Digital Divides By Sally Ogola

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Kenya proudly boasts of its progressiveness in the internet space; with the introduction and subsequent enactment of the data protection act 2019, the state becomes one of the very few African countries that has institutionalized a legal framework of this nature. The legislation among other things, focuses on the regulation of data and its corresponding control. It further sets guidelines necessary for the collection, processing, storage, use, retrieval and disclosure of data within the country and/or of data whose subjects are located in the country. It is important to note that the act fundamentally encompasses the aspect of digital privacy; It generally gives effect to article 31 (c) and (d) of the Kenyan constitution 2010 among other provisions found in other statutes which explicitly focus on the mitigation and/ or the prevention of data breaches and its corresponding effects.  Article 31 (d) particularly provides for every individual’s right to privacy which is expressly extended to the right not to have the privacy of any persons’ communications infringed.

To understand the extent at which the data protection act gives effect to article articles 31 (c) and (d) of the constitution, it is important to read and interpret the act as a whole. Section 25 (a) of the act specifically obligates data controllers and data processors to ensure that any personal data is processed should conform with the right to privacy of the subject of such data. Section 26 of the act further provides for among other rights the right of the data subject to be informed of data, to object to the processing of any data and the right to have information forgotten. These subjects further have to explicitly consent to the processing of any data that is considered personal by the legislation or by the data protection commissioner failure of which controllers’ and or data processors’ will be held accountable and can be found liable of an offense. In simpler terms; the act makes service providers to a certain extent accountable for processing particular personal data and can accordingly be directed to pull down content on the basis of myriad reasons subject to the determination of the data protection commissioner. With the emerging spectrum of online related crimes, the data protection act will potentially promote the creation of secure online spaces for women that are free from online harassment and abuse.

While collecting and/or analyzing the extent of women’s participation in the digital space, I happened to trample on various articles which attempted to demonstrate and further explain the reasons behind the huge gap and/ or digital divide between men and women in the digital space. Out of curiosity, I resorted to collecting a little more data from individuals that were at my disposal at that particular time. Interestingly, I deduced that although most of these individuals had almost equal access to the digital space. Men unlike their women counterparts increasingly took part in online debates. Further analysis of this situation showed that the reason behind women’s laid back behavior was as a result of the harsh judgements meted particularly on women in these online platforms; simply put, the digital confidence of women is much lesser than that of men in these online platforms. Social media platforms which are currently common to the Kenyan youths and or young adults are increasingly being used as a tool for perpetuating cyber-bullying and other related crimes/ vices of this nature with a majority of women becoming victims of such crimes. Online sexual harassment, stalking, offensive comments, manipulation of personal data and the distribution of intimate images and videos of women who were neither aware that data of this nature had been processed and or consented to the distribution of such data has increasingly become a norm in the Kenyan cyberspace. This trend has further been facilitated by the pure misogynistic culture in the country which treads back to our traditional conceptions related to the place of women in the society. It is not uncommon to find most women politicians being subjected to such online harassment and their opinions are more likely to be gauged with “out of the box” aspects including their physical appearance, their past and present relationships among other nitty gritty which rarely relates to their public work obligations. In comparison, their male counterparts are rarely subjected to such discussions neither are their abilities judged on the basis of the aforementioned aspects.  

Women like their male counterparts have a voice in public discourse, and their opinions matter. With the enactment of the data protection act, the full participation of women in the digital space will potentially be encouraged. Most importantly, such participation will accelerate the ability of women across the board to take part in empowerment and development activities in the country through the internet without the apparent fear of being judged in a certain way, or being harassed or even being dismissed in an abusive and/ or intimidating manner. Kenya in the spirit of progressiveness ought to not only recognize that online violence should be constructed and be included as another form of gender based violence, rather, parliament should additionally formulate more elaborate legislation which link digital related crimes to violations of this nature. The bottom line however is; digital gender inequality still remains to be a prominent issue in the country and it should be addressed as soon as possible.  

Written by Sally Ogolla  | Email: ogolasally44@gmail.com

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Siasa Place is an NGO formed 2015 that aims to create an enabling environment for women and youth mainstreaming into our body politics.

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