Women and cyber crime in Kenya

16 Enero 2014

Kenya has been one of the first African countries to adopt and innovate ICTs. With this have come both benefits, but also a rise in cyber crime and technology-based violence. A recent study by the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANET) on women and cyber crime in Kenya explores this violence. To unpack the findings of this study, Naomi Kamau spoke to the team behind the study: Alice Munyua, an associate at KICTANET, vice chair of the government advisory committee (GAC) and chair of the global IGF, she is also a representative of the African Union Commission at ICAAN; Victor Kapiyo, an advocate of the High Court currently working as a programme officer in the human rights protection programme at the International Commission of Jurists Kenya (ICJ Kenya); and Grace Githaiga, an associate at KICTANET, affiliated to the Media, Empowerment and Democracy in East Africa (MEDIEA) Research Programme. She is the immediate former President of the African Chapter of the World Association of Community Broadcasters (AMARC), and a former Director of EcoNews Africa. Her interests are in media and ICT policy and regulation.

Naomi Kamau: Let us talk about the report on Women and Cyber Crime in Kenya…

Alice Munyua: The report is not complete yet, we have not incorporated the comments that were made at the meeting where we presented this report. There were suggestions that we interview the women used as case studies. We were also thinking of interviewing men but probably won’t.

NK: Why not?

AM: Because cyber crime affects women differently from the way it affects men. If you look at the level and kind of abuse that women are subject to, it is based on their gender, you will never hear a man called a prostitute or told your dick is too big or too small. For the men it is always you are corrupt, but for the women it always goes below the belt, so cyber crime affects the women differently.

Examples from our study include Caroline Mutoko who was called a prostitute and told she slept around; Miss Karun the same thing; and assailants made fun of the fact that she suffered from breast cancer. You can barely imagine making fun of a man with prostate cancer, but the assailants made fun of a woman with breast cancer.

Most women abused online opt to go offline, but there are a few of us who toughen up and continue. If you stop using the internet, for instance to market your career, that means your career suffers.

NK: The sixteen days of activism against gender based violence started on November 25, what makes cyber crime and women a topic of national importance?

AM: Kenya is a darling of the ICT world. Yet, we only have about 20 million people who are internet users, of a population of about 40 million. However, a number of Kenyans refuse to go online including more and more women. Emerging online crime is threatening previously safe and secure spaces, reducing women’s ability to use the internet for empowerment or development. There is a need to highlight this because previously violence against women meant rape or battery, but now violence is occurring online.

We need to start talking, talking about why some people choose not to go online, why others close their accounts and others use proxy names – especially as being online is an important part of your CV in the corporate world. For example,the first thing I do when I think about employing someone, is go online and Google them. It lets me see who they are and what issues are pertinent to them. So when you detach yourself from the cyber space it’s like you are detaching yourself from your career.

Victor Kapiyo: Technology is a basic need. With cyber crime on the increase and no legislation there are challenges now that will continue into the future.

NK: In a 2010 KICTANET report you mentioned ISPs encouraging people to leave cyber space to avoid abuse, thus targeting the victim and depriving them of their communication rights. What is the situation now?

AM: Yes, and I don’t think that’s the solution, we need the ISPs accountable. The government needs to hold ISPs accountable, it’s a form of hate speech. Why are they allowing hate speech in their platform? It’s a near civil war, but we do not need to come up with a new law, it’s just a matter of including cyber crime in the existing laws, as provided for in the constitution, using the provisions on protection of human rights, sexual offences act, child rights act and so forth.

NK: What campaigns are you working on at the moment?

Alice: What we are trying to do, especially in first world countries, is to push for the right to erase history where we can compel the ISP and technical community to erase some facts. I say to women and girls do not put online what will come to haunt you later. When you are thirteen taking naked pictures of yourself and your friends may be fun, but years down the line when you are looking for a job, those pictures are still there, you cannot delete it, and your potential employer can always find it.

NK: So are you saying it is also the responsibility of users to ensure their safety online?

AM: Yes. People think they are invisible online, but what you say online will be reflected offline.

NK: And in the case where what the other person offended me and I reacted?

AM: I am not responsible for how you react. If you get angry and beat me, you are breaking the law. The same applies online – if I say something and you start abusing me, you are breaking the law and I can sue you.

If you can prove that your career has been damaged, for example, you have the right to sue. For example, I was attacked and if you Google my name you will see my professional profile, but also one or two things that have been said about me, and in this case I can sue.

NK: How do you trace perpetrators if they remain anonymous?

AM: Oh that’s easy. I can know your IP address and that’s why we are told to register our SIM cards. For instance, if you are using phone to access internet you are using a SIM card of either Safaricom or Airtel or any other mobile service provider and they give you an IP number which is unique to you, which makes it easier for me to trace you.

NK: How does this topic relate to the work of APC?

AM: It’s one of the key areas of their work, especially gender rights and women’s equality with their focus on sexual rights, freedom of expression and access to education. Internet provides education and everyone has a right to access those opportunities. I don’t want to be online and face abuse.

NK: What challenges do you foresee with the implementation of the action points in the report?

AM: Women’s organizations are not talking about this; their focus is on other policy issues like women in politics, education, AIDS, poverty and others. Not many organizations are focusing on online violence.

I started this as an academic research under APC, doing gender research for Africa. There were very few women then looking at these issues. First, I focused on women and mobile phones. Then, I decided to do women and cyber crime, starting with research back in 2009. The reason behind this was personal experience – I started KICTANET in 2004 and after nearly six months, was subject to abuse by two men, based on my gender. I had been recognized not just nationally but internationally on matters of internet governance, but needed to do research to understand why I had been targetted.

Women working in women’s organizations are most targetted for abuse. Most of the abuse comes from people you know, rarely from strangers.

If we had the resources for more research, I might have looked at the legal side, as Victor did. I started with just myself as the case study, but later included others.

If I was working at the sexual harassment bill, I would look at it from all angles not just from the physical aspect, so that it would include for example, someone sending you a text that is sexually abusive. Now we are getting more and more organizations implementing sexual harassment codes, but online harassment has not been taken into consideration.

VK: There is a challenge getting government to deal with these issues, and feel comfortable with them. To begin with, they need to recognize technology based violence as an issue of national importance. Some of the action points require financial resources to establish centres and equipment to deal with technology based violence. There is also a need to unify the disparate voices working on these issues and lobby together. It may be a challenge to create that awareness, given that in some areas beating women is considered almost normal.

To address these issues in law it is a matter of modifying existing laws to include technology based violence.

AM: Another area of work is with ISPs and intermediaries, making them responsible. It’s very expensive for the ISPs to keep records, but they need to be responsible and proactively pull down content, as they do with child pornography.

There is also a need to educate women and girls on how to protect themselves online, and to create awareness of the types of threat women face online. In some countries, girls are committing suicide after online abuse. We may not have it here in Kenya as yet, but we need to be alert. In some of those cases, it was girls abusing girls, mostly aged between nine and fifteen years, an age when they are desperate to be part of a group.

If we are not careful we will wake up to that. You can actually go to the ISPs and get the perpetrators in the UK. They are practising a zero-tolerance policy in cases of cyber-bullying – among those prosecuted was a twelve year old girl, so it doesn’t matter the age of the perpetrators.

Further, nobody wants to take the initiative. It was only in 2004 that the telcos, civil society and media owners sat down to develop an ICT policy. We had several workshops and we developed an ICT policy. Within a year, by 2006, the Cabinet had approved the Kenya ICT policy. Then we thought we worked so well together why don’t we come together as a loose network – that’s how KICTANET began. We are now discussing the African Union cyber crime bill, and there is an issue with the liability of intermediaries , which we need to discuss before the next elections.

These successes highlight the passivity of the women’s movement on these issues – if all the women’s organisations formed a similar loose network, with each member allocating some funds for that effort, everything else would fall into place. In our case, for example, the Wananchi group provided servers, Access Kenya gave us internet access for free and Google sends people to IGF.

NK: Any cases of cases of women abused online, reported and action taken?

Grace: Kenyans have not taken any action on cases involving technology-based violence against women (VAW). One case was reported to police, but we haven’t seen any action taken. This can be attributed to the police lack of capacity to prosecute these cases. However, a number of cases involving SMS texts have been reported and the perpetrators charged under Article 29 of Kenya’s Information and Communications Act. However, the crime committed was misuse of a telecom gadget, so it’s not content based or on criminal basis

NK: Do you think if human rights organizations worked together, it would speed up legislation and policy?

VK: Definitely. When you look at history, if you partner with other organisations and agree on the best way ahead, you are able to make the government act.

NK: At the moment, is there any specific law focussed on technology-related violence?

VK: Nothing. There is a law governing hate speech which is broad; and the other one that comes close is the Sexual Harassment Act, and it does not specifically cover technology-related violence.

Under the act you cannot be charged for what is not written, so the police find it hard to find an offence that perpetrators of technology-related VAW could be charged under. Further, you are dealing with a police officer who has probably no understanding of what you are claiming. Hopefully this will change due to the Data Protection and Access to Information bills which are currently being discussed.

NK: How do we bridge the divide between these realities and where we want to be?

Grace Githaiga: Police must be resourced and equipped to handle technology-based violence. There needs to be support for women to report these attacks, as that is the only way to demonstrate the need for a framework for redress. The judiciary must also be trained, and women’s organisations need to work together to push for these laws, while the government needs to set resources aside. Kenya is fortunate in that it has a progressive bill of rights, but it lacks interpretation on usage. As Lady Justice Njoki Ndung’u said, there is a need for public litigation to allow the courts to interpret some of these laws.

Acronyms used:

AMWIK: Association of Media Women in Kenya
IAWRT: International Association of Women in Radio and Television
FIDA: Federation of Women Lawyers
COVAW: Coalition on Violence against Women
AFRINIC: African Network Information Center
ICANN- Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

Read the full GISWatch Kenya report here

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Quite informative on the rising cases of cyber crime. I hope we can all fight against this vice and give our society the opportunity they need to thrive in use of ICTs

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