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Women media practitioners decry social media harassment

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By ESTHER OLUKA

Female media practitioners have decried gender‑related threats, harassment and intimidation they experience while on social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp.

The alarm was raised during a virtual multi-stakeholder online safety workshop for journalists in Uganda last week. 

The workshop, organised under the auspices of Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), focused on addressing safety challenges of women journalists through policy makers, human rights defenders and law enforcers.

Ms Sandra Aceng, the WOUGNET programme manager in charge of information sharing and networking, said the goal was “ to provide a platform for women journalists to voice their concerns.”

During the discussion, Ms Mildred Tuhaise, an NBS journalist,  said social media comes with advantages and disadvantages. 

“Our journalism jobs nowadays require us to engage with audiences through social media and because of this, one is bound to get all sorts of feedback,”  she said.

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Ms Tuhaise said social media has normalised sexual abuse. 

“The challenge for women journalism are the sexist attacks thrown at them about their bodies, including comments made when they are pregnant,” she said.

“There are also the sexual advances, including from people one least expects, the trolls who are constantly posting negative comments as well as people who will use one’s online database to trail (women journalists) physically,”  Ms Tuhaise added.

The abuse is believed to eventually drive a number of female journalists off social media, while several others are left depressed. 

Other female journalists raised other types of online abuses, including age shaming, character assassination and body shaming.
Ms Maureen Atuhaire, the acting commissioner, child and family protection department at police, confirmed that many online harassment cases are now being reported.

“The problem is that not so many soldier on to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book because they are feeling ashamed. Some don’t want to subject themselves towards the long legal process of getting justice, while others get threatened and compromised by the suspects,” Ms Atuhaire said.

A 2020 report released by the Ugandan Civic-Technology Research firm revealed that one third of Ugandan women have experienced gender‑related threats online. 

Facebook was the primary place where online gender-based violence took place, accounting for 72.9 per cent of incidents, followed by WhatsApp (38.1 per cent).

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