“The power of the Web is in its universality access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect”. This was stated by W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee. The above quoted is contrary with regards to the digital divide between men and women in the form of access to technology that has been prevalent over the years.
The concept Digital Gender Divide or Digital Split
This is a term that refers to a gap between the amount of information available between men and women with focus on access. It also refers to differences in resources and capabilities to access and effectively utilize Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) that exist within and between countries, regions, sectors and socio-economic groups.
United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan’s statement to the world summit on the Information society Geneva, 10 December 2003:
The so-called digital divide is actually several gaps in one. There is a technological divide, great gaps in infrastructure and there is also a content divide. Alot of web-based information is simply not relevant to the real needs of people. Nearly 70% of the world’s websites are in English, at times crowding out local voices and views.
There is a gender divide with women enjoying less access to information technology than men. The digital gender divide is characterized by poverty, cultural norms and stereotypical perceptions.Several media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube among others are used to market and distribute pornographic materials and prostitution and they can also facilitate human trafficking for sexual purposes.
Kenya has experienced an increase in the proliferation of ICT and social media due to affordability, easy availability and accessibility of gadgets such as internet enabled mobile phones (smart phones). This has however come without the necessary checks in terms of litigation and ICT policies to help mitigate the negative impacts that the growth may have on gender relations.
The available documented evidence points to a deficit in knowledge and understanding of the new and sophisticated permutations of violence against women as experienced on social media. In the Kenyan context, some of the acts of aggression were seen as isolated cases and reported as incidents that are not gendered. This points to a lack of acknowledgement of the harms that social media and the tools of ICT pose to women.
Many women have suffered online harassment in the hands of online bullies, anonymous or known to them. Some have been afraid to enjoy social media for fear of the dangers lurking within, some have suffered in silence with no knowledge of whom to turn to for justice. I am an example of those women who have suffered cyber bullying. This began from sexting, in the hands of an anonymous online bully way back in my teen age of seventeen. The supposed gentleman texted me on Facebook with sex texts which I found inappropriate to respond. Upon realizing I was ignoring him, he said he would edit the chat to make it look like I was warming up to him and attach nude pictures of me through morphing to the chats then share it to all media platforms. How frightened and worried I was imagining the shame that was awaiting me, I could not hold back my tears, I really wept in silence. I have also experienced sexting with a prominent person in Kenya whose name I withhold. I never knew I would ever find some platform to share these haunting experiences at least for relief if not for anything else.
Online harassment stands out as the main reason for the prevalence of digital gender divide. It takes the following listed forms;
- Cyber stalking: This refers to repeatedly sending messages that include threats of harm, highly intimidating or engaging in other online activities that make a person afraid.
- Denigration: Sending or posting cruel gossip or rumors about a person to damage their reputations or friendships.
- Flaming: Online fights using electronic messages with angry and vulgar language.
- Morphing: Is attaching a photo to make one image. For example, a face may be attached to a naked body or a pornographic situation. The software used in this is so advanced that it’s not easy to tell that the image is not real.
- Outing and image circulation: This involves tricking someone to share their secrets or embarrassing information about themselves then you share it online to the public.
- Sexting: The use of communication technology to send or receive sexually explicit messages and photos.
The above listed forms of online harassment explain why women are usually victims of the prevailing digital gender divide as illustrated below;
- Cyber laws are often gender blind
When new laws concerning the internet are introduced, it is often done through protectionist frameworks without consultation with women’s organizations. In Kenya, legal regulations serve to censor the internet broadly, which also affects women. Social media platforms are often reluctant to deal with misogynist expressions; expressions made by a person who dislikes, despises or is highly prejudiced against women (a woman hater or male chauvinist). Governments as well as the private sector have been reluctant in dealing with online harassment of women.
Any woman who experiences denigration may suffer shame and stigma thus making her shy away from online platforms thus widening the digital gender divide gap.
- Blackmails by boyfriends and ex-boyfriends: In the course of romantic affairs, lovers usually take pictures together out of which some may be seductive, others exposing more than necessary and some suggestive. These pictures are taken either with or without the other person’s consent. When things turn stale between the lovers, there is always a trend of the boyfriends revealing those nearly nude pictures they possess by posting them online to shame the lady in them. These photos may also be used to blackmail the lady to remain in abusive relationships with the condition that if they don’t remain with the boyfriend those pictures she would want no one to see will be revealed to the public. Chats are also revealed with abusive captions attached to them. This makes the victim to suffer psychological and emotional torture. As a result they may fully exit online platforms especially Facebook to hide from shame and to heal. This thus does more harm by further widening the digital gender divide gap.
- Partner rivalry: This is usually common among ladies who are fighting over a man.The victimized lady who feels the other party snatched her man may take to online platforms specifically Facebook just to shame her fellow through what was mentioned earlier as flaming. This is usually aimed at shaming the victim and diverting her attention so that he can leave the man to the claimant. It should be noted that it is not always men who perpetrate this digital gender divide but also women themselves. The victim will undoubtedly seek hiding away from the internet so as to deal with the situation and seek personal peace.
- Leaking sextapes: This is so common even among the prominent people in the country. Some ladies may be lured into featuring in pornographic videos and some who are unsuspecting may only learn of the videos after they get to the limelight. The perpetrators sometimes place micro cameras in the room where the action takes place and thereafter upload it to YouTube for monetary gains without the victim’s consent. This degree of online harassment results in societal stigmatization of women who may be innocent and also have far reaching consequences on ruining their reputation. Thus resulting in them having negative perceptions of using the internet and all related technologies hence the digital gender divide.
It should be noted that there is a greater need to bridge the digital gender divide as it can provide the basis for substantial progress in development. This is because women’s digital inclusion can help to catalyze broader gender equality in social, economic and political dimensions benefiting not only women themselves but also their families and the broader society.
This can be done through formulation of gender sensitive ICT policies and offering training to women in Kenya on how they can ensure their safety while online. Women’s rights matter online as much as they matter offline.
- Leavy, R. (2010, October 28).How Does Poverty Affect the Digital Divide.
- The role of ICT integration into classrooms in Kenya.
- Mutula, Stephen M. (2007)”Digital divide and economic development: Case study of Sub-Saharan Africa, “The Electronic Library, 26(4):468-489.
Written By Rose Anyango | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org