ONLINE HARASSMENT AND VIOLENCE EMERGING AS NEW FORMS OF GENDER BASED VIOLENCE IN PUNTLAND, SOMALIA

The use of technology has experienced an exponential growth in Somalia and the online users and access to internet have been getting momentum with increasing number of people turning to social media platforms as a key source for the latest news and information.

While more people make their way into the internet, it is no surprise that the amount of electronic violence against women also rises and it is not a new phenomenon on the other world but considered as part of violence and discrimination that women and girls face offline and online throughout their lives. While awareness rising about using secure and safe Internet is not common in Somalia and there is limited data on online harassment and violence, the problem is often overlooked in discussions of violence against women and is not perceived as a serious form of violence or an issue in Somalia and women do not often speak about online harassment and violence.

With this reality in Somalia and after some our staff practically come across with online harassment, we decided to measure the extent of the matter beyond our office in November 2019 and conducted a small survey in Puntland state, the largest and longest functioning state in Somalia, focused on the experience and impact of online harassment on university female students aged between 18-35, given that they are vulnerable to online harassment and abuse due to their extended use of internet and social media platforms.

We have asked if they had personally experienced any of the these cyber harassment: blackmailing, non-consensual access and distribution of personal information, impersonation, defamation, threats, gender-based bullying, hacking of personal account, recording without consent, identity theft, sexual harassment or cyber stalking.

What We Found:-

  1. 81.3% of survey respondents said they use social media networks and it is the most common platform for online harassment with 49.3% of the survey respondents had been stalked and harassed through the messaging apps with 39% said their online accounts have been hacked at least one time and 33.1% more than once.
  2. 91% of the respondents don’t report online harassment to law enforcement institutions whey they are harassed, because they believe that their complaints won’t be taken seriously and with all reacted that reporting harassment to the Police would be joking.
  3. 36.1% of the survey respondents have witnessed a girl being bullied or harassed online, while 42% said they knew someone who had taken a break from the social media after being harassed online.
  4. Although, the survey not categorized the abusers but 80% of the survey respondents said that online abusers are men; who can be either a partner or ex-partner, friend or ex-friend, family member or anonymous person. One of the respondents has shared with us a story where the abuser lured unsuspecting victim into online relationship and coerced her into sharing nude photos and video of which he later used for sustained sexual assault against the victim.
  5. 78.2% of the respondents believe that online harassment consequences are worrying and can lead to suicide, physical assault, emotional distress, women leaving education and online spaces in response to the damage of their reputation or fearing for their personal safety. For instance, most of the survey respondents can still remember a  woman whose video in nude was posted online by her partner in 2018, the widely circulated in the social media platforms and due to that damage of reputation led her to a suicide.  
  6. 73.2% of the respondents do not know how to prevent it or have little understanding of the kind of protection or guidelines that the social media platform offers against the abuser due to  poor digital literacy and language barrier.
  7. While men and women may both be harassed online, but the survey respondents believe the nature of harassment for women is painful. While all women are subjected to online harassment, they believe that those in journalism, social work, public positions and popular or active in social media platforms are more prone. Practically, some of the respondents proofed this by showing us the  social media pages of some popular women in politics whose posts met with offensive and abusive comments.

What We Can Do To Prevent The Online Harassment

With combination of some way outs suggested by the survey respondents, digital rights experts and a desk review conducted by our steam, we identified the following brief recommendations as the quickest solution to address the online harassment:-

  1. Recognition of online violence against women and consider together with offline violence as a larger barrier for women and girls in exercising their full range of human rights.
  2. It is necessary to ensure that there are legal measures in place as well as increase advocacy and awareness raising of the general public to end online harassment against women.
  3. When online harassment occurs, many victims feel vulnerable and are unaware of the actions that they can take to address the issue or unfamiliar with the ways that they can report complaints and due to this and it is increasingly critical for women to develop cyber security skills, learn about online threats and how to protect their information and devices, support women in developing the skills and knowledge they need to ensure they are secure and empowered digital citizens.
  4. Although the survey was the first of its kind in Somalia and small in scale; only conducted in Puntland state due to budget restrictions, a bigger and national study to understand the extent of the problem is indispensable.

Click here to download the full report.