliamani Laltaika, a lecturer from the School of Business Studies and Humanities at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST), said the society’s mentality and personal stigma contribute in how ICT establishments view the needs of disabled persons.
“Unlike in the past, people should now realize that in the modern era, all is needed for a person to be useful is a healthy brain not peculiar appeal,” he cautioned.
According to the Don, it is usually the persons with physical disabilities that can prove to be extremely good intellectually and especially in Information Communication Technology (ICT), which means once empowered they can perform better than their physically fit counterparts.
Participants realized that mobile handsets are designed for people with hands and those with strong eye sights, while traders and phone service providers are yet to import gadgets that can cater for people without sight or hands.
Ndekirwa Pallangyo, representing the regional chapter for the Federation of Disabled Persons’ Associations in Tanzania (SHIVYAWATA), admitted that people with disabilities have been left out in ICT development.
“And the worst part of it is that even persons with disabilities themselves are unaware that they have been side-lined,” he said, underlining that when it comes to attending to the needs of the physically handicapped, it is important to consider individual requirements.
“There are those who are physically fit except for their sight. Others have impaired hearing, some can’t walk while there are those with no hands, etc. therefore each group need to be handled according to needs,” the activist added.
Originally published on IPP Media 

Dialogue on Social Media and Mobile Money Taxation in Uganda

The evolution of the digital economy in Uganda over the last 20 years has broken barriers associated to geography and time and thus enabled information flows critical for business processes, innovation, entrepreneurship, civic participation, learning and research, and government service delivery.
Following concerns on the growing public debt bill, and a constrained tax base, the Uganda government introduced a raft of taxes in the Excise Duty Act (Amended), notably on Over the Top (OTT) services and mobile money transactions. Beginning July 1, 2018, users must pay a tax of UGX 200 (USD 0.05) per day to access various social media platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and LinkedIn. For mobile money, a 1% levy applies to deposits and withdrawals, on top of a revised excise duty of 15% up from 10% on transfers. These taxes pose a huge threat on internet access and affordability, and financial inclusion for low income and marginalized groups such as women, youth and rural communities. In fact, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) estimatesthat the social media tax will cost Uganda’s poorest up to 40% of their average monthly income to buy a basket of 1GB of data.
Accordingly, CIPESA in partnership with the Internet Society Uganda Chapter seeks to convene stakeholders to deliberate on the economic, social and human rights impact arising from the new taxes. The dialogue will deliberate on how policy making processes can advance inclusive and equitable access to the internet, promote innovation and consumer rights protection. The dialogue builds on previous ones convened by CIPESA, for multiple stakeholders in the ICT eco-system.
See full agenda here.