‘Online platforms must be safe for women’

Women need to be capacitated on legal frameworks around Online Gender Based Violence (OGBV) in order to protect themselves from digital harassment, various stakeholders have recommended. 

This came out during a conference hosted by Emthonjeni Women’s Forum, Friday, whose objectives were to raise awareness of OGBV and to strengthen the role of women as agents of change in the fight against the same.  

The conference was attended by various stakeholders inclusive of members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the Ministry of Women Affairs, members of CSOs, media practitioners and university students among others. 

Various recommendations were made during the conference and most of them on the need to raise awareness of OGBV and sensitise various communities on the importance of understanding the law that speaks to such. 

Legal Practitioner, Prisca Dube, who spoke on the Data Protection Act and SADC Model laws on cyber security and effects of #OGBV on women and the reporting mechanisms, said there is an urgent need to test the provisions of this law to see if it adequately protects women, and also children and the youth. 

“This would guide on the advocacy initiatives needed to make the law better and alive to women’s concerns and experiences as the online world keeps evolving.  Testing the provisions will assist too in gauging if our law is in line and conforms to the Bill of Rights in the 2013 Constitution. All enabling Act must never violate the Supreme law of our land.” 

Thobekile Matimbe of Paradigm Initiative cited some of the manifestations of OGBV such as misogynistic harassment and threats of other forms of violence, cyberbullying and cyber harassment among others. 

She said it is important to facilitate women’s access to digital technology domains in order to remove the digital gap and ensure gender diversity in the technological sector. 

“There is need to implement victim-friendly and gender-sensitive policies when handling cases of online violence against women. We need to repeal overly wide laws on surveillance as they contribute to the existing vulnerability of female journalists,” Matimbe said. 

A participant said it is important to raise awareness from an early stage, by teaching young children who have access to the internet and also university students who have become a target. 

“We must make use of relevant platforms so that people can have knowledge about the law pertaining to OGBV. Some ladies are victimised by lecturers in universities and they are afraid to speak out so it is important to raise awareness so that they may know the proper legal channels they can take to attain justice,” the participant said. 

A representative from ZRP highlighted that law enforcers need to be capacitated on these laws and they need equipment that may enable them to enforce the law. 

“You may find that the police do not have enough equipment. A person may come to the police station to report a case of OGBV and the police officer does not have any gadget that may enable them to access the alleged offence. It is important that there be capacitation synergies that will help empower the police accordingly,” the participant noted. 

A representative from the Ministry of Women Affairs said, “Many a time, priority is given to physical forms of GBV but there is need to look into OGBV too. Stakeholders need to do ride-along activities in order to sensitise communities on this form of violation.”  

A media practitioner highlighted that journalists need to be capacitated on the law, and have it interpreted for them so that they can be able to write educative articles that will inform people of their rights when it comes to OGBV.

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