FEATURE-Ahead of Kenyan elections, female politicians face more online abuse

* Online abuse included sexual imagery and public humiliation * Some contestants quit social media due to abuse

* Social media platforms, authorities urged to crack down By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI, July 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When Kenyan politician Esther Passaris posted a loving tribute to her late father on Twitter, trolls responded with a barrage of abuse over an accompanying “sexualised” photo of the woman 57 year old in black kaftan walking alone on white sand beach. “Papou…as you cross the high seas, know that I will forever be your baby girl, #RIPDad,” Passaris wrote https://twitter.com/estherpassaris/status/1494072531254484996?s=24&t=BGMl7Mst_Y6YUzSpfov8YQ, which represents Nairobi County, next to the contemplative image in which the sea breeze had slightly exposed a thigh.

One user reposted an enlarged photo of her thigh and begged her to give men “a chance”, while another accused her of “displaying her nudity”. A third joked “sexualized grief?” As Kenyan women head to the polls in the hotly contested August 9 election, women MPs are witnessing a rise in online abuse and harassment, which could slow progress in strengthening women’s political voice in the country. , rights activists warn.

Kenya has the lowest rate of women in politics in East Africa, with 23% of parliamentary seats https://data.ipu.org/women-ranking?month=7&year=2022, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union world, most of whom, like Passaris, are dedicated women’s representatives and not traditional MPs. “As a public figure, you have to develop a thick skin to cope…online abuse unfortunately comes with the territory,” said Passaris of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement, which has more than a million followers on Facebook. social networks.

“There are quite a few of my female colleagues who couldn’t cope and left social media due to abuse – it can really get you down.” Mercy Mwangi, program coordinator at the Kenya Association of Women Parliamentarians (KEWOPA), said women legislators reported more online abuse ahead of the vote. This included sexism, misogyny, demeaning or sexualized images.

“It’s mostly about sexualizing, insulting them for doing things like dancing at a political rally, zooming in on a picture of their boobs or their legs, or shaming them,” Mwangi said. “We don’t have enough women in the political space as it is. And this kind of online harassment discourages young women who want to enter politics.”

FEW WOMEN POLITICIANS Rising online violence is undermining efforts to get more women into the upper echelons of political power, which many say would have a ripple effect in helping women fight abuse , discrimination and inequality.

In Kenya, women are poorer than men and hold only one in three formal jobs, according to government data file:///C:/Users/0136212/Downloads/WEI%20REPORT%2010.08.2020 %20( 1).pdf, while 41% were beaten or sexually assaulted by their partners and 23% were child brides, says UN Women https://evaw-global-database.unwomen.org/en/countries/ africa/kenya. Although Kenya’s 2010 constitution sought to ensure that women make up one-third of all elected and appointed bodies, politicians have blocked efforts to pass legislation https://news.trust.org/item/20181128184952 -hwyyu to achieve this goal, despite the court orders to do so.

“If no effort is put in place to better protect women politicians online, we will see more women being pushed out of politics,” said Robert Wanjala, program manager at Article 19, which promotes freedom of expression. . “Ultimately, we will fail to be a truly democratic country because women’s voices will be absent.”

It’s a global trend, with Indian female politicians facing “a shocking scale of abuse on Twitter”, while black and Asian female lawmakers in Britain face more attacks online, according to the rights group Amnesty International. FILTER Trolls

Ahead of the August elections in Kenya, some women hired social media managers to filter out abusive posts and block and report repeat offenders on the platforms. ‘Trolls never talk about policies like tackling inflation or youth unemployment – it’s about your body, or they claim you’re a jerk or something stupid,’ a parliamentarian said , who declined to be named.

Women’s rights and digital rights groups said social media platforms were often too slow to respond to complaints and remove offensive posts, adding that women candidates should also report serious violations to authorities. Kenya enacted legislation in 2018 to protect citizens from cybercrime, including harassment, but women parliamentarians said they were hesitant to report cases because most police were unaware of the law and often did not take their complaints seriously.

Kenyan police were not available for comment. Facebook owner Meta and Google said they had boosted their support for female MPs during elections by partnering with groups such as KEWOPA to provide training on how to block and report abusers, and introduced tools to report serious violations.

“Meta also worked with participants to better understand the gender-based slurs used in the online space in a number of local languages ​​… in an effort to help inform its automated detection of these slurs,” said a release from Meta. Anne Ireri, executive director of the Federation of Women Lawyers of Kenya, which trained monitors across the country to track reports of gender-based violence, including online abuse, ahead of the vote, said female candidates also needed of financing.

“You have to have deep pockets to have a social media team to contain all of this abuse during the campaign – from flagging threatening messages to being able to quickly counter misinformation and slanderous messages,” Ireri said. “Unfortunately, many candidates – especially those with less experience – lack the necessary funds, and so they tend to shy away from social media – which is, ironically, the key to their success.”

Originally posted at: https://news.trust.org/item20220713142300-3dfu5

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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