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

Report: Women's Rights and the Internet in Uganda

This submission is a joint stakeholder contribution to the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism for Uganda. This submission focuses on women’s rights and the internet in Uganda. It explores the extent of implementation of the recommendations made in the previous cycle of the UPR and also identifies emerging concerns in Uganda regarding women’s rights online.
See the full report here

Women And Internet Freedom In East Africa

On March 8, International Women’s Day was marked across the world under the theme “Make It Happen.” The OpenNet Africa initiative, which monitors and promotes internet freedom in Africa, participated in a series of online discussions focused on women in the digital sphere.
A shared theme across all discussions to mark the day was the call for greater protections of women’s rights both online and offline. Many of the disadvantages faced by women offline have been transferred online, leaving many excluded from the information society, while those with access are sometimes targets of online hostility, such as gender based reputation and privacy attacks. In Africa, a key offline disproportionality is the education level and in turn ICT literacy variance between men and women.

Pan-African efforts such as the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms call for the creation and promotion of online content that “reflects women’s voices and needs, that promotes and supports women’s rights – in order to address existing gender inequalities and encourage active participation and empowerment of women via online spaces.” The Declaration recognises the need for mechanisms that enable the full, active and equal participation of women and girls in decision-making about how the Internet is shaped and governed.

@OpenNetAfrica in #Tanzania, the April Parliamentary Session is expected to have a bill that ‘might’ do! @endalk2006 #WomenOnlineEA — Jamii Forums (@JamiiForums) March 9, 2015
On March 7, the Unwanted Witness and the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) held a twitterthon using the hashtag #WomenOnlineEA to highlight and create awareness on the important role women have played in the development of Uganda through ICT.
Using the hashtag #ICT4Women and reflections from a report titled Cyber Infrastructure: A Women’s Issue Too!, the discussions focused on the impact digital communications have had on women globally and in Uganda. According to the report, as ICT access and use increases in Uganda, a balanced ICT policy that includes women as key stakeholders should be pursued.
The sentiments of the twitterthon were echoed during a post-International Women’s Day twitter chat held amongst OpenNet Africa partners including Jamii Forums (Tanzania), East & Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) and experts from Ethiopia and Burundi on March 9. This chat used the hashtag #WomenOnlineEA and also touched on issues discussed during Safer Internet Day which explored Promoting Online Safety in Africa on February 10. 
Participants in this chat concluded that efforts to increase internet access for women should be complemented with the fundamental rights to privacy, access to information and data protection as some of the key requirements of internet freedom. Increased mobile phone access in particular was pointed out as a key driver for inclusivity and participation online for women.
According to the 2014 State of Internet Freedom in East Africa report, increased mobile penetration has contributed towards more internet users. Conversely, women on average are 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than men, according to a  recent GSMA report which also indicates that despite women seeing value in mobile phones as life enhancing tools, there are 200 million fewer women than men owning mobile phones globally.
According to the ITU, there are fewer women in developing countries online than there are men. In 2013, this figure stood at 16% fewer women than men accessing the internet in developing countries. Indeed, some twitter chat participants pointed out that internet access was not a key priority for women in developing countries. Rather, focus should be given to access to clean water, electricity and sanitation needs, among others.  This was, however, countered with the argument that access to the internet is no less a priority for women than access to other basic needs.

  @OpenNetAfrica @JamiiForums @nkurunzizajp We envision more women empowered to use the internet for #Social #Economic change #WomenOnlineEA

Throughout the discussions, participants shared reports and insights on internet freedom from their respective countries in what is an increasingly transforming area in the region. See A brief look into Internet Freedom and women in East Africa for a summary of the twitterthon.

ToroDev trains rural youth and women in online advocacy for improved service delivery

ToroDev has started training rural women and youth leaders in the seven districts of the Rwenzori Region in using online tools to monitor service delivery. The maiden residential 2 days training involving ten participants was held on 16th – 17th of August, 2012 at ToroDev resource center in Fort Portal, Uganda. The training which is supported by ToroDev in partnership with SPIDER/Stockholm University was facilitated by Milton Aineruhanga from WOUGNET.

ToroDev will train 210 rural monitors and advocates in online/ Web 2.0 tools to collect, document and disseminate online public accountability for improved serviced delivery issues. They will particularly oriented on how to interact with the “Ushahidi” online platform and other relevant open-source software. The monitors were also trained in online social media tools, human rights, governance and democratic engagement.
The monitors were highly trained to be independent local citizens that will keep updating the community and project team at ToroDev about the status of service delivery and identifying communities own service delivery needs.
They will further go ahead to mobilize and encourage regular meetings and focus group discussions (FGDs) among the 14 Advocacy Forums in the region on issues of service delivery monitoring.
Rural Monitors will also advocate for quality and timely public accountability from local leaders.  They will use 11 radio stations in the Rwenzori region as a major tool for distributing/disseminating all the information accessed through online/internet and mobile phones.
This information will be converged on the FM radio stations as a way of sharing information with the rest of grass root citizens in the region, who may not necessarily have the skills and afford town or access internet based knowledge tools. The rural FM radio will be used a hub for the convergence of all ICT tools for effective service delivery monitoring in the Rwenzori Region.
Some of the sample articles posted by the rural monitors on the Ushahidi platform.
Documented by Solomon Akugizibwe
This article was published on August 28, 2012, about the ICT4Democracy in East Africa project, which brings together various partners in the region – among them CIPESA.
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