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Fighting online harassment and violence against African women6 min read

The consequences are far-reaching. The effects can be psychological and physical

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African women fighting online sexual violence

Technological innovations have without a doubt changed the way we live in the 21st century. One of such innovations that have proven to be a blessing to humanity is the Internet. From the ease of acquiring information to fast communication, you name it. But, like many other things, the digital space has its downsides. This is the case with online media. 

The online space has offered a platform for the voiceless and oppressed in the society to air their views and opinions on issues affecting them but at the same time, has served as the hub for verbal abuse, threats, bullying, cyberstalking and other similar vices. This dark side of the internet has become a major source of worry to many. Sadly, women are majorly at the receiving end of these vices. Women have been threatened, abused and harassed online for airing their opinions, for being women.

This is even worse in some African societies where patriarchy thrives and women are still looked upon as being inferior to their male counterparts. The invention of the internet offered a channel through which individuals are able to hide behind a screen, somewhere, anywhere. The anonymity of the internet makes it easy for bullies, harassers, and others to employ verbal abuse, intimidation tactics, blackmail and threats predominantly at women. The aim? To intimidate women and young girls into keeping silent, not sharing their stories, and in some cases, leaving the digital space altogether.

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One example of what women go through on our cyberspace in Africa is what happened in the aftermath of the 2019 Vice Presidential Debate in Nigeria. The host, Kadariah Ahmed received hundreds of hate messages and comments threatening violence against her. Those who sent the messages felt that Ahmed was biased with her questions and the manner with which she asked them. But is that reason enough to threaten someone with physical violence? We also have to ask ourselves would a male host have received the same level of online abuse and threats? The answer is no. 

A report by the European Institute for Gender Equality titled ‘Cyber Violence against women and girls’ listed various forms of online violence against women. They include slut-shaming, non-consensual pornography, revenge porn, sextortion, rape and death threats among others. It further reported that up to 90% of ‘non-consensual’ porn victims are women and the number keeps increasing. 

Another report by the Media Foundation for West Africa in 2018 found online harassment is one of the major challenges Ghanaian women face on the Ghanian Cyberspace. Furthermore, research conducted by the Association of Media Women in Kenya showed that among the common attacks targeted at female journalists in Kenya are cyber stalking, sexual harassment, surveillance and unauthorized use and manipulation of personal information, images and videos. The survey said that women journalists were targets for these types of targeted harassment because of the topics they cover. The topics are politics, sports, sexuality and lifestyle.

Many believe that the numbers of female victims of online abuse and harassment are underreported. The consequences are far-reaching. The effects can be psychological and physical – from total loss of confidence, and distrust to humiliation, loss of respect, and even suicide. In 2015, a 19-year-old Kenyan student committed suicide after a man she met on Facebook threatened to post her nude photos online.

This ugly incident happened during the opening of the Forum on Internet Freedom in East Africa which was held in Kampala Uganda. The Forum brought together people from across Africa and beyond to debate issues impacting online freedom of expression and cybersecurity in Africa. Participants included law enforcement officers, communication regulators, media, human rights defenders, legal practitioners, tech experts amongst others.

What measures have been put in place to make the digital space safer for women and girls? What is being done to help fight online harassment of African women? Do tech companies have policies in place regarding abuse, harassment and threats? How easy is it to make a report?  Where are African governments in terms of legislation that will protect internet users and particularly women when it comes to these issues online? 

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The United Nations

In 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur On Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences, presented a report to the Human Rights Council. The report emphasized the importance of adopting a human rights-based approach in combating online violence against women. In June 2018, the G7 made commitments to end sexual and gender-based violence, abuse and harassment in digital contexts. The G20 also stated they were committed to addressing cyberviolence towards girls and women to facilitate their online presence and participation. 

Nigeria in the fight against online harassment of women in Africa

In 2015, the National Assembly passed The Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc) bill into law. The Act aims to provide an effective and unified legal, regulatory and institutional framework for the prevention, prohibition, detection, prosecution and punishment of cybercrimes in Nigeria. 

The Act criminalizes both cyberbullying and cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is defined to include:

(i) knowingly sending grossly offensive, pornographic, indecent, menacing or obscene messages 

(ii) knowingly sending a false message for the purpose of causing harm

(iii) knowingly transmitting any communication to bully, threaten or harass another, causing fear of death, violence or bodily harm.

(iv) knowingly transmitting a message with a threat to kidnap, or request any ransom for the release of any kidnapped person

(v) knowingly transmitting any threat to harm the property or reputation of a person

The Act provides that an accused person who is alleged to have committed any of the Cybercrime offences shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than ten million Naira or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment. The court in her discretion can also make an interim order for the protection of victims from any further exposure to the alleged offences.

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How social media companies can help fight online harassment against African women

It appears that most online social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter rely heavily on their anti-abuse filters, account blocking and muting options in the fight against harassment, violence and bullying on their platforms. Though social media companies can directly report incidents of violence and harassment to the police, it appears they are not doing that. They appear to be taking only reactive measures. With this, online violence may continue to happen no matter the amount of effort put by the government and users to curb it. It is still at the discretion of the victims to decide whether to report or not. Earlier this year, women and feminist organisations complained that Facebook does not act on half of the abuse and harassment reports made on its platform.

The fight against online harassment against African women is one that can be won. But only when countries across Africa and regional bodies set up adequate legal frameworks to curb these vices and also back it up with implementation. But most importantly, there is an urgent need for African governments to establish agencies whose key roles should include sensitizing people on these issues through workshops, rehabilitating traumatized victims of online violence and also encouraging them to report these cases while guaranteeing their safety at the same time. 

In the end, we all lose when women and girls cannot freely express themselves in a space where anyone regardless of location, gender, affiliation, socio-economic class, educational level and more is “supposed” to be welcome.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Tochukwu Leonard Orji

    November 2, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    The mask of the internet is one of the biggest cause of online bullying. Anybody can be who they want and wherever they want to be online.

    One other solution would be to out a face to the username. A situation whereby an internet law is passed which makes it compulsory to link your facebook to whatever profile you are creating. I’m certain there are, and will be loopholes, but it’s just an idea.

    Nice one Emerie Onyemelukwe

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Art

Blind singer rises from street beggar to star in Kaduna, Nigeria

Makaho faced years of discrimination and discouragement before a wealthy fan decided to fund a recording session in 2016

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Blind singer rises from street beggar to star in Kaduna, Nigeria
Yahaya Usman, popularly called Yahaya Makaho, a blind singer who rose from being a street beggar to a famously known singer in northern Nigeria (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Yahaya Makaho feels his way to the microphone before launching into a song for his new album at a recording studio in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna.

Blind since early childhood, the singer has overcome obstacles that often crush the dreams of disabled people in this region and risen from street beggar to star. 

In the last four years, his songs and music videos have become hits among the roughly 80 million Hausa-speaking Nigerians and broader West Africa. 

“I see myself as a superstar who has broken the jinx associated with physical disabilities,” Makaho, 37, told reporters, wearing his trademark sunglasses. 

“I have punctured the stereotype people have that once you are blind all you can do is take a bowl and go begging for alms on the streets.”

Life can be tough in northern Nigeria, where poverty rates and unemployment are high — and for blind people, the options are usually severely limited.  

Makaho — a nickname meaning “blind man” in Hausa under which the singer is widely known — has had to come a long way to record his 370 singles and three albums.

He lost his sight to measles at the age of three and was eventually sent away from his rural village to an Islamic school after doctors failed to heal him. 

Blind singer rises from street beggar to star in Kaduna, Nigeria
(Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

There he was told that begging was his best chance to make ends meet after he tried his hand at small odd-jobs and petty trading. 

“It hurt me to be always asking people for money. Begging kills the spirit and I decided to become a singer,” he said. 

“I didn’t know I had singing talent, I just wanted to do something meaningful with my life and the idea of being a singer just popped up.”

‘Singer with a difference’ –

It has not been a smooth rise since that decision. 

Makaho faced years of discrimination and discouragement before a wealthy fan decided to fund a recording session in 2016. 

The singer has carved out a niche by focusing on the pressing problems that confront his fans in their daily lives. 

With his soft voice, he croons his way through lyrics that tackle ills such as begging, drug abuse and corruption. 

Blind singer rises from street beggar to star in Kaduna, Nigeria
(Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

“Yahaya Makaho is a singer with a difference,” said Ahmad Bello, a music critic and linguist at Bayero University in the city of Kano.

“People love his songs not just for the beats but primarily for the messages embedded in them which touch on burning social issues.”

Dwelling on sensitive subjects has proved problematic on occasion.

Makaho upset some in northern Nigeria’s blind community after he wrote two singles that criticised the widespread practice of street begging — often the only means of earning an income for the visually impaired. 

“They ostracised me for exposing the ills of begging in my two tracks and dubbed me an enemy,” he said. 

Makaho managed to resolve the conflict and has now established a foundation that provides school tuition, uniforms and brail books to help disabled youths get an education. 

The singer’s fortune has soared and he now provides a comfortable life for his family. 

He has made the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and hopes to be able to build a recording studio of his own.  

And as he racks up hit after hit, his success is providing inspiration for blind people in his home region struggling to fulfil their potential. 

“I’m fascinated by his songs which I find very pleasing,” said Hamisu Mohammed, who lives at a colony for blind people in Kaduna. 

“Whenever I listen to Yahaya’s song being played on the radio I feel a sense of pride that he is one of us, the blind.”

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Art

ART X and the rising ‘bourgeois’ visual art scene in Nigeria

“Africa is one of the fastest-growing markets in the art world today, and Nigeria is equal on the top with South Africa,”

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ART X and the rising 'bourgeois' visual art scene in Nigeria
In this file photo taken on February 07, 2018 Nigerian author Ben Okri poses with a work of art by Nigerian painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu entitled 'Tutu' sold for 1.5 million dollars at auction in Bonhams auction house London on February 7, 2018. - Tutu, a recently rediscovered portrait of the Ife royal princess Adetutu Ademiluyi painted in 1974 by the Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu, led Bonhams Africa Now sale in London on February 28. The painting, one of a series of three versions, once thought lost came to light after having gone unseen for decades in a north London flat. The whereabouts of the other two versions remains a mystery. In the vibrant megalopolis of Lagos, with its 20 million inhabitants, the cultural season culminates this weekend with the international fair "ART X", which has established itself for three years as an essential event, a high mass of modern and contemporary art with a mixed business, recreational and aesthetic objectives. (Photo by BEN STANSALL / AFP)

First, there was Tutu, the “African Mona Lisa” sold last year for 1.5 million dollars. Then a second portrait by revered Nigerian painter Ben Enwonwu, called Christine, sold in mid-October, for 1.4 million dollars.

Both record sales of famous works by the late “father of African modernism”, captured the emergence of Nigeria’s art market. 

A decade ago, major African artists were largely absent from international auctions. But the continent is now a major attraction in contemporary and modern art. 

Since his death in 1994, Enwonwu’s star has only risen, epitomising the growing industry and value for art. 

His two masterpieces were sold by two of London’s most prestigious auction houses, Bonhams and Sotheby’s.

“Africa is one of the fastest-growing markets in the art world today, and Nigeria is equal on the top with South Africa,” Giles Peppiatt, director of African art at Bonhams, told AFP. 

His auction house was one of the first in Europe to bet big on the continent with “Africa Now” beginning in 2007, auctioning African art as a stand-alone sale.

In the vibrant commercial capital of Lagos, with 20 million people, its cultural season, awash with literary fashion and art festivals, culminates this weekend with the international fair “ART X”.

Three years after it began, the fair has emerged as one of the premier art events on the continent, exhibiting the rich array of African modern and contemporary art. 

The famous Tutu, “lost” for almost 40 years and spectacularly found in 2018, almost by chance, in a London apartment, was the surprise attraction of the last edition, drawing several thousand attendees. 

A show-reel of Nollywood’s actresses, traditional leaders, wealthy collectors and artists trooped to the painting of the mysterious Yoruba princess.

At the end of the year, Nigeria’s economic-hub becomes awash with glamour and arts. 

Thousands of visitors rush from one exhibition to another, from ART X to the Lagos Biennale of contemporary art, Lagos fashion week and LagosPhoto, all of which take place between October and November. 

But alongside the art, is an increasing market and appetite amongst investors and collectors. 

New galleries like Art Twenty One have opened in recent years. 

And the auction house Art House Contemporary Limited, whose turnover is more modest than that of its European peers, regularly exhibits the most notable artists in the region: Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, El Anatsui or Peju Alatise. 

ART X – Collectors or investors?

This year, some twenty galleries and more than 90 artists will be represented at ART X, with representatives from Tate Modern (London) and Smithsonian (Washington) expected to attend. 

Creative audio installations by renowned artist, Emeka Ogboh, based between Berlin and Lagos, will grace the background of the anticipated fourth edition of the fair.

If the appetite for contemporary African art continues to grow, apart from outliers that exceed one million dollars, the majority of works are still sold at “reasonable” prices in comparison with the rest of the world: “between $10,000 and $60,000,” Peppiatt says. 

“Events like Art X are changing the game, they enable cities like Lagos to shine and attract many enthusiastic collectors,” he explains. “This is a very exciting moment.”

The West African oil giant and largest economy on the continent has a growing middle class of rich bankers and industrialists, with a burgeoning appetite for purchasing contemporary art. 

The biggest bids still take place in Europe, where the market is better structured, and better protected against fake works. 

Yet collectors increasingly fly to buy works in London or New York and then bring them back to Africa, says Jess Castellote, director of the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, a private museum that will open next year in the suburbs of Lagos. 

“There are collectors, art lovers who want to reconnect with their culture, their legacy,” he says, explaining that as well as art enthusiasts, serious investors have taken interest in art.

In Nigeria, as in South Africa, multi-million dollar investment funds have sprung up to acquire works and resell them as dearly as possible, again betting on rising demand for art. 

“Rich Nigerians who used to spend 250,000 pounds on a watch or a luxury car now prefer to invest in a painting or a sculpture,” Castellote says. 

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Culture & Tourism

Air Zimbabwe settles debt and resumes flight to South Africa

Air Zimbabwe resumes flights into S.Africa after settling unpaid airport services fees.

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Air Zimbabwe settles debt and resumes flight to South Africa
(Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

South Africa has reinstated permission for Zimbabwe’s national airline to fly into Johannesburg after the company was banned from using South African airports over unpaid fees.

State-owned Air Zimbabwe’s only serviceable plane was stopped from leaving Johannesburg last week after failing to pay for airport services.

The dispute was resolved on Friday when the airline settled its debt, said South Africa’s airport management company on Monday.

“Air Zimbabwe was… able to re-commence operations from (Johannesburg’s) O. R. Tambo International Airport from Friday 25 October,” a spokesperson for Airports Company South Africa (ACSA)told reporters, adding that the company acknowledged “a receipt of payment towards the amounts outstanding”.

ACSA declined to disclose details on the amount of money involved.

Air Zimbabwe is required to pay ACSA cash once a week to cover landing fees, parking and passenger service charges for a weekly flight into Johannesburg — its only international destination. 

The airline is one of many businesses suffering from the economic downturn and hyperinflation left over from years of mismanagement under Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe.  

Basics such as food, fuel and medicines are hard to come by, and Air Zimbabwe has laid off hundreds of staff over the past two years.

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