Power imbalance and the gendered cyber space
The growth of technology and the continuous rise in the use of the internet has modernised and changed the way people communicate, participate in political and public discourse, provide and access information and do research.
Indeed the use and reliance on Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) has revolutionalised all aspects of our lives such that it has become our alter ego, without which our personal lives come to a standstill.
Across the globe, the internet and its associated new media platforms have not only created avenues for interactivity with limitless boundaries, but its usage have contributed to promoting democracies, redefining our social dynamics and empowered the rather marginalised in society to contribute to public discourse on key policy issues.
In Africa, the internet is very popular among the youth; with its growth at a lightning speed. However, the challenge has always been its exploitation to perpetrate all manner of ills in society. The rampant spate of internet-related fraud including money laundering, human and drug trafficking and all other forms of social vices are but a few of the blots on the use of the cyber space.
Beyond these challenges, we are confronted with a gendered cyber space; with a greater proportion of men dominating the group of users. Although international protocols, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goal, goal 5 target 5, seek to promote gender equity in the online space, there are still evidences of imbalances in the numbers.
According to available global statistics, although an estimated four billion of the world’s population use the internet today, the dominant challenge identified with the users of the web space has been the limited presence of women. Such disadvantaged position of women undoubtedly creates imbalance in public discourse and ultimately derail efforts in ensuring gender equity in all fronts.
A report from a 2017 baseline study on Women’s Rights Online Issues in Ghana by the Media Foundation for West Africa identifies non-consensual distribution of photos or videos, sexual harassment, cyber-stalking and hate speech as the dominant forms of attack that women are confronted with online. The findings go to highlight the reasons for which lesser women than men access and use the online media.
In the phase of these drawbacks associated with the use of the internet, especially the gendered nature of its access and usage, it has become urgent for a call to action to ensure that the inequality gap is bridged. These can be achieved by promulgating policies that will ensure that women as equal as men gain access to the internet.
There is also the need for stakeholders to ensure a multi-stakeholder approach for enforcement and implementation of existing laws against internet related abuses against women.
Without doubt, there is the need for a conscious and continuous education on the rights of women online and this is not only germane to policy formulation but a right step in empowering women.