CITAD Calls on Federal, State Govts to Study, Legislate on Tech-Assisted Gender Violence

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YZ Ya'u, Executive Director, CITAD

The Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) has called on governments at federal and state levels to carry a careful study and then propose legislation towards tackle the challenge of technology-assisted gender violence which is on the rise in the country. CITAD’s Executive Director, Engr. Yunusa Zakari Ya’u, made the call at a press conference in Kano, the text of which was made available to National Record.

Ya’u however cautioned federal and state authorities that in the effort to deal with the menace, they should avoid “throwing the baby away with the bathwater” and use it “as an opportunity to inhibit access to the internet for citizens.

He said the challenge should rather be seen as an opportunity to keep improving on how citizens are able to access and safely use the internet.

According to Ya’u, who is popularly known as YZ, being the initials of his first and middle name, the federal government, in particular, should incorporate online safety and privacy in the Computer Studies curriculum of secondary schools.

“In this way, computer studies can then not be just done to get a credit for admission to higher institutions but also to get life skills that will prepare the students for successful emersion into the digital world.

“While we have made computer studies compulsory at secondary schools, we have not incorporated safety issues in the curriculum.

“These gaps should be addressed quickly because learning computer studies is not just for passing examinations but to gain skills that are needed to fit into the digital world of today,” YZ stated.

He noted that because of the fact that crimes associated with the use of the internet arise from poor understanding of digital rights, the National Assembly should as a matter of priority quickly pass the Digital Rights Bill which should be signed by the President.

“Lots of the criminal uses of the internet relate to poor understanding of digital rights. In particular, government itself has not shown proper appreciation of the importance of digital rights. Without a bill of digital rights, the use of the digital space can be counter-productive as we see it now. In this respect, the National Assembly should quickly pass the Digital Rights Bill and the President should sign it.

“The federal government should also come up with a national digital inclusion agenda that will address the many challenges that inhibit the effective access to and use of the internet. This will contribute greatly in addressing the various dimensions of the internal digital divide in the country,” YZ said.

According to him, issues of technology-assisted gender violence demand national urgent and immediate attention principally because it concerns the way in which technology is deployed specifically to harm women and girls, and engendering online harassment, promoting rape, kidnapping and killing; crimes which are facilitated via interaction and use of digital technology.

To drive his point home, YZ cited two instances of criminal use of digital technology stating that within the past two weeks, there have been two very disturbing contents on the internet which degrade and dehumanise women and the individuals involved.

The first was a posting of sexual escapade of students of Chrisland, Lagos in faraway Dubai which went viral, leading to the suspension of academic activities in the school, while the second concerned a lady in Ado-Ekiti who was invited to a hotel room by her friend who had arranged with his three other friends, who not only gang-raped her, but also posted the act on the internet.

He noted that there are rising cases of young girls who are falling victims to digital technology-assisted crimes and deplored the negative impact and gender dimension of the digital divide in the country.

YZ stated: “Cases of young girls falling victims of this technology-assisted crimes have been on the rise and are contributing negatively to the efforts to address and overcome the gender dimension of the digital divide in the country, which casts women on the negative side of the divide and making it difficult for them to access and make use of the opportunities and benefits digital technology offers for educational advancement, economic empowerment and social inclusion.

“CITAD has for the past five years been engaged in monitoring and countering gender violence online and takes this very serious, because we have in an earlier research found that gender-based violence online has been a major inhibiting factor for the effective use of digital spaces by girls and women in the country as they have internalised the fear that harmful content online has induced in them. In another research, we found that harmful content online is targeted at female politicians and women in career such as female journalists and academics, with the aim of discouraging them from those spaces, thus furthering their marginalization in those spheres.

“For example, female politicians are subjected to social media abuse and intimidation and that in many cases, they were forced to drop out of contesting elections because of this. In addition, parents and husbands are also using the same excuse to prevent their daughters and wives from using the internet. Unfortunately, in the world we live today, we must all make use of the internet.

“In all these cases, it is the country and society that suffer from this criminal misappropriation of the powers of the internet. As learning, commerce, social interactions and government services move online, it means that those left behind digitally or are unable to access and use the internet, will equally be left behind in those other spheres.

“Women constitute slightly more than half of the population of the country. As majority of these women are remaining offline as a result of gender violence online and other harmful contents, it means that a large population of Nigerians is left behind. In this situation, Nigeria cannot achieve the sustainable development goals as most of them require effective deployment and use of the internet.

Girls are at disadvantage in getting admission to higher education because they have been prevented from learning to use digital skills which are necessary for passing the entrance examinations to the higher institutions in the country.

“Yet here in the North, we complain of lack of sufficient number of female doctors and other health related professionals, even when we deny girls the opportunity to learn digital skills to gain admission to study for medical profession. Women are the majority of citizens who are identity-excluded in Nigeria and consequently also financial services-excluded, making it difficult for them to access financial services and progress in business. Lack of identity also is inhibiting their ability to exercise their freedom of movement as some important modes of travel cannot convey people without authenticated identity.

“It is for these reasons that we at CITAD take the issue of technology-assisted gender violence online as a serious national problem; that the government has to consider and take necessary means to address it. We note the recent empanelling of a committee by the Federal Government to study and propose solutions to ensuring the protection of children online. While we welcome this action, we would like government to also consider and act in the same manner with respect to gender violence online.

“It is important to reflect that technology-assisted gender violence is pernicious as it is not easily visible, making the victims to suffer doubly as victims of violence and as victims of stigmatization when they report and make their suffering public. This is why victims do not report, allowing themselves to suffer in silence.”

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