By Lénah Bosibori
Pepe Mkanjala is very active on Facebook and sometimes uses her WhatsApp due to the nature of her job which requires her to have both an online and physical presence. In 2022, Mkanjala competed for the seat of Director of Youth and Women’s Mobilization in the Amani National Party. But the kind of trolls she received online were unbearable and painful for her and her family.
“I was widowed at the age of 25 before I started campaigning, but many online harassers said I sacrificed my husband to become famous, and yet my husband died years ago. a long time before I even got into politics,” Mkanjala said in an interview.
Women are 27 times more likely to be harassed online than men. This is what a report from the African Development Bank reveals. The report suggests that up to 70 percent of women have experienced cyberviolence.
Mkanjala adds that sometimes people go so far as to use her husband’s death to try to bring her down. “One person said I was a prostitute who always slept with the bosses and they edited my photos to try in every way to demean me,” she adds.
At first Mkanjala says she felt bad and cried a lot, but today she confronts them until they decide not to troll her because she doesn’t care.
“Sometimes trolls are men for hire and if one of them is gentle they turn away because the bullies are not polite. Someone said my kids have big heads,” adds- she said.
According to Mkanjala, the trolls and insults were numerous, forcing him at one point to resort to a support team. She adds that it is very hard, especially for married women, because there are very painful things that can even ruin someone’s marriage.
“I am a fighter, before it was very hard for me but I have reached a point where the harassers are also tired, at some point maybe because we are not in campaign mood, maybe- be that they will be more so in 2027 when we organize our general elections,” she added.
Ephraim Muchemi, deputy director of the SAFE initiative in the East Africa region at the International Record and Exchanges Board (IREX), says the challenges women face online are numerous.
“Cyberbullying is the most widespread and has an emotional context. When someone is bullied online, it is different from when it is physical. In cases of physical bullying, one is able to deal with the person one-on-one. However, in the digital space the problem is that you don’t know how many people are there because you can’t see them, you don’t know where they are, and so even from an emotional state it adds anxiety to it,” Muchemi said.
Muchemi adds that the other troll is cyberbullying which he says is moving from online to physical space. “That’s where you find passive people watching you online and the active ones take the trolls into the physical space,” he adds.
“You can be present online but not know when online trolls arrive in the physical space, the emotional connection between women is a much bigger problem than when it comes to men,” adds -he.
Muchemi encourages people to focus more on preventative measures: creating layers of security in advance, like digital literacy. It is unfortunate that our digital culture in sub-Saharan Africa is extremely poor to the point where people do not know how to read a website, nor what a cookie or storage software is. This is a problem that needs to be corrected and is part of the digital literacy that people need to know,” adds Muchemi.
He adds that people need to be aware of their situation, they need to know when their phone is misbehaving, which helps reduce suspicion because you end up having a sense of control.
“Digital literacy will help eliminate the majority of digital attacks that are carried out, especially when someone tries to delete an account,” he adds.
Focusing on self-awareness helps one know when to react, especially to situations, and how one tends to behave when attacked. “Self-awareness can help you gain a sense of control before reacting from an emotional state. If someone is confronted by a troll, it will help them pause before reacting,” adds- he.
According to Muchemi, this ends up creating mechanisms to cope if attacked, others can create a support system ready to back them up. “A support system gives you a sense of comfort and control, you realize you have a team ready to support you instead of feeling alone,” he adds.
He adds that the support system will also help people create a shield around themselves when they are attacked, with the shield giving you space to breathe. “When building support, include both sexes so they can offer the shield,” he adds.
Muchemi further highlights the need for education within the community, adding that sharing knowledge and information is very important as it becomes a norm: “Let women take the lead in creating safe spaces and taking on more responsibility. training roles,” he adds.