- Report says OGBV takes place freely on social media platforms
- There is slow uptake on reportage and prosecution rates of OGBV crimes
While Botswana is not immune to the scourge of Online Gender-Based Violence (OGBV), latest research by Gender Links South Africa states that there is an opportunity to influence and advocate for change in policies and laws to ensure that OGBV is addressed.
Titled “Understanding Online Gender Violence in Southern Africa,” the research investigates the prevalence of the phenomenon of online violence against women in the Southern African region, Botswana included.
Even though there is a challenge of limited data to demonstrate OGBV prevalence in the country, the research indicates that cyber bullying of the LGBTIQ+ community, celebrities, politicians, women activists and female journalists seems to be on the rise.
“The legislative framework is currently not adequate to address online violence, and there is a slow uptake, not only in the reportage on OGBV crimes, but also in prosecution rates,” said the report researcher, Pamela Dube, of Botswana. “Even the highly publicised case of a youth who was arrested in 2019 for allegedly defaming the First Lady, Neo Masisi, is still to come before the courts of law.”
Case in point
The research indicates that whenever there is an LGBTQI+ related case before the courts, the level of insulting cyber attacks rises. On social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, heated debates and cyberattacks – bullying, distribution of embarrassing videos, audio recordings and pictures of public personalities run unabated.
Said Dube: “From such public discourses it can be deduced that victims of online abuse feel vulnerable, hurt, embarrassed and defeated and that OGBV takes place freely on social media platforms. But beyond such conversations and analysis, there is hardly any official or legal action being taken.”
The government bears a huge responsibility for addressing and ending OGBV by devising measures to shape national discourse on the issue. However, at the time of the research, there had not yet been any ruling or pronouncements by the government regarding OGBV but only limited efforts to tackle online violence in general.
“Sections 16 to 20 of the Cybercrime and Computer Related Crimes Act (amendment of 2018) can be used to prosecute crimes such as cyberbullying, cyberharassment, image-based sexual abuse and child sexual abuse material,” Dube pointed out. “It opens the door to the fight against OGBV.”
During the 16 Days of Activism in December 2020, the government set up special courts to prosecute GBV cases but OGBV was not specified and it became unclear if these cases would be attended to by the courts. The research also indicates that in 2020, the Commissioner of Police explained that the Botswana Police Service was working on a strategy to fight GBV. So far, there is no publicly available information on the strategy supporting these pronouncements.
While the online space allows for public engagement and bringing issues to the fore, the same platform can be an opportunity to influence and advocate for change in policies and laws to ensure that OGBV is addressed. Dube recommends that a law dealing with GBV must be extended to accommodate OGBV while the media needs to take an active, agenda-setting role to change the narrative on OGBV amongst the public and lawmakers. Without tampering with freedom of expression rights, social media platforms have to play an active role to address online violence.
The research states: “BOCRA must escalate efforts on sensitising Batswana on issues related to cyberbullying as part of their mandate. The police services must develop strategies to train and empower officers to deal with OGBV. The legislators need to take advantage of the constitutional review process to enact gender focused laws, policies and provisions. Civil society needs to run sustained advocacy and awareness raising campaigns on ending OGBV as part of the already existing GBV awareness campaigns happening in the country.”
“International donor organisations have a role in ensuring the empowering and survival of non-governmental organisations. Botswana, since being declared a middle-income country, has lost a great chunk of donor funding, weakening further an already weak civil society. Civil society organisations, especially in the areas of gender rights and media, are in great need of funding and a change in donor community attitudes and policy towards Botswana will help build capacity and knowledge to advocate for legislation around OGBV.”