#WithoutFear: Digital Shelter Confronts Online Abuse Against Somali Women

#WithoutFear: Digital Shelter Confronts Online Abuse Against Somali Women

By CIPESA Writer |

In December 2020, Digital Shelter carried out a crowdsourcing survey asking Somali women to share their experiences of online shame, harassment and abuse. The survey resulted in 82 women responding with stories ranging from having accounts hacked, blackmail, through to receiving unsolicited indecent images from men.

Online harassment carries similar harms as street harassment, yet, as one respondent in the survey put it, “This kind of thing is not even considered abuse in our society, which is disheartening.” As a result, Somali women’s voices are suppressed and even silenced online, with a third (34%) of the survey’s respondents confirming they now spend less time on social media.

The plight of women was in the online sphere of Somalia was consequently captured through an audiovisual poem, “Without Fear”, by award-winning poet and Executive Director of Somali Storytellers, Zahara Mahamed, who was inspired by the content that emerged from the survey. The poem paints a picture of the nature and impact of online abuse experienced by Somali women. Mahamed stated that, “No woman should be put in a situation where she is ridiculed and shamed — especially online, where information travels very far and abuse continues to grow more and more each day. It is mentally and emotionally disturbing”

The survey highlighted Facebook as “the worst platform to be a girl” in Somalia, with 57% of respondents experiencing abuse on a Facebook-owned platform (Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp or Instagram). Meanwhile, this echoes sentiments in research on the online experiences of women conducted in Uganda, as part of the Women At Web initiative.

Thus, as part of the March 9, 2021, commemoration of International Women’s Day (IWD), Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) grantee, Digital Shelter, convened stakeholders to show the results of their  survey and to also launch the Cabsi La’aan (withoutfear.so) website. The event also served as a platform to announce a free ‘Digital Security Calendar’ for Somali women to download, to receive regular reminders about the status of the digital security of their online and social media accounts.

Abdifatah Hassan Ali, co-founder of Digital Shelter, added that the campaign is vital because online spaces should be open, safe and inclusive for all. He stated that, “We need Somali women to be able to openly express their views without being challenged and without being harassed.”

The work is the product of a collaborative effort between Digital Shelter and Data4Change aimed at filling the data gaps on issues affecting underrepresented and marginalised groups. It is was carried out in the context of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) which is an initiative of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

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