“I felt attacked, I had to put my phone down and go check myself in the mirror if I was that fat,” says Nuirat an entrepreneur from Tanzania’s business capital, Dar es Salaam.
“It all started after my post explaining that our national economy could thrive without loans from outside the country. I can assure you that in my post I haven’t attacked anybody, rather I was just making clear the situation using the facts and figures from the Bank of Tanzania and the National Bureau of Statistics. The post had absolutely nothing to do with how thin or fat I was, my skin tone, my level of education, or anything of the sort.
“The comments were a shock to me. Of more than 350 comments, only a handful was in support whatsoever, of what I was saying. The rest were all on how stupid I was, that as a woman, matters of national interest were not for me and I should focus on raising ugly fat babies like I was; someone called me a parody, another one posted my picture saying I was too local to understand anything about numbers. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was too much for me. I wasn’t ready for that, I cried so much. I had to deactivate my account,” says Nuirat, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Nuirat is just one of many women who find themselves victims of online abuse, being attacked based on their gender or personalities. The term Online Gender-Based Violence is becoming more and more frequent in today’s communication as more women are faced with the abuses. OGBV means targeted harassment and prejudice through technology against people, disproportionately women, based on their gender. To the unfortunate victims, the internet has been a cool, funny space, until it wasn’t.
A study conducted in 2020 on women living in urban areas across Africa revealed that 1 out of every 3 women has experienced some form of OGBV. The trend is gaining pace despite campaigns both online and offline, laws and regulations in place to fight violence.
In Tanzania, The Constitutional of URT of 1977 has incorporated the bill of rights in Articles 12 – 29, providing that “every person is entitled to recognition and respect for his dignity”. The constitution further provides for equality before the law of all people without discrimination and they have entitled protection. Additionally, the Online Content Regulation of 2020 prohibits content that includes hate speech, use of disparaging or abusive words, content that annoys, bad language, hate propaganda, and content likely to mislead or deceive the public.
“OGBV, just like other forms of violence, has various adverse impacts including psychological impact, [and] loss of one’s dignity and respect,” says Advocate Neema Olle Ndemno, from Tanzania. The true aim of one attacking the other online is to weaken their confidence and ability to speak out. The patterns of attack are generally similar: in most cases, they will belittle your opinion, attack your physical appearance, level of education, stalk your profile to come up with anything you have said in the past, or namify your pictures.
In any case, it is advised not to engage in the war of words with the abusers. Instead, stand your ground to your initial position and calmly dismiss their rage.
Before disabling your account as Nuirat did, social media has given you the tools in your hand to use in such situations. You can delete and disable comments, report both comments and user accounts of such comments. Most social media respond positively and swiftly to claims of online abuse.
The extent of attacks can reach the heights of death threats and, sometimes, physical abuse. In such cases, it is important to reach out to relevant authorities.
“Addressing online gender violence demands the same energy we invest in fighting gender-based violence offline,” says Mr. James Laurent, a Digital & Physical Security Consultant from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The awareness should involve both the victims and the ‘attackers.’ Attacking one’s personality or gender is like raising a voice instead of an argument.
“To avoid getting into trouble with the authorities, it is important to learn to use social media for the good of everyone,” says Wilfred Willa, the Assistant Inspector of Police, from Njombe District in Tanzania. The Internet can be a safe space for everyone if we all take part in spreading a positive ‘vibe’ to each other. Instead of attacking and shaming, we should be appreciated and criticized constructively. We are the solution to end OGBV.
*Nuirat’s real name has been concealed to protect her identity.
By Imani Henrick | Digital Rights and Inclusion Fellow| Paradigm Initiative