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From sexist to misogynistic remarks; social media users have normalised online harassment of women

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Social media is open for all gender to share information, start conversations, run advocacy campaigns, or even just educate people about issues that affect them, daily.

This space has, however, increasingly become toxic, perpetuating psychological violence, one form of online gender-based violence (OGBV), against women parliamentarians, a 2016 Inter-Parliamentary Union survey found.

From sexist and misogynistic remarks to humiliating images, mobbing, threats and intimidation, the violence is chilling.

In 2021, Association of Media Women in Kenya conducted a survey Online Violence against Women during Covid-19, establishing that topics on gender led with a 35 per cent ranking, in setting off the abuse of women on the digital platforms.

Facebook was the most used platform in perpetrating the crime at 43 per cent, followed by Twitter at 27 per cent.

A 2015 report from the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), best practice forum on online abuse and GBV against women lists infringement of privacy, surveillance and monitoring and damaging one’s reputation as actions that constitute OGBV. Others are harassment, which may be accompanied by offline harassment as well as direct threats and targeted attacks to communities.

Using sexist gendered comments, indecent images to demean women or abusing a woman for expressing views that are not normative, are all considered forms of harassment.

To exemplify this, here is an analysis of how Twitter users responded to tweets from women politicians versus men politician.

On May 16, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu tweeted: “I have joined @SalimSwaleh001 on @ntvkenya for a live discussion. Please tune in to join the conversation.” 

Of the first 26 comments to her post, 13 were either sexist or abusive. Some referred to her as a grandmother. Others dismissed her capability to discuss anything of substance yet she is a governor and party leader of Narc.

Meanwhile on May 15, Kipchumba Murkomen, Senator for Elgeyo Marakwet County had made a quote tweet: “See you shortly,” while responding to a poster by a local television station notifying its followers of his appearance on an evening show.

Thirty two comments followed. But only one manifested OGBV based on IGF checklist. In this case, the Twitter user made a comment intended at tarnishing his reputation.

It was worse for Millicent Omanga, the nominated Senator.

“I congratulate @MarthaKarua on her nomination as Azimio coalition running mate. Martha is a courageous lady with impressive and colourful reform credentials. As a woman I’m inspired by her passion. However, as Kenya Kwanza, we believe we offer the best solution for this country,” she tweeted on May 16.

She was not only hit with sexist and abusive comments, but also indecent images of her.

A 2021 report by the Institute of Development Studies on Global evidence on the prevalence and impact of online gender-based violence notes that OGBV should be understood as “part of a continuum of abuse where normalised behaviours such as sexual harassment in public spaces, shade into behaviours widely recognised as criminal.” Hence, the urgency for all stakeholders to collaborate to end all forms of abuse.

An aggrieved individual in Kenya, however, has the power under Section 27 of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act (2018) to seek redress and the offender can be penalised with Sh20 million or a 10-year jail term.



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