STRESSFUL TIMES

Violence against women online on the rise – lobby

Includes physical threats, sexual harassment, stalking, zoombombing and sex trolling.

In Summary

• Social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter are the most common places for online bullying.

• Cyberbullying on the rise as more people spend time online for professional, educational and social interactions.

Girl reacts to cyberbullying
Girl reacts to cyberbullying
Image: COURTESY

Women and girls are increasingly becoming victims of online violence, UN Women has said. 

This includes physical threats, sexual harassment, stalking, zoombombing and sex trolling.

In its latest brief on violence against women and children, and Covid-19, the organisation cited growing documentation of violence against women increasing online as more people use technology for professional, educational and social interactions.

 

"Quarantine measures and self-isolation policies put in place during the pandemic have increased internet use between 50 per cent and 70 per cent...Reports by some countries show substantial increase in reports of online abuse and bullying during this pandemic, including against children," reads the brief.

Data from women's lobbies and the Ministry of Gender show that Kenya has reported more than 300 cases of gender-based violence since the curfew began. 

With many cultures insisting on female chastity, cyberbullying, considered a form of gender-based violence, is on the rise. Social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are the most common places for cyberbullying.

A baseline report by Kenya ICT Action Network on the challenges Kenyan women face on the internet says online harassment hinders their full participation.

The brief adds that while prevention efforts continue to find ways to adapt to the Covid-19 situation, women and girls are at even greater risks of experiencing abuse online. 

Several women's lobbies, including Fida-Kenya, Creaw and the Gender ministry, have set up hotlines for victims to call in and report violence. 

The brief also says pornographic traffic has spiked dramatically during this time as have risks of sextortion.

 
 
 

According to Canada's National tipline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children, sextortion occurs when sexual images or videos are first shared with a known peer, often within a dating relationship, and then that material is used to blackmail the victim for additional sexual images or videos.

The brief further highlights how quarantine measures and self-isolation policies have led to an increase in mental health problems in families. 

"Families subject to quarantine, isolation and physical distancing coupled with increased domestic and care burdens may experience tensions, stress, anxiety and mental health problems. This alone can contribute to increased conflict and quarrelling, which escalates to abuse," reads the brief.

Additionally, mental health can manifest in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as excessive alcohol consumption, a well-documented risk factor for perpetration of abuse.

Financial strains from loss of employment, income and other assets also create a sense of inadequacy, uncertainty and loss of control, provoking the assertion of power, including through violence towards spouses, partners or children.

This is in contexts where traditional gender roles dictate men should provide for their families.

 "Where poverty and the inability to meet basic needs results, girls are at higher risk of being married early or being sexually exploited," reads the brief. 

Edited by Josephine M. Mayuya